Like so many movies at the moment Valerian falls into the category of visually spectacular but narratively boring. The visuals are undeniably eye-popping and encourage you to explore each frame taking in the detail. But that’s pretty much standard these days; the difference is that this has a real Luc Besson feel to it. It’s idiosyncratic and downright weird, breaking the conventional mold of Sci-Fi.
So far, so much The 5th Element. And just like The 5th Element the story itself is deceptively straight forward given the extraordinary surroundings. Where Valerian differs dramatically is in the characters. In The 5th Element the two main characters were likeable, interesting, fun and even believable. Valerian and Laureline are a pair of obnoxiously good looking teenagers who are mostly interesting in exploring each other but also happen to be top agents for their government. These two small figures fighting large aliens (and humans) just looks silly. But the biggest problem is the really boring and formulaic interaction between them. Their dialogue revolves around Valerian’s fear of commitment and Laureline’s disbelief at his desire to change - the lines could have been lifted directly from the most derivative teenage fiction. It’s a story we’ve seen a thousand times and it feels dated.
The main story itself is a simple affair in which a peaceful, technologically undeveloped race living in harmony with nature is destroyed by highly technologically developed race before the crime is covered up. They then try to rebuild their lives requiring the help of heroes from the other side who will expose the crime. This is a trope so old it’s not worth discussing.
This movie is an excuse to delve into the imagination of Besson and that’s always going to be an experience, but too much of the movie is ‘animated creature fights animated human in computer generated surroundings’ which could describe most Sci-Fi / fantasy movies in the past couple of decades. There is a Besson twist which helps, but not enough. Some of the best sequences in this movie hark back to The 5th Element but despite the technological advancements since then they’re less successful, perhaps because they’re not really doing anything new.
2/5 - Ok