Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets: A Movie that Must be Seen to be Believed

Luc Besson’s newest science fiction epic is, if nothing else, certainly made by Luc Besson.  Its visual style is unique and fascinating, and could have never come from anyone else. You will never see a film that looks quite like this, and whether or not you enjoy the film it really is an experience.

The story itself is well trodden ground; two cocky young space agents far into Earth’s future (played by Dane Dehaan and Cara Delevingne who have palpable chemistry and plenty of energy) are assigned a top secret mission, and quickly get entangled in a deep conspiracy. The derivative basic plot is kept interesting by some morally ambiguous turns and its well-realised main characters; Valerian himself is pompous and conceited, and difficult to get along with, which only makes his character arc more noticeable and more satisfying. Delevingne’s character makes no time for his nonsense, and has a wit and confidence which make her an engaging screen presence. She is easily the film’s strongest asset.

I saw this film with three other people; two of us loathed it, the other two loved it. I belong to the later category. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is an issue of style, not quality. This fillm fopllows the rules of comic book storytelling than film storytelling, most comic adaptations make concessions for their new medium. Events and sequences here feel less driven by cause-and-effect, and are presented as more of a collection of smaller stories that come together in the end. Some might find this a little meandering, and question why a underwater sequence in which our protagonist hires a drunken submarine captain to steal a jellyfish from a giant sea monster was necessary. Perhaps it isn’t, but the film is built entirely on these little moments, and they’re all great fun.

If you’re on board with that, then great, but a lot more people watch movies than read comic books. The film doesn’t cater for those who aren’t used to this mode of storytelling, or to Besson’s personal style. The result is that the film feels… different. It’s style might be a little much for some, but the film is packed with fun moments that you’ll catch yourself buying into,. in particular the opening montage, depicting the creation of the titular City of a Thousand Planets. Set to David Bowie’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”, the sequence is beautiful and hopeful, like classic Star Trek. The big set piece action sequences are dynamic, colourful, and they don’t slow down, especially the Big Market sequence, an interdimensional chase sequence driven by Dehaan’s strangely charming narcissism.

I can’t tell you if you’re going to enjoy this movie or not, but I promise you’re going to feel very strongly about it one way or the other, and for better or worse it has to be seen to be believed. I loved it, but I’d even if I didn’t I would still be recommending it.

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