‘Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets’ review: Gorgeous and intricately designed

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July 23, 2017 by Hope W.

Dane DeHaan as Valerian and Cara Delevingne as Laureline in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is out this week along with Dunkirk (which I’ve watched and reviewed in my previous post) and Baby Driver (which I’m watching tomorrow). It’s a pretty crowded week for films to open in, and one which Valerian has the disadvantage of not being as wonderfully reviewed as the latter two films.

Nevertheless, it is also the most accessible film out of the three, because it’s only rated PG, and it’s a fun sci-fi fantasy adventure with gorgeous visual effects. Sci-fi fantasy isn’t for everybody, but I would think war films, especially quiet ones in which there’s lots of waiting and more fleeing than fighting, will appeal to even less people; not to say crime heist films with strong emphasis on music. (I wouldn’t have watched Dunkirk if it were not for Christopher Nolan directing; nor would I have wanted to watch Baby Driver, if it hadn’t been nearly universally lauded.)

Honestly, Valerian isn’t a film I would think to see either, unless I have absolutely nothing else to watch. Mostly because I do not like Cara Delevingne — I feel she’s overhyped and I’m skeptical about her acting skills — and I think Dane DeHaan isn’t leading man material. But I did see it, and I’m pleasantly surprised by its entertainment value. The visuals are stunning, the world-building is amazing, and the chemistry between the two leads is pretty great (though others beg to differ). Rihanna also has a role as a shape-shifting alien called Bubble, and she is used very well in the film, playing to her strengths. Ethan Hawke has a fun cameo too as a jolly pimp in a way we haven’t seen him before. (Feel free to let me know if I’m wrong, because I want to watch those movies where he acts like he does here.)

Rihanna as Bubble in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Granted, the world-building came from the French comic series Valérian and Laureline that the movie is based on (and which I had never heard of until this movie came into being), but Luc Besson manages to incorporate so much of it into the movie and tease glimpses of a billion other aspects beyond what we have seen, that I’m awed at the intricacy of almost every frame in the film. (I also love the use of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” over the opening scene.)

Alpha, the City of a Thousand Planets

Valerian is also the most expensive independent film (i.e. a film not made by the big six movie studios — Disney, Warner Bros, 20th Century Fox, Sony, Paramount, Universal) ever made, with its budget of US$180 million. I can see where the money went. I don’t know if the studio will recoup back all its money though. Valerian seems kind of like The Fifth Element (though I haven’t watched The Fifth Element, so don’t quote me on that) — another sci-fi action adventure by Luc Besson that wasn’t very well-reviewed or profitable when it came out, but became a cult classic after its home video release. Perhaps history will be kinder to Valerian too.


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