Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

There’s always a lot happening in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, even if little of it seems to make sense.

Indeed, this visually ambitious science-fiction epic from French director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element) values spectacle over substance, with the dazzling technical proficiency unable to compensate for a pretentious storyline that becomes lost in space.

Following a stunning opening sequence, the bulk of the film takes place in the 28th century and follows the adventures of Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and his partner, Laureline (Cara Delevingne), who are cops charged with maintaining peaceful coexistence among humans and creatures in a distant galaxy.

Zipping between solar systems and other dimensions, their primary threat comes when they travel to Alpha, a bustling city of diversity that’s being threatened by a mysterious force. Their perilous investigation leads to encounters with a military commander (Clive Owen) whose motives are cloudy and a shapeshifting extraterrestrial (Rihanna) who masquerades as a dancer. Soon, the fate of the universe is at stake.

Besson’s vision and audacity are commendable. His big-budget array of computer-generated effects are impressive, as is his committed depiction of an imaginative futuristic world filled with elaborate cityscapes, high-tech weapons and gadgetry, travel between dimensions, and alien species both friendly and hostile.

However, his screenplay, based on an acclaimed French comic-book series, finds character development in much shorter supply amid all the surreal visual chaos. Some playful banter between the two leads is hardly sufficient to generate emotional investment.

Although Besson doesn’t cut corners, the dense narrative requires more attention than most viewers are likely to supply. “It’s our mission that doesn’t make any sense,” laments a defiant Laureline who, along with the rest of us, needs only to wait for the gap to be filled, until a couple of final-act monologues.

The result is intermittently exciting and amusing, with offbeat touches (and an eclectic supporting cast) surrounding an uneven mix of chases, shootouts, and muddled social commentary.

The film obviously is intended to launch a franchise (the realization of which will be determined by box-office performance, of course), and perhaps this installment is intended primarily to lay the groundwork for what’s to come. Whether moviegoers will agree to another intergalactic voyage with this crew is the bigger question.


Rated PG-13, 137 minutes.