“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” starts with a fun, engaging montage of humanity’s progress in outer space over the course of many years, all set to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”. It’s a delightful sequence, from the way the frame expands as humanity’s space technology improves, to the increasing strange designs of the aliens humans encounter. Director Luc Besson excels at these moments where he just gets to play with unique designs, shlocky sci-fi elments, and just a general sense of fun.
Why, oh why, is so much of the film a heavily plotted, complicated, political affair then? The film zips through so many twists and turns, shakearounds and heel face turns, that there’s barely any time to ponder the bizarre played, often creepy relationship between the film’s two lead characters (an oddly cast Dane DeHaan, and a surprisingly game Cara Delevinge). There’s barely any breathing room to actually enjoy the fun worldbuilding and designs of the film. The few moments when the film relaxes and just enjoys showing off its crazy worlds are definitely the best ones. I particularly enjoyed the incredibly cute “converter” creatures, who had some endearing moments in some of the film’s opening scenes.
Dane DeHaan’s casting is fascinating, he clearly doesn’t look the part of a devilish masculine badboy, at least not the sort cast in similar films, so it’s fascinating to watch him sort of play-against-type, and seeing a different sort of actor embrace that sort of role is interesting. But his dynamic with co-star Cara Delevinge never really comes close to working, a big problem when the film hinges off it.
There are some delightful sequences, but the film doesn’t quite hang together. Still, you can tell Besson had a blast making that, even if that doesn’t always transfer over to the audience. I give it two and a half converters, and a sphere.