I’m a big science fiction fan. It will always be the first genre I search for on Netflix. I enjoy it for its diversity; you can have low-key and realistic stories like John Hillcoat’s adaptation of The Road (2009) or large scale fanciful space sagas. The stories can be intimate or far reaching but you’ll always be presented with something new and interesting – something you can sink your teeth into that allows you to wonder what it would be like if this were really to happen. The best science fiction has to offer will have me thinking about the film for days after watching it – about the implications it presents or the moral questions it asks. However, as with all genres, trends and styles are born, re-used, and eventually lose their intrigue. With Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, director Luc Besson seems to have picked up as many tired and worn out tropes as he could and made a film that sits plainly in the realms of science fiction.
The film follows two special agents of ‘Alpha,’ a vast collection of ships from all reaches of the galaxy that house thousands of species and millions of citizens. Agents Valerian and Laureline are tasked with collecting a one-of-a-kind object and escorting it back to the City of a Thousand Planets, which of course proves to be a much harder task than anticipated.
Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne are stale and dull, rarely expressing any form of emotion, all the while expecting the audience to believe they are deeply in love. DeHaan, who plays the titular character, Valerian, has shown his promise as an actor after rising to public recognition with Chronicle in 2012, so I was a little disappointed with his performance. I haven’t seen anything else Delevingne (Laureline) has done, but this film doesn’t make me optimistic. Even Clive Owen was disappointing, playing the very obviously aggressive and self-serving commander of the human armed forces on Alpha. His character is comprised predominantly of cliché to make painfully clear to the audience who the bad guy is, as well as to reinforce the heroic qualities of the protagonists.
On the technical side, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is nothing new or innovative. The colour palette is similar to that of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.; blues and pinks are everywhere, even in the clouds of one of the planets. The soundtrack is distinctly average, never drawing attention to itself but also never overtly enhancing the action on-screen. The artistic design of the multiple alien species seems to have been snatched from various intellectual properties, including the Mass Effect video game series and Star Wars.
One redeeming factor, perhaps surprisingly, is Rihanna as Bubble, a shape-shifting alien and illegal immigrant to Alpha. She helps Valerian free his partner from the clutches of an alien species that the audience is introduced to mere minutes beforehand. She has a great introductory sequence and then provides neat comedic relief to the otherwise droll script. Unfortunately, her screen time is limited, much to my dismay. This film sits firmly in the ‘meh’ category, being neither bad enough to warrant laughter nor good enough to capture the audience and get them fully engrossed.
Thanks again to the Gulbenkian for the tickets!
by Jack Wierenga
edited by Jules Maines