If you’d asked me just a couple days ago if it would matter that I’d spend a good three-quarters of a movie having no idea what was going on, I would have said: Yes. Yes, that would matter. But that was before I’d seen Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.
I have no problem admitting that it really did take me about that long before I knew what was really happening, because I also have to admit that Valerian is wildly inventive. It’s directed by Luc Besson, who also made The Fifth Element and who has a visual imagination that’s matched by few other directors. Love him or hate him, he’s bound to show you something new.
The movie’s based on a French comic book series, and while I’m still not positive I caught everything, as far as I can tell, Valerian takes place sometime in the 26th or maybe the 28th century and follows federal agents Valerian and Laureline as they recover a little animal called a Mul Converter that can reproduce hundreds of copies of anything it eats. (This is important for reasons I won’t reveal.)
Eventually they find themselves back in Alpha, a humongous space station city that houses aliens from throughout the universe, where they realize that one of their superiors, played by Clive Owen, is up to something that’s definitely no good.
Not that any of this makes any sense when I describe it. And not that it matters much. Because what we see in the movie more than makes up for what we don’t understand, with multi-dimensional chase scenes, shape-shifting slave aliens, and a giant space jellyfish you have to wear on your head, but not for too long, lest it steal your memories.
It’s endlessly creative. I do wish, though, that it had been a little more bonkers—the movie is mostly played pretty straight ahead, and I wish Besson had gone even more over the top and just made it a Mad Max-level wacko-fest, instead of the series of intergalactic space chases it is. And there’s a romantic subplot that’s downright cringeworthy, which really distracts from everything else that’s going on. Still, it’s not often that you see a movie that makes such little sense, but manages to keep your attention throughout.