From the time the first trailer for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets dropped, all of us here at Techaeris were intrigued. The trailer promised a visually stunning sci-fi adventure from Luc Besson based on the French graphic novel Valérian and Laureline. The comic started its run back in 1968, and only ended pretty recently in 2010, completing an incredibly successful forty two year run, which is really a pretty great accomplishment on its own. I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t horribly familiar with the source material back when the original trailer dropped, though I’ve picked up a few things in the intervening months. So what can you expect from Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets? Keep reading this review to find out.
First things first, I will of course keep this review free of spoilers, and will really just keep plot points — even scenes shown in the trailers — to a minimum. One thing that I’ll likely repeat at several points throughout is just how freaking good this movie looks. The visuals are absolutely amazing. There’s obviously a ton of CGI throughout and it’s done very well. There are an incredible number of alien species involved here. Some for only a few shots, some for key extended scenes, all of which are vibrant and many of which fit in very convincingly with their human counterparts. The environments are equally vibrant, with scenes everywhere from an idyllic ocean paradise to a multi-species space station, to Valerian and Laureline’s spaceship. With only a few exceptions everything is bright, well lit, incredibly detailed, and easy to see. This movie also falls for the standard CGI action trap of putting some of the hectic action sequences in a dark environment in order to better hide some of the CGI, but there’s honestly very little of that during the movie.
The plot and story are easy to follow. A bit of a montage at the beginning shows how Alpha, the “City of a Thousand Planets,” came to be, and then we’re thrown right into the story. Events lead into each other easily and naturally, with scenes building on what came before. There wasn’t much that was particularly surprising or unexpected, which was maybe a bit disappointing, but the story that was told was interesting even if relatively straightforward.
The main cast is mostly pretty effective. I’m still not completely sure how I feel about Dane DeHaan in the titular role, but part of that is that he just doesn’t have the look I’d really think of for the role. His performance was good though. Cara Delevingne was an interesting Laureline. Her story in the film differs pretty significantly from the comic, though considering not everybody will even be familiar with the comic that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Valerian and Laureline share a… strange working environment, with Laureline largely rebuffing Valerian’s romantic advances. That dynamic is definitely present in the movie as well, and the movie does a good job of setting up why Laureline is a bit apprehensive even though the two are obviously quite close. Though for a pair that is supposed to have such a close chemistry, the interactions between DeHaan and Delevingne are mostly just kind of awkward.
The rest of the cast is good, with a surprising amount of star power present. From Clive Owen to Rhianna to Ethan Hawke, with even John Goodman providing a voice for the film there’s some definite name recognition at play. Some of the dialog comes off as a bit campy, though mostly in a fun way. There are some definite similarities in the campiness to what we’ve seen in The Fifth Element (another Besson project — and what’s with Besson and unusual head wear?) which isn’t a bad thing, as The Fifth Element is a bit of a classic. Parts of the film definitely don’t take themselves too seriously, which works out well.
Overall I had fun with this movie. It was campy and cheesy in parts, but it was entertaining. I still can’t say enough nice things about the visuals though, those really were top notch and deserve to be seen on the big screen for sure. There were quite a few nods to the original comic throughout, from some of the characters to the exterior of Valerian’s ship, which was recreated pretty close to its original in the comics. Even if you aren’t looking for similarities to the source and just want to watch a fun — if not terribly complex — sci-fi film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is worth checking out.