A convoluted mess that is severely let down by weak leads and unimpressive CGI
Luc Besson’s passion project Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets has been a long time coming with the director waiting years for the technology needed to make the film to become available. Unfortunately, the result is a mess of a film that offers little new in terms of visuals whilst under performing in all other aspects.
The film follows government agents Major Valerian (Dane DeHann) and Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delavingne) who are tasked with finding and destroying a growing threat inside Alpha, the city of a thousand planets. Whilst carrying out their mission however they come across strange findings that suggest the supposed threat is not all that it seems. Under the thumb of Commander Filitt (Clive Owen), the two agents search for the truth and, on the way, cross paths with some of the millions of different species living on the giant space construct.
Whilst that plot may sound straightforward, Valerian tries its hardest to convey its story in the most incoherent way possible, with pointless detours being littered throughout. The movie could easily take forty-five minutes off its run time if it only followed the main plotline. Instead, there are multiple instances where one of the agents will stray off course whilst the other spends twenty minutes bumping into annoying new side characters in an attempt to retrieve them. It seems that the filmmakers tried to force as much content as possible into the movie in order to further show off its special effects and, in doing so, have heavily convoluted the plot.
The quality of the story has clearly been sacrificed for the sake of the special effects and sadly this commitment has gone to waste. Whilst the film is great to look at, there is nothing groundbreaking about the CGI other than there is a lot of it on screen at any given time. Mostly though, this is an issue as the film is so clearly built around the effects that it comes off at times feeling more like an animated feature than a live-action adaptation. The cast does not help to sell the universe either with their performances making it clear from the start that they are surrounded by and interacting with a green screen.
When Avatar sold itself on its special effects in 2009, it was a new, exciting use of the technology regardless of the film’s overall quality. It at least offered something fresh. Unfortunately, when rivalled to recent blockbuster War for the Planet of the Apes, which uses its special effects exceptional well to immerse the viewer, Valerian, if anything, is a step backwards as its CGI characters and environments take the viewer out of the film entirely.
What’s most disappointing however is the title character of Valerian. He is unlikable throughout with a cocky persona that doesn’t see itself redeemed with notable acts of heroism. Dane DeHann is shockingly bad in the film with what is surely one his most wooden performances. There is absolutely no emotion in his terribly written, bland, at times cringe worthy dialogue, with the same being the case for most of the other actors.
Overall, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is quite a letdown. It might be entertaining for those who wish only to marvel at the film’s extensive CGI, but anyone looking for anything more will be left severely disappointed.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017), directed by Luc Besson, is distributed in the UK by Lionsgate, Certificate 12a.