Written and Directed by The Dude Who Made The Fifth Element (Luc Besson)
Starring: The Green Goblin From the Failed Spider-Man Franchise (Dane Dehaan), The Villain With the Weird Shimmy From Suicide Squad (Cara Delevigne), Hey (Clive Owen)is in This?, Rihanna, and Is That (Ethan Hawke)?
The best part of Valerian is the first five minutes. It is must-watch film. I don’t want to spoil it, but so much is conveyed in a montage about the growth of the Space Station, set fittingly to David Bowie’s, ‘Space Oddity’. It acts as a lovely send off to both Bowie and a nod to the first song ever recorded in space by astronaut, Chris Hadfield. Immediately following this is the cliff notes version of James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ as populated by an alien race of Handsome Squidwards. You’ve seen this ‘alien species as stand-in for peaceful pre-colonial tribe’ before, but it’s effective at setting up the core conflict for the film.
That brings us, finally, to our protagonists at the about 15-20 minute mark of the film. This is where things start to drag and snag. ‘Valerian’ the film is a fun sci-fi romp with bright sets and big ideas. Valerian the character is utterly insufferable and makes you grit your teeth every time he’s on screen.
I have seen Dane Dehaan in three films now and he has impressed me in none of them. The man has all of the charisma of a wet sponge not a leading man. He talks like a teenage boy doing an impression of Bruce Willis. There is no chemistry with costar Cara Delevigne and the film picks up dramatically when his character is put out of commission.
The writing is at times awkward, and any time it veers into the territory of romance you’re going to want to look at your phone.The dialogue where he tries to come off either as a romantic or a hardened soldier is just so awkward and tone deaf.
The strongest part is the stunning imagination of the space station and planets the viewers get to visit. There’s an underwater sequence where they have to harvest a jellyfish that is just delightful in terms of spectacle and world building. Ethan Hawke appears as a pimp in a role that looks written for Sam Rockwell. Rihanna shines as a shapeshifting burlesque dancer and actress named Bubble. Elizabeth Debicki is making quite the career of being a leader of alien races that I keep mistaking for Cate Blanchett. Previously, she played Ayesha in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2’.
Valerian has the makings of a great film(minus the lead), but the balancing act of the film doesn’t always equal the sum of its parts. The movie is too long. Everyone in the theatre jumped out of their seats the moment credits hit. It lingers and feels like there is one act too many.
Something I ask myself when seeing high concept blockbusters, or films in general is, “Should this film exist?”. Are the ideas presented something we as a society need to hear? Yes. It may be a messy presentation, but Valerian has a strong message about refugees, immigration, and human trafficking. It brings up points about how a military can destroy someone’s homeland and then have the audacity to sneer at refugees coming to them for aid. Political messages are often served best in a speculative package. In today’s divided landscape, Valerian offers a future wherein collaboration and working together leads us to the stars.
Should you see this movie? Absolutely. Should you see it in theatres? If you want the big screen spectacle, otherwise I’d recommend watching it at home.