Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is the most recent attempt by French director, Luc Besson, to make his mark on the US summer blockbuster docket. Previous endeavors, while creative and earnest, left audiences unsatisfied, if not confused. The cult success of entries like Léon: the Professional and The Fifth Element were daring and found an audience amongst cinephiles and nerds, yet failed the initial widespread acclaim to make Besson a household name.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, based on the French comic book series Valérian and Laureline, is a colorful space opera in the vein of Buck Rogers and the Heavy Metal magazines. It is pulp fun; gratuitous and romantic, lush and fantastical! The creature effects alone put this at the top of my must-see list. The sheer number of different alien beings evokes the audacity of an ’80s Jim Henson project. The CGI is breathtaking and rivals Cameron’s blue cat-people. Please understand that this is NOT hard sci-fi; this is a harlequin novel in space! It’s a full feature-length Han Solo and Princess Leia adventure!
Speaking of our leads, Dane Dehaan and Cara Delevingne play Valerian and Laureline, respectively. The two young actors embrace, fully, the intended sensationalism. The roguish veneer is only made slightly more silly by the overwhelmingly youthful appearance of both actors meant to be portraying “seasoned” space adventurers. In addition to the honest and obtuse fun of the main characters, the audience is presented with exciting side characters and cameos by the likes of John Goodman, Ethan Hawke, and singer, Rihanna!
While Valerian may not rocket out in front of the flood of “money in the bank” Marvel and DC fare, it offers 2+ hours of balls-to-the-wall fun! The casual fan of Besson’s previous films may not be aware that the influence of Valérian and Laureline permeates his 1997 movie, the Fifth Element, but was deemed “too weird” for American audiences… Well, this starscape fever-dream does exactly what it was intended to do: makes good on Besson’s 20 year journey and what seems like a true passion project!