Luc Besson’s most well known and loved sci fi film is The Fifth Element. If you’ve seen that, you know he loves vibrant, imaginative set pieces with quirky aliens. Valerian is not nearly as strong or endearing a film, but it’s still an enjoyable two hour diversion.
Valerian and Laureline are government space officers, set off on a mission to find a stolen artifact. They take off but not before Valerian witnesses the destruction of a peace loving, simple race of beings on a paradise planet. The mission of course runs into a few hitches and Valerian and his partner discover that something doesn’t smell right and someone in the government is trying to hide a tremendous secret. Not only must they save Alpha from destruction from some mysterious threat, Valerian must learn what the vision he received has to do with all of it.
The plot quite honestly is nothing special. It’s not horribly executed and it doesn’t have many glaring flaws in it but it also doesn’t have much impact. Dane DeHaan gives a decent performance as Valerian, a skirt chasing, high level operative. Besson reportedly didn’t want a typical action star look for his male lead, and he’s definitely achieved it. Cara Delevingne is ok as a hard nosed female agent focused on the mission and not being another conquest on Valerian’s belt. Everyone else around them does a decent job at playing tense, alarmed military officials. They do all of the heavy lifting while Valerian and Laureline kind of flit about getting in and out of trouble in their roundabout way of fulfilling the mission. Even the citizens of Alpha seem not to take them too seriously, which is kind of strange as they keep repeating they are government agents, but really all of these characters are holding the plot in place so we have an excuse to see the various landscapes in this City of a Thousand Planets.
This is where the movie shines. This film is a visual feast. From the Middle Eastern inspired marketplace to the winding futuristic red light district, every locale bursts with intricate detail and vivid color. Especially in 3D. Everything pops and is so crisp that you’ll easily fall into just wide eyed staring at a lot of the backgrounds. The aliens and other CGI are well done, with some really clever special effects thrown in. The CGI aliens actually have some of the funniest scenes in the movie. Ironically, they feel more alive than most of the live actors. The Pearls, a shimmery iridescent race with supremely thin limbs are particularly captivating to see. Even the non cgi things like costumes and clothing were on point.
Overall the visual set pieces feel like the real reason for this movie. The mission while it gets some lip service feels a lot less urgent as we get midway through the flick. It’s almost as if this flick is little vignettes tied together by some important problem they will eventually get to solving. The final act does tie everything together and gives the film some gravitas back, but moreso because you sympathize with the aliens. Even with the flat love story thrown in, nothing really gets you attached to anything in particular. I guess the credit to Besson is that none of this really gets on your nerves because the colorful visuals are more than entertaining enough. Let’s hope that the inevitable sequel gets a more engaging storyline.