When new big budget, special effects movies are released, they tend to be viewed under a microscope. Good special effects are often used to sell a movie but it’s the story and characters that are going to bring people back for multiple viewings. Over the past few months, the hype train for Luc Besson’s new film, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, reached full speed. The trailers have been everywhere and promotion has been incessant. Though, tons of promotion and hype does not make a film as is abundantly clear with the trainwreck that is Valerian.
The science fiction film is an adaptation of the French comic book series, Valérian and Laureline. The comics were first published in 1967 with the last installment coming in 2010. While they never were that popular in the United States, the comics were huge in European markets and have inspired such sci-fi properties as Star Wars. The film adaptation was crowd-sourced and personally funded by director Luc Besson. At a budget of over $209 million, it’s the most expensive independent film ever made.
The story begins in the 28th century with Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) having a dream of an idyllic paradise planet being decimated by the fallout of an outside war. Valerian and Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne) then embark on a mission to retrieve a rare creature from the dream, called a “converter.” After retrieving the converter, the special operatives are assigned to protect Commander Filitt (Clive Owen) during a speech regarding the space station, Alpha’s, toxic force that has been growing. Humanoids, again from Valerian’s dream, crash the speech and capture the commander. It’s up to the operatives to then retrieve him from his captors.
In all honesty, the plot of this film is really inconsequential. Obviously, that’s a huge problem and the film suffers dearly because of it. As you’re watching, there’s never a moment where you actually know what’s even supposed to be happening. It’s packed so full of that dreaded “stuff” that hamstrings so many films. Even an hour in, you still wonder when the main story will even begin. You don’t know why Valerian and Laureline retrieve the converter or why Alpha is in danger. Not to mention, you don’t know who the threat is or what they want. Again, it’s all just “stuff” happening without rhyme or reason.
In addition, the characters are terrible. Dane DeHaan is unbelievably flat as the title character. There’s really no other way to put it. He’s just bland. It’s crazy to think that the filmmakers got the casting so wrong for this role. Cara Delevingne is better but not by much. At times, she can be charming but it never really feels like Laureline is a completely fleshed out character. There’s very little chemistry between the two leads as well. John Goodman and Rutger Hauer show up for extremely minor, and mostly insignificant roles. The only two characters that actually stick out in this film are Jolly the Pimp and Bubble who are played by Ethan Hawke and Rihanna respectively. Being minor characters, they don’t get a ton of screen time but they share one of the most memorable scenes by far.
With a terrible story and pathetic characters, what could possibly be worse in this film? The answer: the script itself. This is one of the most poorly written scripts to a big budget film ever. Its dialogue is cliched, contrived, and full of one liners that aren’t the least bit funny. There are countless times during the film that you’ll hear Valerian or Laureline say something that brings nothing but disgust. It even sounds like they’re reading straight from the script. The dialogue is stilted, awkward and, basically, people just don’t talk like this. It’s absolutely appalling that an established filmmaker like Besson wrote such a cringeworthy script.
So, is there anything good about Valerian? Sure. The special effects are fine. That’s about it though. It’s too hard to praise a film that is so shockingly bad for its impressive effects. Even Avatar with its banal story kept enough of your attention to appreciate its spectacle. The special effects in Valerian don’t necessarily exceed anything that’s been done in the past but they can be stunning at times. Specifically, the scene where the title character runs through numerous environments is one of the most beautiful scenes in the film. Also, the paradise planet, Mül, is very pretty to look at. Again, though, a nice looking movie doesn’t give it a pass for failing on every other level.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is, without doubt, one of the biggest disappointments of 2017. It’s possibly one of the biggest disappointments of the past decade. With so much hype behind it and a supposed “visionary” in the director’s chair, it’s inconceivable that the film could be as bad as it is. The convoluted story, insipid characters, and piss-poor screenplay kill any goodwill that the special effects inspire. There’s really nothing left to say about this film. Valerian is absolute trash and isn’t worth a cent of it’s bloated $200+ million production budget.