'Valerian' Delivers an Extraterrestrial Spectacle (Review)

A heaping dose of extraterrestrial eye candy invades movie theaters across the U.S. today (July 21).

"Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets" is a new science-fiction action film based on the French comic series "Valérian and Laureline." It tells the story of two government agents who travel through space, fighting crime and maintaining order in the universe. Their journey takes them to an intergalactic metropolis known as Alpha Space Station, where thousands of alien species coexist.

Between the diverse populations of spectacular creatures and the huge expanse of alien infrastructure, the sights you'll see throughout this movie are nothing short of impressive. But if you're looking for a captivating story, you won't find it here. [9 Exciting Space Movies to Watch in 2017]

An extraterrestrial paradise is under attack in this scene from "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets." (Image credit: STX Films and Europacorp)

Considering the fact that "Valerian" is the most expensive independent film ever made, it makes sense to see it filled with beautiful sets, awesome costumes and convincing special effects. In fact, the movie is such a spectacle that it's pretty easy to overlook any shortcomings in the storyline or with character development.

The story begins on the planet Mül, where smiling, shimmery-skinned humanoids known as the Pearls live on a beautiful island paradise. Colorful nebulas paint the skies all colors of the rainbow, and seashells the size of elephants line the beaches.

Instead of dogs and cats, the Pearls keep adorable, goblin-like critters known as "Mül converters" as pets. Not only are these animals arguably the cutest little aliens in the universe, but they also excrete pearly little stones that the Pearl species needs to survive.

An alien on the planet Mül holds a creature known as a converter. (Image credit: STX Films and Europacorp)

It doesn't take long before there's trouble in paradise. When foreign spacecraft start to fall from the sky, their ethereal planet is destroyed. Some of the Pearls manage to escape — but without any of their precious, superimportant pets.

Enter Maj. Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Sgt. Laureline (Cara Delevingne), two colleagues and hopeless romantics on a mission to retrieve the last living Mül converter, named Melo, which somehow ended up in the hands of a criminal mastermind who lives in another dimension. The duo fly their spacecraft – which looks like the Millennium Falcon in "Star Wars" — to the desert planet Kirian, where they use creative, high-tech and dangerous tactics to retrieve the little critter.

Official movie poster for "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets" (Image credit: STX Films and Europacorp)

Valerian and Laureline spend the rest of the film trying to get Melo back to where it belongs, which proves far more complicated than they anticipated. They also spend quite a bit of time getting lost and looking for each other — and arguing about whether they should get married, despite the fact that there doesn't appear to be much chemistry between the two of them. Perhaps the movie would have been better without that awkward, not-so-romantic distraction.

Thankfully, it's easy to forget that you're watching a shabby love story when there's plenty of exciting stuff happening in the movie. There may not be a lot of substance to the plot, but the movie is still absolutely entertaining to watch.

Email Hanneke Weitering at hweitering@space.com or follow her @hannekescience. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.

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Hanneke Weitering
Contributing expert

Hanneke Weitering is a multimedia journalist in the Pacific Northwest reporting on the future of aviation at FutureFlight.aero and Aviation International News and was previously the Editor for Spaceflight and Astronomy news here at Space.com. As an editor with over 10 years of experience in science journalism she has previously written for Scholastic Classroom Magazines, MedPage Today and The Joint Institute for Computational Sciences at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. After studying physics at the University of Tennessee in her hometown of Knoxville, she earned her graduate degree in Science, Health and Environmental Reporting (SHERP) from New York University. Hanneke joined the Space.com team in 2016 as a staff writer and producer, covering topics including spaceflight and astronomy. She currently lives in Seattle, home of the Space Needle, with her cat and two snakes. In her spare time, Hanneke enjoys exploring the Rocky Mountains, basking in nature and looking for dark skies to gaze at the cosmos.