Set in the 28th century, an intergalactic space station named Alpha, which is comprised of a melting pot of species and cultures from all over the galaxy, lives as a peaceful unit. When a mysterious presence threatens the ecosystem, Valerian (DeHaan) and his partner Laureline (Delevingne), special operatives working for the human police forces, are enlisted to investigate.
Hopes were high for Luc Besson’s latest, the man behind such works as La Femme Nikita, Léon: The Professional, and, probably his best known credit, The Fifth Element (Besson also wrote Taken). However, while the film delivers on the astronautics spectacle we were in high anticipation for, it suffers from a flawed screenplay and the complete lack of charisma and chemistry between the two leads.
Beginning with the latter, the casting of Dane DeHaan (The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Chronicle) and Cara Delevingne (Paper Towns, Suicide Squad) seems out of place. One wonders if, given their past credits, the casting was motivated by a desire to attract younger audiences. In any case, Valerian and Laureline were originally the protagonists of a popular comic series of the same name, and have proven to be highly influential to the science fiction genre. Such iconic characters therefore need to carry a certain weight and while DeHaan is a good actor, Delevingne has yet to prove herself. More to the point though, the characters as they are portrayed here have no charisma and no chemistry.
When we first meet them, Valerian is trying to flirt with Laureline, but she is standoffish because of Valerian’s history of dating his co-workers. Then, out of nowhere, he proposes. Everything about the scene feels forced and the actors have zero romantic sparkle. Their familiarity and teasing of one another makes them seem more like siblings than lovers. Mind you, it’s not all the actors’ fault – the script for their one-on-one scenes is woeful and they’re given no real personality to work with.
As for the story itself, there are a number of plot holes and flaws. For one thing, on the first assignment we see him go on, Valerian is unprofessional and excessively clumsy – this is the best the galaxy has to offer? Fans of movie clichés also won’t be disappointed by the inclusion of such characters as the cute alien who happens to be the last of its species in the galaxy, and of course you have to have an untrustworthy Commander (dun dun dun…).
In certain moments, characters and location designs, one does get the welcome feel of The Fifth Element, though it is lacking in its sense of fun, verging on camp, quality. In that regard, Rihanna’s character Bubble, a shape shifting alien, doesn’t feel all that out of place (one is reminded here of Crhis Tucker’s Ruby Rhod in Fifth Element), although her character (and indeed her very presence) will likely be divisive.
Many sci fi films, particularly those set in space, have become (ironically, given the huge budgets behind them) a dime a dozen, and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets really doesn’t have any particularly distinguishing or memorable features. After the spectacle promised by the posters, trailers etc., it is a disappointment.