The are few things in the movie industry more sought after than a new, franchise starting, blockbuster, especially one that falls within the sci-fi genre, because who doesn’t want to make “Star Wars type” money. However for every Guardians Of The Galaxy, there are dozens of John Carters, and Jupiter Ascendings. Thankfully though, Valerian(I’m not writing that whole title,) falls somewhere in between, though certainly a lot closer to the former, than the latter. The new film, from the director of Fifth Element, Luc Besson, is an adaptation of a graphic novel that is visually stunning, and has enough holding it together which keeps it from exploding into a giant ball of space fire.
The story boils down to a buddy cop movie set in space, the main character of Major Valerian, played by Dane DeHaan, and Sergeant Laureline, played by Cara Delevingne, must track down a kidnapped commander, while unraveling the mystery of an unidentified enemy. The majority of the film is aboard a massive space station, housing species from yes, a thousand planets. Watching the plot unfold is rather entertaining, and while it is not overly suspenseful, there is enough intrigue that you want to see how it all resolves itself. Thankfully choices are made early on not to conceal certain characters motivations, because saving the information for the end would have made for a dud of twist, as even before the early reveal, there was enough clues to know where certain parts were going to go. Fragments of the overall story are revealed throughout, with pieces of exposition, being explained to the audience, each piece of which keeps you engaged, though not all of these scenes are as impactful as they should be. There as several instances where people attempt to gain more information, but are stopped by the all too cliché “Top Secret/ Classified” designation. While the film obviously cannot give everything away up front, it could have used more variety in keeping the information sealed until it’s needed.
The real moments worth watching are all of the things that happen away from the main story. The film has many set pieces both on the massive space station, as well as off. The first major scene involving Valerian and Laureline takes place on desolate planet, that doubles as a tourist trap and an alternate dimension bustling marketplace. The introduction of this planet, and the subsequent scenes are a ton of fun to watch, and is done in a unique way that feels unlike other seedy sci-fi marketplaces. The moments that take place on the station are also done well, and each area they visit are populated enough that they appear lived in. There are multiple fun little moments exploring the area, but most of them are drastic tonal shifts, as they are much zanier than other parts of the film.
The real standout of the film though is the visual style, and character design. There are so many creatures throughout the film, and while some only get brief mentions in the overview of the world, each looks distinctive, which gives credence to the idea that this is a universal hub world. The best examples are the montages that explain the history of the space station, both as it exists now, and how it came to be in the first place. There are certainly a bit too many human, or humanoid creatures, but the design of the other races are good enough where it never became bothersome. The best of which are three winged creatures that hold information at ransom, and are the most memorable aliens in the film. The world itself is also striking, as areas go from bright and vibrant worlds, to dark and dingy areas, reminiscent of many sci-fi films. One issue though is that it almost looks too good, which is a nitpick, but there were times where it looked more like the bad films mentioned earlier, due to a lack of practical sets.
The two leads also help this film a ton, they play off each other, and both have their own strengths they bring to the proceedings. The chemistry is certainly there between Dehaan and Delevingne, and while the love story angle never comes across as wholly real, the banter between the two more than makes up for it. The better moments featuring the two actors are certainly the ones playing off the will they/wont they dynamic, as the playful demeanor is more in line with the rest of the film. There is little to no supporting case here, as the two leads bounce from moment to moment, with the characters they meet along the way, getting largely left behind. Rihanna is a stand out though in this regard, as her character is fun, funny, and a part of one of the better sections of the movie. She is however not in it enough, and could have been used more than she was. The other non-creature characters are for the most part, cookie cutter military types, and either just stare at screens looking confused because they aren’t sure whats going on, or are the faces on the screens, and are just giving orders or acting important.
The film as a whole has more good than bad, and there is certainly enough to craft and entertaining, and beautiful looking experience. Not all of the elements work in favor of the movie, as the ending is a bit rushed, and way too exposition heavy. There are several speeches in the last third that spell out everything that story just showed us, which was more heavy handed than it was probably meant to be. The elements that detract from the finished product never cross the point where the film is ruined, but instead keeps it in range of just ok.