Valerian (Dane Da Haan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are a pair of space travelling agents who are drafted into finding the source of radiation in the city of Alpha (home to several millions of alien species). En route to the mission, Valerian dreams of an incredible paradise populated by an intelligent and advanced race of aliens who are eventually destroyed by an unseen race. As the mission goes on, Valerian discovers that the dream and reality are connected.
With Luc Besson you are never really sure what you are going to get. You could either get something as revolutionary and popular as Leon: The Professional, something as rubbish as The Family or something ambitious but not totally great such as The Fifth Element. Besson’s latest cinematic adventure is a bold, massive project that falls in the final category. It’s a spectacularly imaginative film full of incredible beasts, astonishing terrains and tremendous visuals. It’s a film that perfectly captures Besson’s brilliant imagination. However, it also shows Besson doesn’t really know how to pace a film or if he does, he doesn’t manage it this time.
The length of the film is 135 minutes and throughout the running the time the film only stops on rare occasions to build the relationship between Valerian and Laureline. At times the film becomes a little self-indulgent, an example being a whole subplot involving a shape shifting stripper which adds little to no value. However, what’s most perplexing is that everything that happens in the film takes place over the course of a day. Unless days in the future are infinitely longer than they are now that’s a lot to happen over the course of 24 hours. They travel a long way, and solve a mystery that has been plaguing the planet Alpha for years over the course of 24 hours so its clear there is no concept of time in the film. It’s also clear that the agents are so well trained that fatigue isn’t a thing.
The pace is a problem because you don’t really buy into any relationships outside of Valerian and Laureline, which is pretty weak anyway. The only time the film takes time to breathe is when the relationship between Valerian and Laureline becomes the focus. Like the most annoying couples, the pair’s witty exchanges are rather grating and their declarations of love fall into the cheesy and lame camp. Yet Cara Delevingne’s more likable Laureline fares better than Dane Dehaan’s unlikable cocky cocksure, Valerian.
Spending so much money on an original film (original in the sense it’s not a sequel or remake) was a risk and it’s a risk that hasn’t paid off. It’s a shame that the film was let down by numerous factors because there hasn’t been such a visually enticing film since Avatar.