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The 400-Word Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

By Sean Collier

July 24, 2017

Distracted by shiny things...

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I can think of few films which overcome serious flaws as completely as Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. (The first serious flaw, of course, being that dreadful title.)

Based on the long-running French comic series Valérian and Laureline, Valerian is brought to vivid reality by Luc Besson, who also writes and directs. The title character (Dane DeHaan) is a daredevil federal agent representing Earth’s interests throughout the universe, a mashup of Han Solo and Keanu Reeves; his partner, fellow agent Laureline (Cara Delevingne), serves as guardian, collaborator and romantic interest.

Valerian receives a psychic message from a dying planet just as the pair is embarking on what should be a quick mission: confiscating contraband in an interdimensional market. The goods in question, however, are of greater interest than the agents have been led to believe, pointing both to a massive cover-up and Valerian’s vision.

First, the bad news: In the film’s most obvious deficit, DeHaan is simply awful. Recalling nothing so much as the parodic hero played by David Sandberg in the action spoof Kung Fury, this Valerian is a pale and awkward imitation of what a protagonist should be, never believable and always stilted. This is particularly stark in light of the remarkable, powerful performance from Delevingne, who carries the film.




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Furthermore, the script could’ve used ... well, a writer other than Besson. His world-building and creativity are immaculate, but his dialogue is lacking. And the film’s uncomfortable treatment of its women does not end at Laureline’s expulsion from the title; a surprisingly strong performance from Rihanna is soiled by an introductory striptease, to name but one offense.

Yet: Valerian is completely irresistible. The visual language, comedic abandon and sheer audacity of this project cannot be denied; this is a universe more richly built than nearly any other, recalling those of the Star Wars and Mad Max series. (The comics were a stated influence on George Lucas, so that’s fitting.) The sheer amount of story rendered here is a firm rejoinder to the runtime-heavy, plot-light blockbusters of the ’10s. And in spite of Besson’s attempts to sideline her, Laureline is an instant icon.

I’m unabashedly rooting for Valerian to spark a franchise — which will not only allow me to revisit the world, but will give its creators a chance to correct the errors of this first installment. The film is messy, but still close to essential.

My Rating: 8/10

Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark


     


 
 

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