By Jared Huizenga – Contributing Writer
With a notable filmmaker (Luc Besson) and big budget (neighborhood of $200 million) attached to it, expectations were high for sci-fi comic turned movie “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.”
Whether it reached those expectations probably depends largely on whether or not you’re a fan of the genre, or whether your finances can be affected by its box office performance.
In the very distant future, Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are an elite team of space officers/cowboys/spies (it’s never truly specified) tasked with getting to the bottom of a mystery that puts the massive space colony – Alpha – in grave danger.
Home to species from planets from across the universe (1,000 or so of them), Alpha is the ultimate melting pot, with each species lending their expertise and culture to the others to make their society work.
However, one unidentified species seems hell bent on making sure that doesn’t happen – by virtually any means necessary.
Convinced that the unidentified combatants are somehow related to a mysterious dream he had, Valerian begins digging deeper and deeper, uncovering secrets of the universe that many had hoped would stay buried.
If you believe the things you read, “Valerian” has long been Besson’s passion project. And it shows. Valerian’s universe is expansive, its alien characters vibrant and unique looking and its overall scope pretty incredible. It is truly a sight to behold.
But just as that passion came through in some very positive ways, it came through in some negative ways, too.
First, it’s really dense and really busy. There are a lot of characters, a lot of species, a lot of motivations, a lot of stories. Unfortunately, a lot of material makes for a long run time – 2 hours, 17 minutes in this case. And while there’s enough action to drive the tempo (not a surprise coming from the writer of “Taken”) and make the time go by reasonably fast, when I walked out not feeling much connection to or understanding of most of the characters, it felt needlessly long.
Second, this is going to be straight-up genre fare. It’s not “Star Wars,” it’s not “The Avengers,” it’s not even “Doctor Who.” The comic doesn’t have enough notoriety to have mass appeal; the movie’s stars aren’t big enough or good enough to carry the box office themselves; and while the CGI is nice, it’s as groundbreaking as a film like “Avatar,” which is a pretty obvious influence.
All of that means that more focus could have been placed on the story. The sci-fi fans I know both like and appreciate high-speed action and bright, shiny scenes, but they also place a premium on storytelling and character development. There wasn’t much of that here. If there’s a connection to the characters, sci-fi fans will follow them pretty much anywhere … Doctor Who once sparred with alien creatures that were quite literally walking body fat.
None of those things were enough to make me dislike the movie, in fact it’s quite the opposite – I rather enjoyed myself throughout. But I’m also a sci-fi mark that made it through a couple of seasons of “Farscape,” which isn’t the norm.
I’m also aware enough to know that as fun as “Valerian” is at times, it’s also highly-flawed and is sure to only appeal to like-minded people … if you’re one of those enjoy, if not you’ll probably want to look elsewhere.
★★★ of ★★★★★
Jared Huizenga is a freelance movie critic. Follow his work at www.facebook.com/JaredMovies.