So, I won’t really give you one thousand thoughts but I do have a lot to say about Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. This new film was written and directed by French director Luc Besson, best known for The Fifth Element. If you want my quick opinions on the film, go see it. It has some issues, but it is worth seeing.
For a more detailed analyses, stick around. I won’t go into spoilers, but I will be giving you what you need to know.
First, some background.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is based on the line of French graphic novels published in 1967 called Valerian and Laureline. I have not read the graphic novels and so am coming into this movie blind except for the trailers. The original comics were apparently quite revolutionary for their time and influenced many later works of science fiction. One would hope a French director like Besson would want to make a proper tribute to the legacy of a French comic series.
We will start with the visuals of this film because they are absolutely gorgeous! Everything in this movie is visually interesting and engaging. The designs of the various alien species are incredibly varied and unique. This is thanks to Besson hiring a different artist to come up with the appearance of each species and their technology.
From this, the universe of the movie is given a wonderful sense of realism. All these species clash and meld against the others in ways unique to each. There is not a second of screen time that isn’t good to look at. Even the things that are supposed to be ugly are ugly in a way that is aesthetically pleasing.
Visuals get a perfect 5 out of 5.
Do not go into Valerian expecting a grand, sweeping space opera with the entire galaxy at stake. At first it might seem like that at some parts in the beginning. However, it becomes quickly apparent that this movie is in fact a mystery story, with an obtrusive romantic sub-plot.
The first ten minutes or so of this movie is a masterful bit of visual storytelling giving backstory to the setting and the conflict of the movie. Barely anything is said but you understand everything through the visuals alone. Some of the best parts of the story are those expressed through the visual medium.
After the prologue it’s non-stop action and mystery. This comes complete with long explanations of details and how people came to various conclusions. For the most part, the dialogue is pretty standard in these parts. However, there is a nice moment toward the end where everything is being revealed and there is some philosophizing back and forth between our heroes and the villain. It is here that we really get some stellar writing.
The mystery itself is engaging and keeps you guessing at every turn. Each twist is surprising and feels earned. Thinking back on the movie will reveal how all the pieces fit together. A tightly written tale of intrigue.
Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for the romantic sub-plot.
Every moment of dialogue that wasn’t plot important or humorous was dedicated to this sub-plot. It became so obtrusive that at several points I rolled my eyes and thought, “Get back to the plot!”
Perhaps it would have been alright if the romance was good, but it really isn’t. It is quite generic and you can see exactly where the romance will go every step of the way. Much of this is due to our lead characters, which I will go more into in the next section.
Story earns a 4 out of 5, and 2 eye rolls for the romantic sub-plot.
The characters in Valerian are…serviceable.
Our main leads, Valerian and Laureline are fairly bland and generic with little internal conflict with the two of them except when the romantic sub-plot reared its head.
Valerian is your standard bad-boy, best in the force, snarky federal agent. He’s confident in himself and a serious lady-killer that makes his pursuit of Laureline seem very shallow, even in the later parts of the movie.
Laureline, in contrast, is portrayed as a straight-laced, best in school, hard ass lady officer who is simultaneously exasperated with Valerian and is his close friend and working partner. The movie tells us she is rebellious, but before Valerian gets in trouble, she seems pretty by the book to me. When she does have to save Valerian, her character really stands out. However, there were several points in the movie when I was wondering why she would ever put up with Valerian’s flirting. Sure, you could say it’s because she really does like him back, but we don’t get to see them as just friends. Valerian is flirting with her from the first moment they are on screen together.
The other primary characters I will have to summarize quickly to avoid spoilers.
The general: A good guy that is just trying to do his job in the most morally correct way. Probably one of the most human and relatable characters.
The commander: The average “You will do what I say because I’m in charge” military officer you see in a lot of movies.
Bubble: Rihanna’s character that is not in the movie as long as you think she’ll be. She’s cool, but I wanted her in more of the movie.
All the other alien characters: The best characters in the movie to be honest. Each was unique and truly felt alien while still being relatable.
Characters get a 4 out of 5.
So, is this what a founding landmark of science fiction deserves?
Well…yes and no. The passive worldbuilding and art design are absolutely beautiful and the plot is definitely unique from other sci-fi, conquer the evil empire stories with a thought provoking mystery and dilemma. However, In terms of the characters and romance, I certainly believe that it deserved better.
In total Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets gets a 3.5 out of 5.