A pair of special space agents uncover a dangerous secret as they attempt to stop a disaster that threatens to destroy the City of a Thousand Planets, home to millions of denizens from various alien species.
After receiving a strange vision of the death of alien princess, special agent Valerian (Dane Dehaan) and his partner Laureline (Cara Delevingne) head out on a mission to retrieve a Mcguffin for the federation of planets or…whatever they are. After a truly torturous amount of headache-inducing chemistry-free flirting, the pair take the recovered creature to the City of a Thousand Planets. Once Earth’s International Space Station, the place evolved as it became a diplomatic port of call for all manner of aliens, and is probably the most interesting character in the movie. Once their McGuffin is taken from them, Valerian and Laurelinde are assigned to protect Commander Filitt (Clive Owen), Earth’s representative in the City, who holds the key to a dangerous mystery. From there some space nonsense emerges involving a secret genocide that absolutely isn’t a secret because we saw it in the SECOND SCENE OF THE MOVIE, some flashy space battles, and more ‘flirting’ between the two leads that will make you want to punch both of them right in their giant eyebrows.
As a huge fan of The Fifth Element, I was really looking forward to seeing Valerian. Based on a hugely influential French comic, it looked like a somewhat Jupiter Ascending-esque ridiculous space opera, kinetic and brightly coloured and fun. It is brightly coloured, but that is the box this film ticks. It is the first Besson film I’ve seen that I can honestly say I was bored in. Clocking in at a whopping 2 hours and 20 minutes of screen time, Valerian earns maybe half an hour of that with a few intriguing concepts. The opening scene, chronicling the City’s journey from International Space Station to colossal floating meeting place as set to Space Oddity, promises a much better film than we ended up getting. The extended sequence that follows, set entirely on an alien planet with a character who still wasn’t our leads, is strange but intriguing and beautiful. Then we finally get our first encounter with our lead characters, and they’re…boring. Not just boring, they’re irritating, spouting barely comprehensible dialogue that wouldn’t be out of place in fanfiction written by a 12-year-old. Valerian has a crush on Laureline, but she doesn’t want to be another notch in the free-wheeling space rogue’s bedpost – except Dane Dehaan never convinces as a rogue of any kind, and Cara Delevingne isn’t talented enough to pull off a role that careens between character motivations like a pinball.
The film isn’t completely without its charms, though it’s hard to remember that sometimes when we’re spending time with our lead characters. A few of the action sequences have some of that frenetic Besson energy, but the film seems poorly edited. There’s no tension, no mystery; it’s like they made a film that they thought people wouldn’t understand, and recut it in a way that sucks away any intrigue. We get a brief reprieve from the inanity when Rihanna’s shapeshifting alien Bubble and her pimp Jolly, as played by Ethan Hawke, appear, but the levity they provide is all too brief. Theirs is but one of many stories that feel like they’d be more interesting to watch than the one Besson has chosen to tell. Wonderful world-building is put to waste as the film rolls slowly to its inevitable conclusion and you finally stumble from the theatre, just a little more disappointed and tired than when you walked in.