While the Valérian and Laureline comics have existed since their first creation by Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières in 1967, for the majority of the target audience Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of the Thousand Planets movie is a brand new science-fiction property for 2017.
Although it was released in Australia on August 10, I was both lucky enough to receive free tickets and unlucky enough for them not to arrive until this week. But better late than never, I was able to enjoy the movie in theatres in time for this review.
For the sake of this review I'll be taking the movie at face value, so apologies to the die-hard comic fans but I'm treating Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets as an original stand-alone movie for now.
With that said, the plot was well established early, interesting enough to hold up for the full run-time and genuinely one of the better overall stories for a blockbuster space-opera.
The problem was that while the world-building, supporting characters and story set the stage well, the title characters (or in this case, the title character singular since Laureline doesn't get a mention in the film title) really let the air out of the sails.
While it's usually a good thing to skip the origin story these days, instead we were left with protagonists almost entirely devoid of personality or actual character, beyond being told that one is smart and the other has a temper.
Dane DeHaan is almost entirely unlikeable in a role that feels like it's intended to be dripping with charisma, and unfortunately there are large portions of the film that focus on the relationship between DeHaan's Valerian and Cara Delevigne's Laureline, despite a total lack of chemistry or audience interest. For what it's worth Delevigne does a better job than I expected, but even her Laureline is prone to her share of head scratching moments.
The action isn't the most thrilling ever set to screen, nor is the mystery the most intriguing but from beginning to end Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a spectacle that has enough ingredients and variation to leave you feeling like it was an entertaining ride.
Some genuinely comedic moments add to the charm, even if they are off-set with flat patches that break you out of the experience from time to time.
Anyone that tells you this isn't a visually stunning work is either lying or hasn't actually seen it.
From incredible alien worlds to dark and grimy space-hulks, Valerian is ambitious in its palette and concept and executes brilliantly on all fronts.
If you love beautiful sci-fi, you owe it to yourself to see this on the big screen.
I thought this category might score very highly thanks to the masterstroke of opening with David Bowie's Space Oddity, but things settled into a solid but otherwise unremarkable soundtrack from then onwards.
Much more of a generic space-opera, or sci-fi action adventure than the source material suggests, the movie doesn't touch the idea of time-travel and is purely about two human government operatives on a mission that spans a few planets and a monstrous space-station, with inter-species politics and inter-dimensional technology in the mix.
This movie is really well executed right up until the introduction of Valerian and Laureline themselves. The setting is well established, the audience is fully on board despite the unfamiliar alien worlds and the futuristic science-fiction intro, and then it all grinds to a halt with some of the most awkward work DeHaan and Delevigne have ever put to screen, as they wrestle half-naked on a simulated beach and fail to convince us that we should care about either of them.
Things pick back up again from there, but the ham-fisted romance sub-plot, the occasional cringe-worthy dialogue and Valerian's complete lack of charisma suck the energy out of the movie in too many scenes.
Add to that a few nonsensical moments like Valerian's ship firing weapons multiple times into the crowded space station without any comment from the otherwise strict government, and it's safe to say this movie has some flaws.
While Pierre Christin is largely responsible for establishing the entire genre thanks to the original comics, Luc Besson's movie adaptation arrives a solid 30 years after the Hollywood space-opera boom and strips out much of the uniqueness of the comic concept.
The sci-fi universe of the movie is different enough, but overall there's nothing that really breaks the mould here, especially with Laureline not getting quite enough independence or spotlight to revolutionise the genre as a female protagonist.
To the credit of Luc Besson and his team, despite the new universe setting and the relatively heavy sci-fi themes and plot, the movie is entirely self-explanatory and easy to follow for anyone regardless of pre-existing knowledge. There's nothing in the movie that doesn't comfortably fit the Australian M classification but it doesn't feel forced either.
If anything the exposition is too obvious in the final act, but in terms of accessibility there's definitely nobody leaving the theatre having missed anything.
As much as I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, I'm not desperate to see it again, nor am I particularly fussed if there's a sequel or not.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets was pretty good and I'm glad I saw it, but there were moments where I stopped watching to comment on it mid-film, moments that made me cringe and a romance that would have frustrated me more if it had made me care enough to be genuinely frustrated. A gorgeous new science-fiction property with a fair share of highlights, but nothing more than that.