Socialist Worker

Valerian—a magnificent sci-fi mess that gets lost in excess

by Ken Olende
Issue No. 2566


Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne)

Summer blockbuster Valerian is visually stunning, particularly in a glorious montage of different types of aliens.

Director Luc Besson’s English language French film is also creative and playful in a way that is rare for Hollywood movies.

Running jokes include the development of peaceful co-existence through learning to shake hands and the importance of wearing seatbelts in space ships.

But in the end it is a glorious mess.This is a full-blown space opera with galactic empires and hundreds of alien species.

Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are some kind of elite super agents working for the government.

The film is loyal to its origins in a long-running French comic Valerian that started in 1967.

It was a major influence on the look of the original Star Wars.

This is not an advantage decades later when it seems to be copying the more successful franchise.

As in Doctor Who, the heroes’ ship could travel anywhere in space and time—though in the film the time travel doesn’t appear.


Like Star Trek it is set in a human dominated future. But where the US series idealised the JF Kennedy era and US global dominance, Valerian developed after May 1968 in France.

It is much more anti-imperialist and suspicious of authority.

The French left at the time was very Maoist in outlook and tended to romanticise farming—or in this case fisher folk.

It also has a rather hippyish love of youth, and a more punky anti-authoritarianism. Though with the film’s rather wooden acting this comes across more like teenage sulkiness.

DeHaan and‎ Delevingne take everything rather too seriously and their constant banter is neither witty nor romantic enough.

The film is a pet project that Besson has been developing for decades.

The massive budget is all on screen, but it would be a better film if someone had controlled its wild excess.

It’s good to see a future that isn’t a simple dystopia.

But the plot gets lost in the dizzying array of new worlds, and the worlds get forgotten in the constant rush of the plot.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Directed by Luc Besson

Out now

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Tue 8 Aug 2017, 11:04 BST
Issue No. 2566
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