.Review: ‘Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets’

The new movie by 'Fifth Element' director Luc Besson is dayglow space opera overkill

We’re freaking out, man! ‘Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets’ might make sense after several tokes… Maybe.

To paraphase the immortal Lou Reed, some hash would have helped that Valerian. In Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, writer and director Luc (The Fifth Element) Besson adapts an early 1970s French comic book series. He seems particularly faithful to the grotty sexual politics of the time: Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan, a jaded, grimmer Mark Hamill, with Keanu’s voice) always hits on his sergeant Laureline (model turned actress Cara Delevigne). He proposes marriage during the middle of the action and complains about her navigating the spaceship (women drivers, amiright?).

Midway through, a new female character emerges, a shape-shifter named Bubble who morphs into every tart in history in a low-down cabaret, from Halle Berry’s Catwoman to Liza Minnelli’s Sally Bowles. Your kids may not have expected a pole dance in this movie. Bubble intervenes to save Laureline during a fight: “You can’t fight a lady!” No one apprised Besson of the existence of Amazons.

It commences on the paradise planet of Mül, peopled with androgynous, elongated hippies who live in a nacreous Club Med of giant shells, hugging and pirouetting. These space Teletubbies worship a sacred lizard-possum that exudes pearls; each shiny orb is packed with awesome force. It’s like the rocket fuel that Nibbler used to poop out on Futurama.

As if bidden by a viewer’s inner nasty little boy uncomfortable with perfect happiness, the skies blow up. And then we’re in the cockpit where Valerian receives a “Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi” message from the planet: “Your cerebral activity is a little more intense than usual” diagnoses Alex, the ship’s Siri. Under orders from the Planetary Interpol, or whatever they’re called, he and Laureline steal back the pet pearl-pooper from a mall-world, and haul it to the “city of a thousand planets” where space’s different races live in blurry harmony. The city, Alpha, has a mysterious cancer in its midst, and Valerian must find out what the connection is while Laureline waits on deck; it’s clear the brass-hatted military (represented by good guy Jason Flemyng and bad guy Clive Owen) are in on it.

Adventures in the Clown Nebula continue, with critters ranging from a Huey, Louie and Dewey trio of greedy elephant-ducks, to a telepathic jellyfish that gives you messages when you stick your head up its ass, to a creature that’s a living stack of vanilla frosted doughnuts—there to stimulate the munchies the properly medicated viewer will experience. Watching this, your cerebral activity may not be as intense as usual.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
PG-13, 137 Min.


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