Valerian and the City of a Thousand PLanets
“Yup, definitely not in Kansas anymore.” Photo source: Golden Village PIctures

Here comes Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, renowned auteur Luc Besson’s latest effort. Agents Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Care Delevingne) are federal agents for the government of Alpha, a floating metropolis in space where species from all over the universe co-exist and share their knowledge.

They’re tasked to retrieve a priceless object, but things get complicated when that mission sparks off a series of events that results in Commander Arün Filitt (Clive Owen) getting kidnapped. Valerian and Laureline then have to race against time to save Alpha and all its inhabitants.

Valerian is based on the French comic series Valerian and Laureline. Besson has said in previous interviews that he fell in love with the comic as a young boy, but was unable to adapt it because it was not yet technologically possible to produce the vision he had. Until now.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand PLanets
“Nope, we’re not the Na’vi.” Photo source: Golden Village Pictures

Make no mistake: the visuals in Valerian are spectacular. So much so that I wish I could watch this movie in IMAX. The source comics are said to be one of the original inspirations for Star Wars, which is probably why the visuals do feel a little outdated and the character archetypes a little tired. But it didn’t feel like that detracted from the stunning visual effects. It felt more like The Fifth Element turned up to eleven.

Besson takes you through a dazzling, dizzying and vast array of alien worlds that seem so wondrous and, well, alien that there’s a fear that the audience will feel overwhelmed. If you thought the alien worlds in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (see our review) and Doctor Strange (see our review) were great, then you’re going to love the Valerian universe. It’s basically old school sci-fi concepts executed with 21st century tech. But as impressive as it is, it does veer into self-indulgence quite a bit.

One of my favourite bits has to be the opening sequence that shows Alpha evolving from the docking of the US Apollo space capsule to the Soviet Soyuz space capsule in 1975, to an international space station, and then to a utopia where aliens from all corners of the universe gather in relative peace. Set to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”, it’s a clever and very pretty piece of exposition that really sets the tone of the movie and introduces the themes of peace and unity.

But it’s because of directorial decisions like this that make the first third of the movie seem plodding, almost as if it were a TV series instead of a movie. Nevertheless, when the action finally kicks in, it doesn’t stop.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand PLanets
“I loved your Green Goblin, Dane.” Photo source: Golden Village Pictures

The movie is let down by two things: a mediocre script with dialogue that verges on George Lucas levels of cringe-worthiness, and the fact that the two leads have absolutely zero chemistry with each other. The former can be somewhat forgiven, but I am perplexed as to why DeHaan and Delevingne were cast as Valerian and Laureline respectively.

Sure, they’re pretty enough, but DeHaan comes off more emo space douchebag instead of a proto-Han Solo type of character. I know the movie is called Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, but its protagonist is annoying, dour, and almost devoid of charm. In fact, there’s an extended sequence in the middle that focuses on Laureline’s journey, which I liked a lot more, and that was mostly because Valerian was off screen!

But while I liked Laureline enough as a character (she’s pretty sassy and has a couple of good comebacks), Delevingne only seems to have one expression throughout the entire movie. And as for the burgeoning romance, forget about it. It was equal parts eyeroll-inducing and unconvincing, and seemed shoehorned in at completely random moments.

The highlight of Valerian for me was Ethan Hawke, in what amounts to more of a glorified cameo, as intergalactic space pimp Jolly. Rihanna as the alien Bubble was also a very nice surprise, even if she seemed a bit wooden at parts.

That said, I did leave the cinema feeling all warm and fuzzy on the inside. All the credit goes to the marvellous vision of Besson who has really outdone himself in the visual effects department. I’d gladly watch a sequel or two based on the same universe, but only if they promise to find two new leads who possess more charm.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets opens in Singapore today (July 20).