Movie review: 'Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets'

Jeff Reed

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is the most beautiful bore of the summer. And the fault is in its stars.

If “The Fifth Element” is director Luc Besson's “Star Wars,” then “Valerian” personifies the prequels: a more lush and vivid galaxy with millions of species, but one where any semblance of life from its leads is far, far away.

In their mission to unmask a threat at the center of Alpha — a city comprising some 1,000 planets — Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne) make Anakin and Padme look like Han and Leia. They are dreary and dreadful.

Every rich, detailed world they visit or scarcely escape is diluted by their dullness and monotone delivery. The action-packed film's most engaging sequence is its opening: a montage of handshakes — handshakes! — between United Human Federation leaders and the diverse alien races emigrating to Alpha, all set to David Bowie's “Space Oddity.”

But there's something wrong, Major Tom. From Alpha we're transported to Mul — think "Avatar," only at the beach. A peaceful planet where lizard-like creatures produce power-generating pearls, Mul's citizens are massacred by an outside force in the film's first breathtaking barrage of special effects.

Much like the evolution of its imagery in the recent "Planet of the Apes" series, Weta Digital does not disappoint. It created almost all the passion in "Planets," and once again proves that its computer-generated effects are lightyears ahead of the competition.

In "Valerian," aliens are Weta's apes, boasting more pronounced and powerful expressions than their human counterparts, sometimes without even speaking a word. They make the movie glow, at times literally (and 3-D viewing is not required; if anything, it compromises “Valerian's” vibrancy, and DeHaan and Delevingne already have that covered).

But there are some humans that represent their federation with integrity: Commander Arun Filitt (Clive Owen) and Jolly the Pimp (Ethan Hawke). Well, maybe integrity is the wrong word for a pimp. Regardless, both veteran actors bring much-needed heart to "Valerian," while singer Rihanna hits some surprising high notes as the buoyant Bubble.

Though the story is sometimes weighed down with predictability, it is a voraciously proud and unique sci-fi adventure that so badly wants to have fun. If only the film's leading black-ops weren't black holes that suck the life out of its stunning set pieces and upbeat outer-space sequences.

With “Valerian,” Luc Besson again proves to be a visionary. But in looking to the stars, he lost sight of those sitting on his casting couch.

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”

Currently in theaters

2 stars out of 5