It’s not surprising that there are some visually interesting moments to behold in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. As thoroughly-documented elsewhere, Luc Besson’s space adventure is both the most expensive European film, and most expensive independent film, ever made. With much of The Fifth Element’s charm coming from being overstuffed with ideas and visually overloaded by Besson to joyously crazy proportions, you’d be forgiven from expecting the same here given the resources employed.
Disappointingly, Valerian falls into the trap of constantly trying to dazzle with CGI spectacle, the bombardment of information quickly becoming a mind-numbing chore to look at in 3D. What’s worse than the quantity of eyeball bombast is that so little of it is genuinely interesting, the number of beautiful cosmic shots and intriguing choices in landscape and composition outmatched by sub-Avatar, almost sub-Phantom Menace, creations and a seemingly incessant need to show off content that simply isn’t that great or original.
The film’s proliferation of over-familiar elements can’t help, with the source material having been picked over as far back as Star Wars. The stars of the film do little to distinguish themselves, either, but while the uninspiring pairing of Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevigne may well have contributed to Valerian’s poor box office performance, they’ve done well to turn in serviceable performances amid this mess. I even managed to forgive DeHaan’s weird Keanu Reeves-y inflection as he delivers clunky dialogue throughout. Mostly. And let’s not get started on Rihanna, who on the basis of her performance here should be kept as far away from other film sets as possible.
I’m sure Valerian will attain a cult following of sorts. And there’s some really interesting stuff that it does well – it’s just disappointing these moments are in such drastically short supply in what often feels like a barely functioning film.