A family friendly procedural space opera fantasy adventure — yeah.
After procuring a unique creature from a transdimensional flea market, 28th-century human agents Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are summoned to Alpha, an amalgamous space station that has grown to include habitats, technology, and knowledge from over a thousand worlds. Deep within the core of the structure, something is stirring that doesn’t wish to be seen… and it’s getting larger. Feeling like they’re always a step behind a mysterious foe, our heroes must uncover clues to solve a thirty-year old puzzle while surviving the corridors and creatures lurking deep within the station… or die trying.
From Leon aka The Professional and Lucy to The Transporter series and The Fifth Element, writer/ director/ producer Luc Besson has a unique style that’s easy to spot. Whether it’s visuals, humor, or action, there’s a precision to create things just the way he wants them, critics be damned. Sometimes this works surprisingly well — such as in Leon — or barely manages to stay on the rails — think Lucy. But Besson hasn’t met a high concept he didn’t like, and this one’s been stewing for decades. Based upon the French comic series “Valérian and Laureline” running from 1967 to 2010, can Luc Besson spin his love of these two Spatio-Temporal Service agents into a cinematic franchise?
There’s a Gene Roddenberry-like innocence about Valerian; it isn’t a stretch to imagine this is what the Nova Corps probably do when not chasing after the Guardians of the Galaxy, the illusion of a perfect society. When added to the imagination of Luc Besson himself, fans of The Fifth Element may prefer to believe both Valerian and Laureline exist in that same universe — technically, they are. The story is predictable but a refreshing change from the summer-blockbustery defeat-the-CGI-monster ending too many other films in 2017 have fired off to be quickly forgotten. Visuals are indeed the bread and butter of Valerian, and it is a hearty feast for the eyes and the imagination. On the downside, the script could have used some tweaks; the 200-minute film feels overlong for the story and underimportant for the reported $200 million in independent financing secured to bring it to the silver screen — not to mention the holistic Pearl race looks eerily like the albino cousins of the Na’vi from James Cameron’s Avatar.
While Cara Delevingne worked hard to fill Laureline’s shoes while sporting killer eyebrows, Dane DeHaan comes off as too soft-spoken, especially after introducing him as a reputable lady-killer without showing any inkling of charm whatsoever; he’s neither James Bond nor James T. Kirk, and you need a lot more leading-man presence if you’re intend to own the title character. Maybe Besson was attempting to inject too many particulars into his favorite characters and became bogged down in that mission, but wouldn’t someone like Nicholas Hoult have been a better choice for lead actor? The Fifth Element was reportedly inspired by “Valérian and Laureline” while Luc continued to secure the comic’s film rights, but the original take seems to have served Element all the better.
It did take some time for The Fifth Element to win fans over from expectations in 1997, but much of Element’s popularity (and positive box office take) came from foreign markets before eventually finding viewers on demand and movie channels; Valerian has that potential but may find little initial forgiveness from jaded mainstream American audiences to try something weird and new. If you’re looking for huge concept, lighter fare, and something enjoyable to let your mind wander a bit, a trip to Alpha may be for you. For everyone else, it sits just on the positive side of the line: not great — questionably good but definitely okay.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action, suggestive material, brief language, and memory-eating psychic jellyfish.
3 Skull Recommendation Out of Four