Uniqueness is in high demand in Hollywood. Luc Besson has created something to fit that bill. The man who’s diverse filmography has drawn lines amongst cinephiles returns to the big screen. As far back as The Fifth Element to newer films like Lucy, Besson has always had an eye for distinctive films. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is perhaps his most ambitious work yet. Though the box office forecast looks grim, that shouldn’t shy you away from Valerian. The movie is entertaining even while being fairly generic from a story telling stand point. Besson crafts a visual spectacle unlike anything you’ll see, and gives us enough to count Valerian among his better entries.

Dane DeHaan (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) stars as the films titular character. He is a federal agent, and a Major at that. His partner is Laureline, played by Cara Delevingne, a tough girl who carries a flame for Valerian as does he for her. The movie takes place way into the future and find the two heroes tracking down a rare item for their federation they work for. It is a relic of a civilization thought to be wiped out 400 years earlier.

The main problem and arguably the films weakest entry, is DeHaan. Valerian is said to be a ladies man, yet, I never bought that notion. Sure he is a bad ass to some degree, knows how to fight and every other quality a hero should have. Its just his performance that is severely wooden. DeHaan has had solid roles in the past. He was great in Lawless and in the terrific Chronicle. Yet, here he is just flat and nothing he does beyond the action scenes is believable. It’s a phoned in performance from a talented actor.

However, Valerian and Laureline do have solid chemistry in the movie. Delevingne’s character is much like who you think she’ll be. She’s a damsel in distress one minute, the next, Valerian’s moral center. The characters a cliches. Besson, who wrote the equally as cliche script, doesn’t truly flesh out his leads which is disappointing, and a near fatal flaw of the film. Particularly when everything else around them is done well.

Valerian is among the more beautiful films you’ll ever see. It’s striking visuals do warrant Besson’s long wait to put this to film. The technology is available and the veteran director puts it to great use in his film. Bright and vibrant colors populate the screen even during scenes in darker settings. There isn’t a shot in this film that isn’t awe-inspiring. Besson’s films are always dripping in his style, Valerian is no exception.

But the movie isn’t just style over substance. There are genuinely things about Valerian to like. Not lost in the visuals in the fun environment that embodies the film. Most of the action sequences are thrilling. And while a lot of that has to do with visuals, they compliment each other well. Besson makes a point of showing off this world. Can you blame him? Probably not since Avatar have we seen a movie more aesthetically gorgeous. The comic book that the film is based on is said to be an inspiration for Star Wars. That can be seen throughout the film.

Alexandre Desplat’s score is often dreamy and altogether fitting. It’s cacophonous when it needs to be and subtle and reserved in the right places. It is possibly one of the only subtle things about the film. But Valerian doesn’t have to be subtle. In a crowded summer of sequels and remakes, original sci-fi is a treat. When it’s done right it’s an even bigger one. Besson’s world building is what makes the overall scope of the film so interesting. There is a ton to explore in this universe. It’s a rich sprawling landscape of beautiful scenery and stunning creature design.

Valerian is the epitome of the ambitious summer blockbuster. Besson’s vision and passion for this project is what makes it so fun and entertaining for the most part. Despite it being inconsistently paced the movie offers up several thrills and amazing visuals. Hopefully, the numbers are decent for the movie, I would love to see more in this universe.

6.3/10

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