Valerian is a mixed bag of colourful garbage
The movie excels at breathtaking visual storytelling but fails at paying attention to everything else.
But it didn't, which is why the audience has to endure what is largely the suicide of its beautiful, masterfully-crafted opening sequence.
The movie starts off with what appears like a grand alliance between a great number of species from many planets to live together on the Alpha space station and co-exist harmoniously with one another.
The montage of alliances is wordlessly satisfying as the audience doesn't particularly need to be fed what's happening.
And it's even more refreshing because opposing forces in sci-fi movies are not always starting off on a friendly foot.
The glamour and the eccentric design of the alien creatures is one of the attractions of director Luc Besson's wacky world.
Hundreds of years into the future, the audience is dragged across the galaxy to Planet Mul which is inhabited by creatures that look a lot like an earlier discarded sketch for the lightblue Na'vi natives in James Cameron's Avatar.
For a few minutes, Besson takes the audience on a thrill ride of spectacular visual exhibition of the planet, showing the lives of the creatures with devoted reverence.
The limitless imagination that brings this planet to life on the screen is one of the best things about the movie.
The audience enjoys a resplendent tour of this paradise where the idyllic inhabitants live what is a pretty uncomplicated lifestyle that has a subtle contrast to the real human world.
This is why the audience is able to feel a tinge of sadness when this tropical paradise is soon invaded by tragedy.
The movie jumps and we meet Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan), and Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne), two space-traveling special agents who spend the first ten minutes of their appearance on-screen trying, and failing, to convince the audience that they are in a relationship.
The movie's script says they really like each other, but it's hard to believe this even as Dehaan and Delevigne try to sell their non-existent chemistry by exchanging corny banter that becomes agonising after only a few minutes that the audience doesn't want to be forced to endure this arranged relationship for much longer.
Dehaan is supposed to come off as a roguish charming woman-pleaser, like a Han Solo type, but his personality is wrapped around laboured one-liners and stupid schoolboy smirks.
Delevingne is less annoying as Laureline, and despite her monotonous facial expression of disapproving stares, she elevates the movie better than Dehaan could.
Much of Valerian's shortcomings begin to rear their ugly heads as the movie starts to follow these characters.
The sense of pacing in the movie is so poorly done that it starts to feel like the movie is a catalogue of separate movies that accidentally collide in the same universe.
There's a heist sequence in the middle of the movie that gets very little pay off you wonder why it didn't end up on the cutting room floor seeing as the movie runs for an excessive 137 minutes.
The sequence appears to only exist as a representation of Besson's display of extravagance from his bag of many effects.
Rihanna's delightful cameo appearance midway through the movie is hard to fault, but her introduction and overall relevance to the story leaves a lot to be desired.
It's not that Rihanna doesn't acquit herself well as the shape-shifting entertainer named Bubble, but the motivation that necessitates her appearance is rendered completely useless after only 15 minutes.
It feels like the movie mistakenly wandered into a Rihanna music video that ran on for longer than usual.
It's enjoyable, but it's a distraction the movie could have done without, or done better with for longer than 15 minutes.
As the movie progresses, the director starts to sideline his characters' developments more in the interest of showing the vast expanse of space with a riot of colourful locations, costumes and even more whimsical creatures, some of which he pulls off admirably.
To his credit, despite the vastness of Valerian's universe, Besson keeps the motivations of his protagonists grounded in simple duty to the government and commitment to each other.
However, he also sacrifices crafting a well-rounded, coherent story on the altar of gratuitous special effects.
With a budget of around $200 million, Besson focuses his energy more on the movie's visual style than on its soul and coherence.
This is not all bad though, as he stages the movie's action sequences with the elegance that makes the characters more exciting than they really are when the dust settles.
If the movie can treat its lead characters with subtle contempt, it's hard to imagine that it gives any love to its fringe characters.
The main villain, Commander Arün Filitt (Clive Owen), is so bland and transparent he could just as well have had "Bad Guy" tattooed on his forehead the minute he first shows up onscreen.
He's given so little to do other than planning predictable schemes and screaming a lot of his lines with the sort of menacing influence that deserves a laugh track running on cue.
Despite the visual opulence of Valerian, its characters are burdened with a weak emotional center that makes it impossible for them to really make any noteworthy impact, which is interesting because the movie subtly attempts to address real world problems.
The Commander's motivation is poorly-constructed especially because it is missing a lot of very important details that could have really uplifted the movie's narrative.
Devoid of a refined foundation for the characters to launch off, it's a fool's errand trying to make the audience care about them so much.
However, it's not a stretch to say Valerian still offers a really enjoyable experience, especially if sci-fi is your kind of thing.
If all you want to see is an exciting action spectacle with well-choreographed battle sequences, Valerian might offer you a great fix.
It doesn't offer much else.
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