It’s the far future, and humanity has become a space-faring species. Although Earth is still the capital of human-controlled space, the true heart of human civilization is Alpha: a massive roaming space station home to tens of millions of beings from thousands of different species. Protecting this grand city are a group of elite agents, including our heroes- the cool and suave lady-killer Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and his beautiful and snarky partner Laureline (Cara Delevinge). Following a mission to retrieve an extremely rare alien being and Valerian’s latest failure to seduce Laureline, the two discover a conspiracy which threatens to destroy the city of Alpha.
Ever since the first trailer for this film dropped, numerous comparisons to Besson’s earlier sci-fi film The Fifth Element have been made. And, having seen the film, I can tell you that most of these comparisons are apt, as it shares many of that film’s strengths. Like its predecessor, Valerian is a fun, colorful, sci-fi adventure film that never takes itself too seriously. Although ridiculously-detailed CGI is a dime-a-dozen these days, Valerian distinguishes itself by pure visual inventiveness, featuring such scenes as our hero retrieving stolen goods from a mobster while the mobster is an alternate dimension and (alien) Rihanna constantly shape-shifting while pole dancing. It’s very reminiscent of the colorful and chaotic cacophony which was The Fifth Element, which isn’t too surprising since some of the visual design of that film was done by the author of the comic book Valerian is based on.
The action sequences, while not jaw-dropping in the way of a John Wick film say, are still fun and decently well-choreographed. There’s also a healthy variety among them, from fist fights to shoot-outs to being chased by giant alien monsters and the obligatory giant space battle. The action keeps the film’s momentum going, and there’s hardly a dull moment between the action and visual splendor. Finally, and possibly most importantly of fall, is the fact that film never loses its sense of fun. Even once the (albeit fairly serious) plot reaches its climax, the protagonists still face the final fight with smiles and a snarky joke.
However, the film also has some fairly major flaws. In particular, the acting is, to put it charitably, poor. Both of the leads were grossly mis-cast. Dane DeHaan is very clearly trying to play a Han Solo-esque suave ladies’ man, and it just doesn’t work. He delivers all his lines in this strange, gravely, obviously fake monotone, and he ends up acting more like a thirteen year-old’s mental image of what a “cool dude” is like. Cara Delevinge does somewhat better, but only when her character is allowed to make sarcastic comments or punch people in the face; when she has to deliver dialogue, she falls flat as well. The chemistry between them and Clive Owen in the supporting cast saves it from being a complete disaster, but I still can see this movie being used as an example of the importance of proper casting in film school in five years’ time. In addition, the plot is somewhat generic and predictable, although of course no one goes to see a movie like this for the impeccably-written dialogue or profound dramatic moments.
So like I’m sure many others will do, I will end this review by once again comparing it to The Fifth Element (or, if you’d prefer a more recent film, the Wachowski’s Jupiter Ascending). It is a fun, action-packed sci-fi adventure flick with huge charm and potential along with some serious problems which prevent it from fully capitalizing on that potential. And yet, it still manages to be pretty fun despite, or in some cases even because of, its flaws. It may not be the smash success of the year, but I’m positive it will have a devoted cult following a few years down the road. So if you’re interested in a little silly fun in your summer blockbuster, Valerian and Laureline will be happy to oblige.