Two and a half hours is an awfully long time to watch two people chasing each other around.
Like an intergalactic Tom and Jerry, Valerian and his crime-busting partner Laureline chase each other through deserts, caves, down holes – you name it, one of them’s got lost in it and the other one has had to get them out of it.
Director Luc Besson fell in love with these special agents from the 28th century after reading the Valerian comics as a kid. They depict a future where we’ve conquered space travel and go on shopping trips in other dimensions. In Besson’s take, our perpetually jogging heroes are sassy operatives tasked with saving the universe, one space crisis at a time.
What follows is essentially outrageous flirting interrupted by explosions and kidnappings.
Something is amiss on Alpha, a mega-city that evolved out of the International Space Station that now houses lifeforms from every corner of the cosmos. They’re being threatened by an unknown invasive species that’s built a sinister lair in the centre of its landmass, and Valerian and Laureline are sent in to sort out the mess.
Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne are charismatic leads, if a little too young to be relied upon to save the universe on the regular (it’s even harder to take them seriously when they patrol the universe in their beach gear). At one point, Laureline even boasts about her Ivy League education, which seems a bit redundant after you’ve created a roving metropolis that exists to pool the entire universe’s knowledge and resources.
Bearing all that in mind, Valerian can hardly be blamed for proposing to Laureline 10 minutes into the film and spends the rest of it chasing after her for an answer. What follows is essentially outrageous flirting interrupted by explosions and kidnappings.
Fans of the Fifth Element will appreciate a similarly kitsch aesthetic, all lurid hairstyles and flabby sea creatures. Yet, Valerian is strangely lacking in imagination – frankly, we’ve seen it all before.
There’s a pearlescent native species that looks exactly like the Na’vi from Avatar; we have old white men in military uniform running the ‘verse with bad intentions; and blabbermouth pterodactyls that are barely a step removed from Jar Jar Binks.
Plus, there has to be a subtler way of showing us Alpha than having Valerian don a metal suit and run through walls until every inch of it has exploded into our eyes in three dimensions. Gargantuan ambition and impressive special effects ultimately fail to make up for an ill-conceived universe and a romance that fails to launch.