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Valerian: A Beautiful Mess is Still a Mess

<i>Valerian</i>: A Beautiful Mess is Still a Mess

Visually spectacular but dramatically incoherent, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets commits one of the worst cinematic sins: a story so convoluted that the film, filled with striking imagery, grows boring for long stretches of time. When you're not staring at the beautiful, otherworldly compositions from director Luc Besson, expect instead to be staring at your watch. 2.5 out of 5.


Major Valerian (Dale DeHaan) and Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevinge), partners in the human army in the 28th century, are assigned to retrieve a creature (a "Mul Converter" in the film's otherworldly terminology) who can help save an endangered civilization. With the converter retrieved, the duo is sent to space station Alpha—the "City of a Thousand Planets," an interspecies mecca where something bad is afoot—to ensure the safety of their commander (Clive Owen). While they search for the commander, Valerian and Laureline work through their feelings for one another, and Valerian wrestles with Laureline's hesitance to believe he's ready to commit to marriage. After Laureline is abducted, Valerian enlists the help of Bubble (Rihanna) in rescuing the woman he loves.

What Works?

The film's images are vibrant on the big screen. While Valerian’s story doesn't reinvent the space opera in terms of its environments and characters, the story's planets, creatures and battle scenes make it hard for a viewer to look away for much of its running time. This is a rare instance where the extra 3D fee is worth paying.

What Doesn't?

Even with all that eye candy, don't expect to sit spellbound. The pretty pictures get old, and once the characters open their mouths and emit expository dialogue, it's difficult to figure out what's motivating their actions.

Christian Worldview Elements / Spiritual Themes

God isn't the subject of conversation. The closest Valerian gets to moral issues is Valerian's wrestling with marriage and commitment. When Valerian proposes to Laureline early in the film, he tells her he's sure that he can find a priest to perform the wedding, but Laureline isn't interested in accepting Valerian's proposal. To show the extent of his love, Valerian tells Laureline, "I'd die for you," but she replies, "I'm not asking you to die for me." Although the story isn't about the state of the characters' souls, it does include some soul-transferring when a princess designates Valerian to be the "garden of her soul" and enters into his body. The princess' mother puts her hands on Valerian and addresses him with, "My daughter," and Valerian says, "It's like she's been inside me this whole time." Bubble tells Valerian, "Life is more painful than death," and a planet is said to have once been a "paradise" where everyone lived in harmony until an "apocalypse" brought an end to a peaceful way of life. Those who survived tell Valerian that time allowed them to let go of their anger toward those who were responsible for the apocalypse, and that they eventually learned how to replicate and restore their lost world.

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)

  • MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action, suggestive material and brief language
  • Language/Profanity: “A-s”; “hell”; “dumba-s”.
  • Sexuality/Nudity: Valerian and Laureline exchange sexually suggestive banter; they argue in an early scene while laying down and rolling on top of each other (clothed); a stage show includes erotic dancing; kissing; a red-light district includes a character who’s a pimp; a character’s dancing incorporates a stripper pole; Valerian proposes to Laureline, but she puts him off
  • Violence/Frightening/Intense: Valerian's mission is to recover stolen property; several scenes where guns and other weapons are drawn, pointed and fired, with body impacts briefly shown; explosions, including a detonation that is said to have killed 6 million; a creature leaps upon a man and attacks him; a scene of torture; a guard is kicked and falls to the ground; Bubble and Laureline punch the commander.
  • Drugs/Alcohol: None.

The Bottom Line

RECOMMENDED FOR: Fans of director Luc Besson (Lucy, The Fifth Element), who's made another imaginative, visually dazzling film, and for fans of the comic series on which the film is based.

NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Viewers who prize coherent storytelling over eye-popping imagery.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, directed by Luc Besson, opened in theaters July 21, 2017; available for home viewing November 21, 2017. It runs 137 minutes and stars Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Herbie Hancock, Ethan Hawke and Rutger Hauer. Watch the trailer for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets here.

Christian Hamaker brings a background in both Religion (M.A., Reformed Theological Seminary) and Film/Popular Culture (B.A., Virginia Tech) to his reviews. He still has a collection of more than 100 laserdiscs, and for DVDs patronizes the local library. Streaming? What is this "streaming" of which you speak? He'll figure it out someday. Until then, his preferred viewing venue is a movie theater. Christian is happily married to Sarah, a parent coach and author of Hired@Home and Ending Sibling Rivalry.

Publication date: July 20, 2017

Image courtesy: ©STXEntertainment