Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Review: In Lifeless Color

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Luc Besson is an auteur who lives in the weird. So much so that, for his latest effort, an adaptation of the revered French comic series, he got to build a whole wide weird world of his own. It’s a shame then that once he starts playing in said world, he plays it remarkably safe.

There’s not a drop of genuine drama or emotion in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. It’s The Fifth Element without its whimsy. It’s missing the pulse of Leon. The story of military commander Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and his partner, Laureline (Cara Delevingne), unfolds as plainly as a story could, weighed down by a seemingly endless mountain of exposition that somehow manages to carry all the way through the third act. The duo is tasked with fighting a species thought to have been wiped out decades prior that starts attacking the city of Alpha, a futuristic metropolis lush with creatures and eye candy far as the eye can see. But things aren’t as they seem, and soon they’re trying to find the truth about this species’ demise while keeping alive a pearl-pooping muskrat-like creature (really) that holds the key their future.

Stepping into this world and merely looking around is initially exciting, but the script and some confusing narrative choices take the joy out of the explorative feast. So does DeHaan, who mostly just replicates the monotone drawl that also helped ruin The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Delevingne fares a bit better, keeping some semblance of snark alive in a few scenes, but still failing to make any of the film’s emotional beats land despite DeHaan’s expressionless delivery.

The film gets some energy, however, in its second act when DeHaan is silenced for a period and a few creatures emerge to give this adventure some life. Among those creatures are a trio of pterodactyl-like information traders, a race of exceedingly silly aliens that conduct acts of physical comedy that would feel right at home on Spongebob Squarepants, a sleazy club owner played by a delightfully energetic Ethan Hawks, and a shapeshifting performer that initially takes the form of Rihanna. When these faces are in play, the derivative script seems a lot more forgivable. The film simply becomes fun.

But it doesn’t last. These bright characters disappear shortly after appearing, and then we’re back to DeHaan’s audition for the villain of Terminator 9. The third act resumes the film’s goal in drowning us in exposition and forcing drama upon us that never works. Ultimately, all of Besson’s work in creating this world is for naught. There’s no point in transporting us to a world if that world offers us nothing to care about. As a director previously capable of delivering undeniably entertaining work, Valerian is as dull as they come. Who knew a film with such vision and imagination could feel so lifeless? And for the moment, let’e keep DeHaan off our screens until he gets a proper acting coach. Grade: C

By Matt Dougherty

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