“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” has been on my summer movie radar (and Helen’s) since we first saw the trailers for it. And, given that “The Fifth Element” is one of my favorite movies of all time, I had pretty high expectations for Valerian.

I had a chance to see it this evening with Helen — and while it’s not a bad movie, overall, it’s really, really not good. It reminds me a lot of Avatar — a movie that I very much enjoyed looking at but couldn’t stand listening to.

The world Luc Besson has realized for Valerian is fantastic. The titular “City of a Thousand Planets” (also called Alpha) is essentially Babylon 5 blown out to the nth degree — a spaceborn utopia where all the universe’s races can come together and coexist (unlike Babylon 5, though, Alpha actually works). Visually the whole thing is stunningly beautiful. And, like The Fifth Element, I spent this entire film wishing there was a Star Wars-worthy line of toys that included all of the various aliens and vehicles and locations. Nobody does sci-fi set and character design like Besson.

But then people start talking. Dane Dehaan plays Valerian — and since he’s in the movie’s title he talks a lot — and he is so bad he brings the entire movie crashing down. He has terrible dialogue to work with (legitimately terrible dialogue), but he brings absolutely nothing to the role. He’s a dead fish on the screen and spends the entire film with essentially a single facial expression that screams “I’m confused.”

Cara Delevingne gets worse dialogue than Dehaan does, which hardly seems possible, but she seemed to be making an effort to do something with it. Her relationship with Dehaan is completely unbelievable and, since he’s a lieutenant and she’s a sergeant, would probably get Valerian court martialed. The completely nonexistent chemistry between them (due in large part to Dehaan constantly appearing confused) doesn’t help matters any.

Ultimately, what Valerian is missing that Fifth Element had is humanity and heart. Valerian has nothing remotely resembling a “Leeloo Dallas multipass” or “Negative, I am a meat popsicle” moment, or a Ruby Rodd character for comic relief (although Valerian tries with the trio of Shingouz), and it’s worse off for it.

It’s well worth seeing in theaters for the pure visual spectacle. And there are plenty of redeeming qualities — the alien residents of the planet Mül, for instance, who we meet in the first scene after the intro to set up Alpha, are legitimately good characters. But unfortunately the good stuff is overshadowed by how bad the movie is when the two main characters have to talk to each other.

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