Starring: Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne, Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock, Rutger Hauer, John Goodman, Elizabeth Debecki
Directed By: Luc Besson
Plot: I’ll try and explain this briefly. In the future, there is a planet/spaceship called Alpha which houses representatives from all species in existence. Aliens from all over the galaxy. Valerian (DeHaan) is a special agent, and his partner Laureline (Delevingne) and he are tasked with retrieving a rare object. This starts to unfold a story about an unknown species of humanoid aliens that might have been wiped out of existence accidentally… or maybe on purpose?
What Works: This film put me on a rollercoaster. Some parts of this film are absolutely tremendous. Some of the visual effects are the best I’ve seen in years, in terms of their creativity and inventiveness. If you enjoy visual spectacles, Valerian is by far the best you’ll get this year. If this film doesn’t win the Visual Effects Oscar, there’s something wrong. It’s a stunning work of art. Frames from this film could be sold as physical art, that’s how beautiful it is at times. It also gets wildly inventive with character and technology design. On a conceptual side, I love everything about Valerian. I also enjoyed the score, which complimented the film well. As far as the acting, I wound up liking DeHaan and Delevingne’s performances by the end of the film, though in the beginning I thought they had no chemistry and that DeHaan was imitating Keanu Reeves. But after almost two and a half hours, they wore me down and I appreciated their work. The film is long, but it is setting up this whole alternate universe and has a lot to explain. It can’t assume you know the source material, so it really works to develop the world and make you feel familiar with it. There are so many great concepts in this film, I can’t stress enough that this really truly is a visual masterpiece.
What Doesn’t Work: Lazy editing at times. There was a scene where we were shown Delevingne’s face reacting to DeHaan talking, except his mouth wasn’t moving. Lazy exposition. There was an admittedly cool, but also groanworthy exposition scene where Valerian asks his ship to provide info on Alpha, and basically it’s for the audience’s sake. I didn’t mind the exposition at the beginning of the film, but exposition this heavy almost a third of the way into the film was unnecessary. I had chemistry issues with DeHaan and Delevingne that didn’t resolve until the film was nearly over. Even now I’m not fully convinced those two actually like each other as actors. Rihanna’s voice acting is not great. Such an odd choice considering her character never sings. You could have hired anyone for that role, and you picked her, and she reads everything like a barely literate ten year old.
Final Word: But dammit, I really REALLY like this film. I think this film has so much cult status potential. I’ve been trying to figure out a grade for this film, and I’ve been all over the spectrum. But I keep coming back to my gut feeling, and that tells me that I enjoyed the film perhaps a lot more than I should have. But I did. I thought it was a daringly original space adventure with tremendous care in its visual effects and overall crafting of the world they live in. This film is not doing well at the box office, and it really deserves more than its getting. I’m definitely in the minority here, but I think Valerian is an underrated gem.
Final Grade: A-