This is the caliber of sci-fi I aspire to write.
Imaginative, vibrant, and brimming with lore and cultural depth, Luc Besson’s Valerian is a visual masterpiece, rivaling even Pandora from James Cameron’s acclaimed Avatar (2009).
Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne as protagonists Valerian and Laureline are great together. When not confronting (awkwardly) their (quite unnecessary) sexual tension, and overloading the audience with exposition as to their partnership, their on-screen chemistry is clear. Not my first-choice for casting in either role; Clive Owen—whom plays their superior officer—would’ve been a prime candidate for the grizzled, adventurous agent that the character of Valerian needed to be, but these two have their merits. Their relative youth makes them more relatable to the viewing demographic.
The CGI is the finest I’ve seen in a sci-fi film, to date; Besson has even outdone his work on The Fifth Element—to which there are several nods—and the feel is largely the same. I could tell, even in passing, that there is a lot of story left to be explored. The variety of creatures we encounter (and don’t encounter) is something that hasn’t been done since the days of the Star Trek TV series, with its multi-cultural mainstays and heavy emphasis on galactic relations.
The soundtrack is pretty awesome, as well; a couple of the tracks—made up of remixes of classic tunes, as well as some originals composed for the film—have made it onto my personal playlist.
However, this movie isn’t without its faults—not all of which, I think, can be attributed to the director…
As I said, I could’ve done without the sexual tension between Valerian and Laureline. It’s cringe-worthy—bordering on workplace harassment, at times—but is something I can look past, for sake of the story. Plot clichés abound, but are all relatively-minor and so commonplace that a typical movie-goer would blink and miss them. Dialogue can seem wooden, at points, but the richness of the universe is a big redeeming factor. The Rihanna scene, in particular, went on for way too long, and the “emotional pay-off” later on doesn’t quite land. Honestly, I just shrugged it off. This movie breaks its own rules, sometimes, and there are continuity and factual errors that raised some flags with me. It appeared as if a lot of the film was dashed in the cutting room for sake of time and pacing, but it doesn’t work to the film’s advantage; like with last year’s Suicide Squad, a few extra—or longer—scenes here and there would have fleshed some confusing bits out, maybe even smoothed over some of the finer wrinkles in the plot. Nothing that can’t be fixed with a director’s cut DVD release.
I must warn, though, that this film isn’t a simple romp through space; deep sci-fi fans—Trekkers, followers of the Mass Effect game franchise, even devotees of the early Star Wars films and expanded literary universe—will get the most out of this film. Not saying it’s über-intelligent in its ideas, just that a lot of the sci-fi bits are really out there, and require an open and out-of-the-box-thinking mind to make sense.
Outlandish, creative in its presentation of familiar plot devices, and packed with action and life, Valerian is a film I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel to, down the road. It’s a story that deserves—as expansive as the graphic novel series is—to be told over many installments, if for no other reason than to dive deeper into the lore of the universe and build the characters further. I may just check out the source material, now that I’ve seen the film.
Final ‘Risk Assessment: ****/*.
Next review: Stephen King’s IT (2017; Sept. 8th)