Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action, suggestive material and brief language
Screenplay by Luc Besson, based on the comic book series “Valerian and Laureline” by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières
Directed by Luc Besson
Starring Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu, Sam Spruell and more
Grade: Three stars
It’s been awhile since a sci-fi movie made me smile as much as “Valerian” did.
Based on the French comic book series that helped inspire “Star Wars,” “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is a fun, visually gorgeous romp of a movie that sucks you in from the first moment to the last. It can be cheesy in the way of all old-school sci-fi adventures, but it’s a delicious, deeply satisfying kind of cheese that’s an important part of any balanced movie diet. If you’re at all fond of the genre, “Valerian” will make sure you enjoy yourself.
The movie follows Valerian and Laureline, two agents of the kind of generic space government organization that’s always so useful when you need an excuse to get your trained characters into adventures. Here, they’re charged with protecting a government official during a meeting with other alien leaders, which seems like a simple assignment until everything (naturally) goes completely wrong.
The plot doesn’t follow directly from the comics, but the movie is very much in the spirit of old-school sci-fi like “Flash Gordon” or “Buck Rogers” except that Laureline gets to beat up considerably more people than the ladies in those movies. The adventuring spirit is classic enough to feel fresh to modern audiences, enough so that I couldn’t predict the end of the movie halfway through the film. I can’t remember the last time that happened, especially in a plot that stayed coherent and easy to follow.
The sheer creativity of the movie stretches beyond the visuals. The opening moments trace the International Space Station’s gradual transformation into the titular city with economy and charm. The mechanics of the in-universe tourist destination that allows people to shop in another dimension are both delightfully original and beautifully thought out, as are the sub-sections of the space station city. Every place the movie visits is richly constructed enough to support and entire movie on their own, and they’re all delightful to spend even a few moments in.
It’s not perfect, of course. Some of the dialogue is a bit clunky, though more due to being old-fashioned and/or excessively theatrical than actually bad, and Laureline wasn’t allowed to beat up nearly enough people. Rihanna’s character also didn’t get nearly enough screen-time, utilized more as a plot device than the fully-fleshed part of the story she could have been.
The movie also doesn’t really allow for any kind of nuanced exploration of either Laureline or Valerian’s characters, but Cara Delivingne and Dane DeHaan make sure both characters are consistently pleasant company. Rihanna was a delight, and I’d love to see her in more movies in the future.
Even taken together, however, it’s not enough to dim the sheer pleasure of “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.”