Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is the new passion project space opera by Luc Besson based on a classic French Science Fiction comic series Valérian and Laureline. It stars Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne as human space agents Major Valerian and Sergeant Laureline who are charged with claiming a Mül converter for the government.
Besson has made his name with visually stunning, slightly crazy films, such as Léon: The Professional and The Fifth Element. And if you were hoping for more of that then you won’t be disappointed. The film is so impressive, both to look at, and with the design of many of the aliens and alien worlds. You cannot help but be amazed at the level of detail that went into the majority of these alien constructs, as even background species look fantastic and individual.
The actual story is rather sprawling and comes across more as an excuse to show off the cool set pieces and designs in the film. There’s a heist in an inter-dimensional market and a dance performance from a shape-changing Rihanna that both truly stand out. The story as a whole is nothing really groundbreaking, but it does provide a fun, bombastic, universe-trotting adventure for the two leads.
But that’s where the big issue with Valerian lies, in its lead actors. Dane DeHaan in particular is very unconvincing in the role of a suave, experienced, and tough captain for the human civilisation in space. He plays far too young, lacks a bit of charisma, and isn’t able to bring his usual awkward, almost slightly creepy appeal to the character. This is actually one of the better roles for Cara Delevingne, and a huge improvement for anyone who saw her film in Suicide Squad. But even then you can’t help but wonder how much better a Milla Jovovich in her prime would be in the role. The big pleasant surprise however is the performance of Rihanna. Unlike any previous live action film that she’s been in, Battleship for instance, Rihanna comes out of Valerian as one of the most likeable and interesting characters.
In the end though Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a big fun space opera that you can’t help but feel has been miscast. Dane DeHaan’s Valerian feels particularly wrong for the film. However if you like Besson’s previous work then Valerian is certainly an entertaining watch.