I’m having such a hard time deciding whether to recommend ‘Valerian’ that it’s honestly driving me crazy! On the one hand, it is quite possibly the most visually sumptuous world put on the silver screen since ‘Avatar’. On the other, it’s got some of the worst performances you are likely to have to watch all year. On one hand, it has some of the most original worlds and alien characters you have ever seen. On the other, it has some of the worst dialogue and the least interesting human characters I’ve had the displeasure of watching since ‘Transformers’.
It’s so maddening! I could honestly do an entire review of pros and cons. Stunning opening scene. Bland and emotionless ending scene. Wonderful performances by the motion capture characters. Terrible performances by the real actors. First time you see an alien women stretch her arms to the sky of a gorgeous world you will open your eyes in wonder. The first time you see Dane Dehaan flirt with the gorgeous Cara Delevigne you will screech in agony. A nearly silent sequence introducing us to the gorgeous world of Mul is breath taking. An exposition heavy droning of a computer introducing us to the city of a thousand planets is eye rolling.
With all this bad mixed with all this good it is impossible to sing the movies praises without also bitching about what it could have been. At least the whole thing starts out damn near perfect. The opening sequence is a several century journey through the building of a cultural divide that works as a brilliant piece of silent filmmaking. This leads into an introduction of the Mul people and their amazing world. Honestly, watching them just exist on the spectacular planet is a thing of true beauty. I actually wish it had gone on a bit longer because the very next scene is the first glimpse of the movie going downhill.
It is at this point where we meet agents Valerian (Dehaan) and Laureline (Delevigne). Their playful banter on a phony beach is about the worst display of flirting I’ve ever seen. The two have next to no chemistry and their poor performances only manage to compliment each other in their complete banality. Yet, somehow that makes it easier for them shine through from time to time when they decide to actually do a little acting. Mostly, the two of them just play their characters parts by the number and deliver the necessary following of directions and exposition to move events along.
After a weird and kind of brilliant initial action sequence, the story makes its way to the city of a thousand planets. Which is another beautiful location or series of locations on one planet size space station. It’s kind of like Zootopia on steroids and consistently interesting to look at. In all honesty, it is the most fully realized world we’ve seen since Pandora in ‘Avatar’. Sadly, the story is also about as stereotypical as that movie, but it’s no big deal. The story works fine enough. The real problem is just the acting.
If you can get past the poor performances and weak romance then you might have a lot of fun with ‘Valerian’. It’s a gorgeous piece of cinema that delivers a handful of outstanding action sequences and a fairly enjoyable supporting cast of aliens. If you could get a perfect score for world building then this movie would get an “A”. Yet, world building is not everything, and when your performances are “D” grade your can only land somewhere in the middle.