The first reviews for Luc Besson's Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets heap praise upon the movie's CGI and spectacle, if not so much its human protagonists. Valerian itself is an adaptation of the French sci-fi comic book series Valérian and Laureline (which turns 50 this year) and follows the misadventures of space/time-traversing crime fighters Valerian and Laureline, as played respectively by Dane DeHaan (Chronicle, The Amazing Spider-Man 2) and Cara Delevingne (Paper Towns, Suicide Squad) in Besson's big screen interpretation.
Besson's Valerian adaptation is also hitting the big screen twenty years after the release of his cult classic sci-fi flick The Fifth Element, itself a movie that was heavily inspired by the original Valerian graphic novels (with respect to its aesthetic, in particular). Similar to The Fifth Element, Besson's Valerian movie has thus far inspired critical reactions both enthusiastically positive and unabashedly negative, as well as a number that fall somewhere between those two extremes. However, there's one thing that most everyone appears to agree upon right now and that's that Valerian is visually spectacular.
At the time of writing this, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is holding a 72% Fresh Rating on Rotten Tomatoes after 18 reviews, meaning the critical consensus could easily change (for better or worse) as more reactions are published ahead of the movie's theatrical release next week. To find out more about what critics are saying thus far, read on for some SPOILER-FREE Valerian review excerpts (with links that you can click on for the full reviews).
Variety - Peter Debruge
At a time when “Star Wars” itself has gone corporate... “Valerian” manages to be both cutting-edge and delightfully old-school — the kind of wild, endlessly creative thrill ride that only the director of “Lucy” and “The Fifth Element” could deliver, constructed as an episodic series of missions, scrapes and near-misses featuring a mind-blowing array of environments and stunning computer-generated alien characters. Too bad Valerian himself is such a dud.
THR - Todd McCarthy
The Razzies don't need to wait until the end of the year to anoint a winner for 2017. The Golden Turkey Awards should be republished with a new cover. Euro-trash is back, while sci-fi will need to lick its wounds for a while. Dane DeHaan, who has starred in two of the most egregiously bloated misfires of the year with A Cure for Wellness and now this, should do a couple of indie films, while Cara Delevingne needs to learn there is more to acting than smirking and eye-rolling.
Crave Online - William Bibbiani
It’s a cynical world in which we live, even within our fantasies, and that’s a big part of the reason why Luc Besson’s ambitious sci-fi spectacular Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets plays like a welcome reprieve from literally everything everywhere. It welcomes the audience into a future world full of dangers and conflict, certainly, but also of hope, sensitivity, acceptance and – perhaps most importantly – the most eye-popping imagery imaginable.
Cinema Blend - Eric Eisenberg
The summer isn't quite over, but Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is certainly the frontrunner to be named the spectacle of the summer, and while many franchises have disappointed, this is a movie that ends with you wanting to see much more from the universe it introduces. It's visually stunning, beautifully prescient in its humanist themes (alien-ist too, I suppose?), and while its reach doesn't match its grasp in some respects, you're still left respecting the hell out of the reach alone.
The Playlist - Rodrigo Perez
This is tentpole auteurism. Like “The Fifth Element,” his previous sci-fi touchstone, Besson’s ‘Valerian’ is weird; the director’s eccentric sensibilities permeate every expensive frame and are found in the imaginative technologies and the depiction of cultural alien quirks. The world building is awe-inspiring and the visuals look both unconventional and luxuriously expensive. Unfortunately, this leaves only pennies remaining for the characters, the plot and the rest of the movie.
Forbes - Scott Mendelson
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a jaw-droppingly beautiful and often delightfully exciting sci-fi adventure. Taking place in the not-so-near future, it is (like The Fifth Element before it) an uncommonly optimistic portrait of the future... While the main selling point will be the 3D-friendly spectacle, Besson remembers to root his story in character. Okay, his heroic duo, Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevinge) aren’t exactly classic cinematic creations. But they are a lot of fun to spend time with, which only adds to the razzle-dazzle.
As mentioned earlier, the first wave of reviews for Valerian are all over the place - ranging from "Future Razzie Winner" to "Most Fun Movie of the Summer" - but the overall reception is mostly positive thus far. Besson as a filmmaker is known for having a somewhat-divisive idiosyncratic storytelling approach and tendency to emphasize sensory experiences over rich character drama, as evidenced by his previous efforts with such genre action movies as Lucy (which he both wrote and directed) and his contributions to The Transporter and Taken properties (which he both co-wrote and produced). As such, the initial response to Besson's Valerian adaptation is perhaps to be expected, given both his critical track record and the eccentric source material.
Speaking of which, the Valerian franchise is far from a household name in the U.S. - and with Besson's movie being set to face some tough competition during its opening weekend here in the States (from the likes of Christopher Nolan's WWII thriller Dunkirk), Valerian would be facing an uphill battle at the box office regardless of its critical reception. The film may yet manage a decent domestic commercial performance, thanks to those moviegoers who are fans of Besson and/or in the mood for some dazzling sci-fi eye candy. However, like a number of tentpoles that have already been released this summer, a sizable turnout at the international box office will likely be essential if Valerian is to recoup its hefty production budget.
Source: Various (see the above links)
- Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) release date: Jul 21, 2017
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