After years of trying, and amassing the largest budget ever for an independent film, director Luc Besson has finally made his dream of adapting the Valérian and Laureline comics for the big screen a reality. First published in 1967, the famous comic series is responsible for inspiring some of the most iconic science fiction films of all time, including Star Wars. 50 years later, the two heroes have finally made it to theatres in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.
Right out of the gate, Besson’s film makes a strong impression on the viewer, which lasts for its entire runtime. It is not an exaggeration to say that without a doubt, this is one of the most beautiful, and visually inventive films ever made. Besson’s passion for this project is palpable, and every scene, every environment, is packed full of vibrant detail. There isn’t a single moment in this movie that isn’t realized with jaw-dropping visual splendour. The many worlds of Valerian are bright and bursting with life, and every character is unique and interesting. The film is carried on the shoulders of its visual effects, and they are flawless.
The action that happens in this world of visual magnificence is first-rate. The set pieces are creative and incredibly well executed, making them a joy to watch. No matter how high octane and crazy the chases and fights become, the camera never waivers and everything happens with satisfying clarity that is easy to follow—an impressive feat considering that modern big budget blockbusters still struggle in this area (just look at the recent Spider-Man: Homecoming, which featured aerial action scenes that were abysmally messy and incoherent). Everything is further elevated by a wonderful score from Alexandre Desplat; the music is just as bright and unique as what’s on screen. Given the visual beauty and masterful direction, it will be easy for viewers to get lost in the film.
Though the visuals, action, and effects are the stars of the movie, there are also some actors in Valerian, and, while understandably less impressive than the technical wonders of the film, they are a serviceable cast. Dane DeHaan performs well as Valerian, inhabiting the hero with charisma, and a laid-back, cool-guy attitude. Cara Delevingne makes Laureline a capable heroine, with a feisty temper and a knack for kicking ass, who often has to help her partner out of a tough spot. The characters don’t have a whole lot of depth to them, and you may end up wishing you knew more about them, though the movie has no interest in being a character study. As a pairing, DeHaan and Delevingne don’t have the most impressive chemistry either. They play off each other well enough, though it would have been nice if the spark between them was a bit brighter (admittedly, a minor complaint). Also worth noting, is the performance by Rihanna. The music star doesn’t steal the show, but displays capable acting chops in an excellent and likeable supporting role.
The basic plotline of the film is far less original and inventive than the visuals, and the script does hold the movie back in a few places. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t necessarily rise to the level of the movie’s technical brilliance. There are some issues with pacing in the final act, with a climax that feels too stretched out, and there’s some pretty cheesy dialogue throughout the whole affair. In a lesser film, these issues would probably hamper the viewing experience a lot more than they do here, and if you aren’t impressed by the visual aspect of cinema, perhaps they might, but the sheer beauty of this movie more than makes up for its shortcomings.
Valerian is a film that is more than the sum of its parts. It’s truly one of the most gorgeous pieces of art to ever emerge from the film industry, and deserves to be seen in 3D on the largest screen you can find.
Featured Image: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (STX Entertainment)