It’s hard not to be in awe of the ambition of Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Adapted from the Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Méziéres comic book, it’s a monumental undertaking left in the hands, it seems, of the right visionary. And yet while wonderstruck by the scope of the endeavour, we’re left confounded and underwhelmed by the execution.

Set in the 28th century – we visit Alpha, a metropolis which homes species from a thousand different planets, all living together in unity. Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are special operatives – and romantic idealists – who find themselves at this peaceful city to help combat the dark forces that threaten to tear apart this multicultural environment.

That, believe me, is about as stripped down a narrative description as one could possibly come up with – for this Besson production represents a somewhat complex, convoluted tale which a whole myriad of tangents we carelessly head down. With so many species to explore, and such a vast amount of characters (which also include the likes of Rihanna’s Bubble, Ethan Hawke’s Jolly the Pimp and Clive Owen’s Commander Arun Filitt), this title is more a film of a thousand chapters, and perhaps would work better as an elongated TV series, or perhaps a cinematic trilogy, to allow us the time to comprehend the landscape we’re inhabiting.

ValerianAs with any science-fiction feature of this nature, you strive to detect parallels to the world we know, strands of humanity we can resonate with and cling on to – and yet in Valerian we’re left wanting. Perhaps there is a message here about embracing other people’s cultures and the benefits to us all living together, to not be quite so insular and protective of one’s industry, and be more open, curious and compassionate. But it’s not a notion that is significantly dealt with, leaving a film void of any true emotionality.

That’s not exactly what Besson is going for, it seems – in what is a gloriously ridiculous film, completely off-the-wall in parts and affectionately so. It’s a fortunate tone to embrace too, for the irreverence and playful nature lets Valerian off the hook, particularly in regards to the quite terrible screenplay. There is no wit or sharpness to any of the contrived one-liners, which is only just excusable given the sheer absurdity of it all.

It’s a film that very much works on a surface level – stylistic, vibrant and vivacious from a visual perspective, but when digging deeper there’s really little substance. It feels like Besson just threw a lot of colours at the project and hoped to see what would stick. While that can make for striking, evocative art – take Jackson Pollock, for instance – it can also create one big colourful mess. Which is sadly the most apt description of this title.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is released on August 2nd