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Details around Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets have been kept so secretive you’d be mistaken for thinking it was the next Star Wars flick. When questioned about the quiet that surrounds this film, actress Cara Delevingne said simply: “This is gonna be the best movie of all time.”
Unfortunately, it isn’t.
Valerian is a colourful and refreshing addition to the sci-fi genre, but the story lacks the substance and development that the first of a franchise needs to keep momentum.
The film offers several minutes of exposition for the City of a Thousand planets, the space station that houses representatives of every species in the galaxy, but when it came time to introduce its leads, it gave little to its audience.
What we learn: Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are hanging out. They’re agents. They may be together, they may be friends with benefits, they may be nothing at all despite Valerian’s come-ons.
You would be forgiven the confusion the entire length of the film, because there is no real character or relationship development in the film’s two-hour run time. Delevingne and DeHaan offer up boring performances, but a lacking script and strange pacing do nothing to save them. Valerian and Laureline never feel right together, and the disconnect robs the film of its heart — offering only cool graphics to hold a viewer’s attention.
In this regard, the film excels. Alien species and planets are introduced with expertise, gelling a brand new world together seamlessly for first-time viewers. The novelty of the world is exciting, and the film oozes a sense of cool that older franchises have lost in their years in the mainstream.
While novelty makes for an engrossing story, though, it doesn’t make for a good one. The plot hinges on a subject not unknown to our world: the wanton destruction of war, and the innocents it hurts in its wake. But instead of focusing on the tougher parts of it — how it’s often the poorest hit, how it’s racialised — the film uses literal aliens and white saviours to push its message home.
Valerian is a colourful and refreshing addition to the sci-fi genre, but it isn’t without flaws
It’s also depressing to think that centuries from now, on a space station made up of every species in the galaxy, humans will still be facing the same gender and racial inequality we do today. In a particularly frustrating line, a commander greets the core team of majority white men as “lady and gentlemen”.
In a smaller annoyance, Delevingne runs around in a suit that allows ample space for breasts — despite the audience knowing she’s flat-chested from multiple scenes of her in a bikini. The breasts serve no purpose but for eye-candy, and are severely disappointing in a character whose strength and kindness serve as her best assets.
In Valerian‘s defence, the film moves too quickly for these gripes to stay in mind too long, and it does allow for fun, mindless viewing as you’re pulled from one cool action scene to another cool setting. Valerian probably won’t change the world in the way the creators were hoping, but it will offer an enjoyable Friday night out to while away this cold winter before another blockbuster debuts.