With the comic book movie spotlight hogged by Marvel and DC superheroes these days, it’s a pity that Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Stars hasn’t quite gotten the amount of hype it deserves.
After all, it IS based on one of the most influential sci-fi comics of all time – classic French science fiction comic series Valerian And Laureline, created by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mezieres.
First published in France’s Pilote magazine in 1967, its blend of adventure and space opera has influenced some of the modern age’s most popular sci-fi/fantasy franchises, including Star Wars.
Set in a future where humans have discovered how to travel through time and space almost instantaneously, the story revolves around “spatio-temporal agents” Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne), who work for the Terran Galactic Empire. Dashing, loyal, but reckless, Valerian is one of the empire’s best agents, as is Laureline, who comes across as a lot more competent than her partner at times.
The film opens with a mission at a place called Big Market, an inter-galactic shopping mall that shoppers have to wear virtual reality goggles to access.
There, Valerian and Laureline have to retrieve a cute little creature called a “Converter”, which can apparently makes copies of any substance or material it ingests (even diamond and pearls!), and bring it back to Alpha, the titular ‘City Of A Thousand Planets’.
Little do they know that obtaining the Converter would set off a chain reaction of events that threatens not just safety of Alpha, but also the Terran Empire itself.
The opening Big Market set piece is our first indication of the vast, hugely imaginative world Valerian is set in.
Director Luc Besson is no stranger to building imaginative science-fiction worlds (The Fifth Element is a great example), but he has outdone himself this time.
Visually, Valerian is stunning – drawing inspiration from the comic book series – and he adds his own flourishes, mixing and matching elements to create a colourful, vivid, diverse universe that you truly want to immerse yourself in further.
Unfortunately, the rest of the movie doesn’t quite match up to the majesty of Besson’s vision.
The plot itself draws from several of the stories from the long-running series, but most heavily from 1975’s Ambassador Of Shadows. It’s a decent enough story that somehow fails to really capture your attention or deliver much beyond showing off the movie’s visual wonders.
The two leads give relatively competent performances, though the baby-faced DeHaan seems more suited to be one of the Spy Kids rather than the smooth-talking, womanising agent that Valerian is supposed to be.
Delevingne fares much better as Laureline; her performance here at least outshines her insipid role as the Enchantress in Suicide Squad. However, the less said about Rihanna’s performance the better (though she at least gets a pretty fabulous dance sequence).
Sure, I did expect a little bit more from the franchise that had such a big influence on Star Wars and the rest of the science fiction genre. But all in all, Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets is worth a watch just to immerse yourself into the visually brilliant world Besson created.
Valerian And The City of A Thousand Planets
Director: Luc Besson
Cast: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Kris Wu, Rutger Hauer