Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets | Film | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

This sci-fi actioner from Luc Besson is more spectacle than substance, but you might be OK with that

In this fantastical actioner from Luc Besson (The Fifth Element), adapted from the French comics series, there is trouble to be sorted out at Alpha, the titular city which is a massive conglomeration of many peoples and lifeforms. But first, we get a prologue set on some balmy beach planet, where very willowy creatures harvest jewels, before they perish in an attack from the sky. Then it’s back to Alpha where our intrepid soldiers, Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne), are tasked with obtaining a gismo from a virtual-reality super mall; rescuing their kidnapped commander (Clive Owen); and figuring out what’s causing a weird disturbance in the very heart of Alpha. Honestly, this does all make sense in time, particularly after several scenes of chunky exposition in the last reel.

Other than the lead actors — and I am sad to report that both DeHaan and Delevingne are miscast — the film is almost primarily recreated digitally. Besson doesn’t lack for imagination, and there is a near riot of color, costumes, creatures, locations and whizz-bang action. Some of it worth a nod of admiration, or a chuckle, but despite the ever-eye-popping eye candy, Valerian can also be tagged as a clever pastiche of scenes, locations, characters and plot bits of the last four decades of sci-fi adventure films (plus Indiana Jones and Cabaret, for good measure).

The plot flirts with serious issues: A peaceful race is wiped out, and justice is ill-served because, you know, white men still seem to hold all the power. But nobody would ever accuse Valerian of being thoughtful, other than viewers thinking “WTF?!” a lot. So your enjoyment will be pegged to your tolerance for spectacle over substance, costumes over character and action over acting.

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