Valerian is a Sci-Fi Smoothie for the Senses
*Spoiler Alert* while this review does not reveal any surprise elements, it could in fact spoil some aspects of the movie.
Although scenes of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets landed at the 2016 San Diego Comic-Con to a standing ovation, general audiences wondered what the hell “that new alien movie starring Rihanna” was all about.
Alas, this multi-universe space quest descends into theatres. From the mind of French writer/director, Luc Besson (The Professional, The Fifth Element, Lucy), comes a story based on the French Sci-Fi graphic book series, Valérian and Laureline, written by Pierre Christin with illustrations by Jean-Claude Mézières.
The majority of North American audiences are unfamiliar with who or what Valerian is. The action-packed trailer played in movie theatres across the globe over the past year, and journeys across a fluorescent galaxy to the elating sounds of David Bowie’s Space Oddity.
Now that it’s landed, the film is getting mixed reviews – praised for its stunning visuals yet criticised for a lacklustre script and a lost sense of connection to most of the live-action stars.
Valerian’s galactic tale begins on the sandy beaches of Planet Mul, home to an androgynous and regal species called Pearls. Pearls lived harmoniously on their planet until an unexpected apocalypse disrupted their livelihood; the only survivors of the alien species are left to fend for themselves in a fallen space capsule.
These creatures are truly magical. Pale blue and aqua green accents highlight their abnormally slender, tall bodies. Their aquatic shimmer is intimidating within its romanticism. Conceptually, their facial structure and colour pallet are reminiscent of the Na’vi in Avatar, but their beauty remains triumphant. The Pearls captivate from the opening scene.
400 years later, in a very distant future, Planet Mul is no more; Pearls have become mythical and the universe believes them to be extinct. Any government evidence proving their existence has been deemed classified by the menaced and erratic Commander Arun Filitt (Clive Owen), a slightly predictable villain who’s own collusion provides little to no motive.
The heroes (of course) are the shooting stars in this celestial joy ride! Two highly trained special operatives, Major Valerian (Dane Dehaan), and his tough-as-manicured-nails partner, Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne), travel to to the far reaches of the galaxy safeguarding the universe from existential threats.
The pair like to show off and they waste no time proving their alien-ass kicking capabilities. Plunging into an imaginative mission full of thrills, technology, grit, humour, and of course, high-definition special effects, Valerian and Laureline are this summer’s intergalactic crime fighting duo.
Throughout the entire film, the two protagonists play off one another’s sensuality. Their flirtations are alluring and their banter prompts a few chuckles, but a lack of charisma makes their dialogue feel forced. Dehaan and Delevingne bring their most to the script, but character development is not one of the thousand things this movie excels in.
More that halfway through the movie, we see Rihanna shine bright as Bubble, a shape-shifting, private dancing, alien “glamourpod” (you have to see it to believe it).
As Bubble, Rihanna steps into a familiar light, and emerges as a sexy shape-shifting dominatrix commanding the stage. The quirky alien species can be described as a loving, squid-like animation, by default. One of the most endearing things about Bubble is that Rihanna really brings herself to the role, yet Bubble is a major and minor character, impacting the story like an asteroid but only for a short period of time.
Director Luc Besson tells Yahoo Movies how the role was literally written for the Rihanna: “She’s the queen. When I wrote the character, I was inspired by her. For me, Rihanna is Bubble and Bubble is Rihanna.”
All in all, an $180 Million dollar budget, high quality cinematography/special effects, visionary realms and exciting new species are all reason enough to buckle up aboard The Intruder – Valerian’s time-travelling spaceship equipped with a supercomputer named Alex. Vibrant and explosive adventure excuses lack of character growth, and an on-going theme of love and moral high-ground has more impact than all efforts at comedic relief.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a Sci-Fi starburst of ideas inspired by Star Wars,The Fifth Element, Robocop, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Avatar, but with a strong fan base, a superstar cast (Ethan Hawke as “Jolly the Pimp” will either make you laugh or cringe), and a probable cult following, this may not be the last we see of Valerian, Laureline, and the thousands of other species floating around in the head-space of acclaimed director, Luc Besson.
If you plan on seeing this visionary and interstellar expedition, do yourself the favour of seeing it in 3D.
About the Author
Joey Viola is the Co-Founder of MoJo Toronto and an LGBTQ community leader who utilizes his passion and flair for the art of writing by bringing a fresh perspective in reviewing entertainment and advocating for equality, tolerance, and social/political justice.