This is not a great way of beginning a review, but I don’t have anything particularly interesting to say about this film. I don’t have anything insightful or witty to add to the plethora of reviews. I just feel it’s important for someone to say something positive about this epic, beautiful, engrossing film. There are a lot of negative reviews out there, with the film gaining only 50% on Rotten Tomatoes, and 2 out of 5 stars in both The Guardian and Empire. And it looks like these have had a negative impact on the public—according to Nathan Rabin, as of 4th August, the film had only made back a fifth of its $177m budget in box office takings worldwide. And I think that’s immensely sad, because I absolutely loved this film.
It’s epic, in every sense. Its scope is huge, conceptually and physically. Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are special operatives charged with preserving order across the 28th century universe. They travel across galaxies to prevent a threat deep in Alpha—a city that is an amalgamation of a thousand planets, where different species have converged to share knowledge and culture. This alone should be praised as a wonderful celebration of diversity in a time of fear of difference. We visit an inter-dimensional market, see a shape-shifting burlesque show, get suckered in by a telepathic jellyfish. If it sounds mad, that’s because it absolutely is. Mad and beautiful. An alien race with pearl-like skin. Treacherous luminous butterflies. Valerian catapulting through dozens of Alpha regions in the blink of an eye.
Is the pacing a little off? Yes. On one occasion the tension is cranked up to breaking point, only to be interrupted by Rihanna playing a shape-shifting dancer—Cabaret plus aliens. Meanwhile Laureline is in the middle of a life-threatening situation that is more farcical than frightening. And after this quick burlesque/comedy break, we’re back to ratcheting up the tension. But that scene with Rihanna is just mesmerising, so I forgave Luc Besson immediately.
Am I invested in the romance? No. And maybe the reviews are right, the chemistry leaves something to be desired and the romantic dialogue is as corny as can be. But I wasn’t there for romance. I was there for two people uncovering a genocidal plot and saving multiple alien races across the universe.
Why does every film have to be something slick, to get us straight from point A to point B? Why does it have to be polished within an inch of its life, spoonfeeding the audience with the requisite action and romance sequences? I often had no idea where Valerian was taking me, but I was totally happy to strap in for the ride. Isn’t there something to be said for sitting back and enjoying a breathtaking, imaginative, well-crafted spectacle with the most mind-blowing world-building we’ve seen in a long time? Robbie Collin has put it far better than I could: “Valerian is a film to wallow in, not follow, and if you’re tuned to its extra-terrestrial wavelength, you wouldn’t cut a second.” Let’s learn to wallow a bit more.