Colour! Red! Green! Yellow! Blue! Actual colour!
In a blockbuster milieu that seems to trade exclusively in shades of brown and grey, Valerian’s dazzling colour palette is a multihued breath of fresh air. An early desert sequence has more primary colours layered over the dusty brown sand than exist in the entirety of Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise. Luc Besson’s latest sci fi romp is a riot of colour and invention.
Unfortunately, that’s all it is.
There is a plot in there somewhere, hiding between the action scenes, but it’s blustery nonsense (one of the visual effects studios listed in the end credits is named Mac Guff, which is almost fitting). There are characters, too, but they exist solely to get themselves into multicoloured chases and outlandish firefights.
Valerian (Dane Dehaan) is the titular hero and gun-toting government agent. His partner is the lovely Laureline (Cara Delevingne). They’re a sort of intergalactic special ops team, with their own spaceship (a spikier Millennium Falcon) and an array of wacky, and unexplained, weapons. The City of a Thousand Planets is Alpha, a gigantic space station which is home to several thousand species in a multitude of different habitats. We see Alpha growing from its humble beginnings to the galactic strains of that greatest of interstellar ballads, Bowie’s “Space Oddity”.
Valerian is based on the long-running French comic, created by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières. I haven’t read the comics, so I don’t know how faithful Besson’s film is; but I’d guess at “not very”. Valerian is a series of action sequences strung together by a threadbare plot, one that’s forgotten as soon as the action starts up again.
But what action! Like Besson’s previous foray into space opera, Valerian is wildly inventive and an absolute delight to look at. There’s a market that exists in another dimension (you need special glasses and gloves to peruse it). There’s a ship that, when shot at, splits into a hundred miniature versions of itself. There’s colossal crustaceans, telepathic jellyfish, and a shapeshifting Rihanna (no, seriously). The City of a Thousand Planets is a city of a thousand wonders.
Despite the visual smorgasbord, at 137 minutes, Valerian is a more than a tad too long. The film knows it, too. As we enter the third act, the locations become drab and industrial, the action rote and familiar. It’s as if the colour and joy was drained along with my interest; my boredom interpreted as lustreless browns and greys.
While they last, though, Valerian’s ecstatic flights of science fantasy are a joy to behold. If you want bold inventiveness and more colours than your retinas will know what to do with, this is the film for you. If you want some actual substance your space style, however, you might want to wait for the next Star Wars.