Valerian: Luc Besson’s Heroic Attempt at Another Cult Hit

Why special effects and starpower from Rihanna can’t always save lackluster storytelling *Mild Spoilers*


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by Kyler Thompson on August 24th, 2017

Sci-fi fans have been patiently waiting for Luc Besson’s latest big-budget release, "Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets," but I’m sure they weren’t expecting to see Rihanna as an alien exotic performer named Bubbles.

valerian comic
Dargaud Comics / via variety.com

Based on a series of French comics, space-crime fighting duo and love interests Major Valerian and Sergeant Laureline are tasked to stop an unknown threat to Alpha, a human space station that’s collected alien life forms from---you guessed it--- thousands of other galaxies to form a pseudo planet where they can all coexist. (Right. Humans can’t even get along on Earth.) You soon find out that everything is not as it seems alongside the duo, and the movie takes you on a whirlwind through different worlds and dimensions while they attempt to save Alpha, and save others from people on Alpha itself. Besson was trusted by his track record for creating ahead-of-their-time cult hits to bring these comics to life on the Hollywood big screen. Sadly, it was easy to be on board the ship, but you could ultimately feel it sinking as you sail further into this intergalactic dogpile.

1. Pro: Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevigne

Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevigne in Valerian
STX Entertainment / via slashfilm.com

First of all, Dane DeHaan simply does not age. In his early thirties but looking like a teenager, DeHaan completely beloved in such indie hits like Chronicle and Kill Your Darlings, making this his first real stab at being a sci-fi action hero. With him in the title role, Valerian is supposed to come off as the wisecracking space officer who has humbly decided to give up his long list of past hook-ups in exchange for putting a ring on his sergeant partner, Laureline. We’ve seen Cara Delevigne in a young adult adaptation like "Paper Towns", to the wicked Enchantress in "Suicide Squad", so it’s not all too surprising to see her continuing her career in an action-packed film like this. The real surprise is seeing Valerian and Laureline as a (somewhat) item. It’s easy to forget that the first couple of scenes in the film were Valerian chasing her around, reminding her of his relentless love for her. Contrary to popular belief, I think both young actors did great with the script given, but it’s clear that a chemistry read before the two were cast probably didn’t happen. Honestly, we might’ve just needed more time to witness the character development between them, instead of just being told what and who they are early on---it doesn't give people time to fall in love with them. One thing that shines a bit is the element of feminine power shown in Laureline. Often being shown as only a sidekick to Valerian, she steps up multiple times in the movie and tells him to move aside as she does the big boy work for once. (After all, the comics were called Valerian and Laureline, not Valerian and his Reluctant Girlfriend.)

2. Con: The Script

Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevigne in Valerian 2
STX Entertainment / via theverge.com

The script was a very large setback on the success of this thing. The film contained some predictable, almost stiff dialogue which definitely could’ve gone through an edit or two. Character interactions feel forced. Many scenes could have had a huge positive impact on the film, but instead made every scene feel like a filler until the next person gets stabbed by a sword. Even during a pivotal scene between the leads where Valerian has to decide between his duty and his heart, with a little advice from Laureline of course, you’re left in your seat wondering why you’re not as moved as you should be. I can’t help but think that if the language was stronger, is the characters were developed more, if one scene was put here instead of there, we would’ve had the sci-fi lover’s corny dream.

3. Pro: Special Effects

valerian special effects
STX Entertainment / via doublefeaturepreachers.com

James Cameron’s 2009 hit Avatar was ahead of it’s time when it came to effects, and it blew audiences away to a point where it changed the sci-fi game forever. Luc Besson can be remembered for his now cult hit The Fifth Element, which took years to gain traction from an audience that wasn’t quite ready for it when it premiered on the big screen. He had to wait patiently for technology to advance to match his imagination in order to bring this story to life, and the film really didn't disappoint, in this case. It’s obvious that a majority of the set was definitely green screen, but it goes a great job of assimilating viewers into the world nonetheless. I couldn't help but notice the animated resemblance that the humanoids on planet Mül within the movie bear to the ones within the world of Avatar, although it doesn't feel stolen whatsoever. Every animated creature and scene is very well done.

4. Con: Rihanna?

rihanna in valerian
STX Entertainment / via golos.io

Rihanna seems to be attracting some interesting roles. Now, the movie itself didn’t spend too much on promotion, so I only knew that Rihanna was featured in the film when I saw a photo of her at the red carpet premiere. Valerian needs to sneak into an area of Alpha forbidden to life forms other than the ones who call it home, so he enlists help from a shapeshifter to help disguise himself. Here we meet Rihanna---or, Bubbles, as they call her. She puts on an uncomfortably long burlesque-like dance, featuring a tribal headdress at one point and an afro and roller skates at another. Let me repeat: uncomfortably long. Once that’s over, she’s officially recruited on the journey. She seems much more like a character when she is in her alien form, but when she’s in her Rihanna-form, she seems almost uncomfortable with her own words. Like she’s reading her lines from a poster board held up by an intern behind the camera. Bubbles ultimately dies within 15 minutes of being introduced, being sent off with more stiff dialogue, of course. The way that her death phases Valerian seems so forced that it’s unbelievable, and it doesn’t seem to bother Laureline one bit. Another instance where more character development could’ve made us somehow be on board with a random alien strip tease from a popstar. (We don’t blame you, Riri.)

5. Pro: Creativity

valerian creatures
STX Entertainment / via menofcomics.com

You can tell that Luc Besson truly spent years of his life dreaming this movie up scene by scene. Every creature you meet has its own uniqueness, language, and attributes that you actually feel as if they could be real. (Rumor has it that Besson spent a good chunk of time dreaming up hundreds of life forms in a ‘character bible’ of sorts. Dedication is key!) Things like the cute baby alien that ended up having the scariest mother imaginable, and the bumbling creature who held Laureline captive and babbled like an unintelligent primate, provided the big laughs we needed to keep our eyes on the screen. He did things right by adapting something from a comic-book universe, as that brings in pre-existing fans---the only problem is the fact that they just might not have been woo’d enough.

Conclusion

valerian poster
STX Entertainment / via youtube.com

Overall, the direct harsh criticism will probably come from either fans of the comic or movie sticklers who were expecting their lives to be changed. I walked into the movie theatre with neutral expectations, and was met with just that. It’s a movie that you walk in wanting to believe in, but with a failing script and an almost unorganized feel, it simply couldn’t provide. It’s fair to say that it delivers the originality that audiences have been seeking from Hollywood, and with a few tweaks, it could’ve been great. So if there’s any advice to be had: if you’re headed to the movies this weekend and not a movie buff, spend the few bucks and go see it if you’re up for a fun, yet forgettable film. You’ll leave somewhat confused and satisfied all the same. I’m not expecting a sequel considering the U.S. box-office failure, but I have hope that people will appreciate this film in the future. At the end of the day, the originality provided by Luc Besson still deserves some recognition, (and maybe even Rihanna’s dancing).

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Comments (2)
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Good review. I was hoping for a lot more from this movie, but perhaps in 10 years it will catch its stride a la 5th Element.

I'm also not sure why Rihanna was cast in this. She was a huge distraction!!!

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I went to see it whilst baked hoping for a visually unique film and that's what I got. The plot was Avatar level bad and it went for too long but was pretty.

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