"Valerian" shows the space epic isn’t dead quite yet

The new Luc Besson film is an impressive spectacle that expertly hides its several flaws

A city of a thousand planets honestly sounds like a nightmare. One large city full of people crowding, yelling and rushing is more than enough for most, but a thousand planets? No thanks. That is unless you’re in Luc Besson’s dazzling new adventure.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” based on the popular graphic novel of the same name, stars Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne as Agents Valerian and Laureline respectively. Sarcastic, witty and flirtatious, the two are now tasked with uncovering the secrets of a mysterious anomaly in Alpha, the aforementioned City of a Thousand Planets, which is threatening the lives of everyone living aboard the interstellar hub.

A movie that couldn’t have been made a decade earlier, “Valerian” is a fun ride and visual feat. The sheer amount of computer-animated work that went into it is mind-boggling. One of the opening scenes features a planet that with colors and textures that will have anyone begging to place their toes into its sandy beaches.

Alpha, however, is the most visually striking as each species of alien aboard the space station comes with its unique set of characteristics. The habitats and features of each alien and area of the station have to be unique and distinct from one another to make it believable, and Besson hits it right on the mark. Every new minute leads to a potential new discovery aboard Alpha and will have the audience guessing what comes next.

As beautiful a film it is, this doesn’t mean it doesn’t come with some hiccups.

For starters, there is Valerian and Laureline. Valerian is in constant pursuit of Laureline’s affections and while she never gives him the time of day, the movie probably would’ve benefited from a romance that was less important. Individually, the two are believable enough. Together, their chemistry feels off.

The banter between one another is where the magic happens. Delevingne plays her coy, brilliant and strong Laureline comfortably, and DeHaan is fine, but could have been better. When you throw in his pursuit of Laureline, that’s when it falls flat.

Making DeHaan less suave and keeping Delevingne acting too good for him would have created the are-they-aren’t-they sort of vibe that would soar. But alas, what is done is done.

Aside from this, there is some dialogue in the film that doesn’t hit right with the audience. For instance, the romantic moments of sincerity from Valerian to his partner seem forced and unbelievable, especially once the word “you” is uttered. Another time, there was clearly supposed to be laughter from the audience during a banquet hall brawl that left an audible silence. Yikes.

There were several other moments of laughter throughout the film, but the constant peppering of them made each one weaker, until its final moments when the laughing is only a result of the lack-luster writing.

A visual marvel, “Valerian” stands in a class all its own, just not completely upright. A bright, flashy display of modern technology is this movie's greatest triumph, and next to the well-choreographed action sequences, it’s nonstop fun for those who will allow for some misgivings.

While the humor does fall flat, and the romance feels cringe-worthy, try and look past it and you’ll see that “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” has plenty to be proud of.

“Valerian” hits theaters Thursday evening.

Overall score: 3.5/5

Reach the reporter at balnero13@gmail.com or follow @BaldnerOwen on Twitter.

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