Film, Venue

Valerian: a bright, joyful mess of a good time

Luc Besson’s CGI space adventure, Valerian, is a film very easy to mock and criticise. Even by the time Valerian landed in UK cinemas it was already crashing and burning. It was rapidly being forgotten by the cinematic world, and the rest of the world with it. A disappointment, some called it; a misstep, others. Don’t listen to these reviews – it was stunning.

The film opens with sweeping shots of CGI. With all the technological advancements in 2017, it’s difficult to realise just how spectacular these vistas really are. Every shot in Valerian is tweaked with CGI characters and settings that create the very real environment of life in the City of a Thousand Planets. These special effects feel effortless and immersive – what we could only expect from director Luc Besson following his sleek prior sci-fi piece, Lucy (2014).

Dane Dehaan and Cara Delevingne bring a mismatched chemistry to this energetic and ludicrous buddy cop movie in space. At times, both their romantic entanglement and the prospect of a marriage seem so lacklustre that it could only be for tax benefits if nothing else. But it only adds to the sheer fun that Valerian brings to a dry summer of war films and tiring franchises. The story is simple, and sometimes sidetracked, yet it doesn’t feel basic and distracted. It feels light, an energy pulsing around the screen that you can’t help but fix your eyes on. Overtly dramatic quotes sound rather absurd coming from Dehaan or Delevingne which serves to further the riotous laughter that simply can’t be contained, because it’s fun.

Valerian is not supposed to be serious.

Perhaps this is what critics have misunderstood. Valerian is well crafted and aesthetically gorgeous, the acting mostly perfect for the requirements of the roles. This is not a serious picture. It is not Dunkirk or Annabelle or Atomic Blonde. Valerian is a bright, joyful mess of a good time that should not be considered in the same vein of these aforementioned summer releases – it simply isn’t anything weighty or life-and-death.

Valerian is ridiculous. There is no denying it, but it is the right kind of ridiculous that not just the film industry but the world needs right now. Oddly relevant at times, with Rihanna’s shape-shifting ‘illegal immigrant’ character Bubble breaking Valerian into a cordoned off part of town where ‘no foreigners [are] allowed’ in order to rescue Laureline; Besson strives to present these very real moments, detached just enough from reality to not be too hard-hitting. It highlights the importance of standing up to corruption, of having empathy for those from different backgrounds or appearances, and, most importantly, that love of others is of paramount importance.

So this is a defense of Valerian, and I urge you all to at least try and watch it. Grab some popcorn and have fun because that’s why we go to the movies anyway, isn’t it?


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January 2021
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