'Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets': What the Critics Are Saying
Are the reviews for Luc Besson's Valerian out of this world?
The adaptation of the French comic Valerian et Laureline stars Dane DeHaan as the adventurer Valerian and Cara Delevingne as his partner Laureline, who find themselves on an enormous space station called Alpha, home to thousands of species.
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Valerian, which is set to open July 21 opposite Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk, is considered a big gamble for Besson, who has dreamed of making the film for decades, back to his Fifth Element days. (He has maintained the financial risk to his EuropaCorp is minimal, thanks to foreign presales.) Sizzle reels and trailers at conventions around the country over the past year have wowed with their effects, but according to reviews out Monday, the dazzling 3D isn't enough to win over many critics.
The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy has a lot to say about the film, but really, the first paragraph of his reivew sort of says it all: "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. Rihanna should pretend this never happened. And the Hollywood studio chiefs can breathe easy that, this time, at least, they'll escape blame for making a giant summer franchise picture that nobody wants to see, since this one's a French import."
Things weren't any kinder at the New York Daily News, where Stephen Whitty writes, "[T]he movie itself is a big, black hole." He acknowledges Besson has fun with the effects, but, ultimately, "the movie is its own empty rocket ship, piloted by a giddy teenage boy and a crew of two sullen children, slowly creeping its way toward airless oblivion. It never stops for a minute, yet it never goes anywhere."
David Ehrlich at IndieWire praises the impressive setting of Alpha, but notes that's far from being able to save the film: "Alpha is a miraculous place, a Wonderland in orbit, but this incredible world is desperately in search of a story worth its sights. Besson's film is mesmerizing as long as Valerian and Laureline keep digging towards the center, diving through massive computer circuits and stealing parasites off the backs of giant alien scallops in their quest towards the big nothing at the end of the tunnel, but the vividness of this place only underscores the lifelessness of the people leading us through it."
Entertainment Weekly's Chris Nashawaty didn't pull any punches in his review, writing, "During the film's intoxicating first 30 minutes, for example, I couldn't decide whether what I was watching was brilliantly bonkers or total folly. Then, as the story went on, it came into sharper and sharper focus: Valerian is an epic mess." Nashawaty praises the film's "breathtaking" opening montage and first half-hour, but finds DeHaan's performance lacking, writing his take on Valerian has "all the charisma and energy of a narcoleptic about to nod off." For Nashawaty, DeHaan poses the biggest problem for the film. "The movie is cast badly. Both DeHaan and — to a lesser degree — Delevingne are all wrong," he says. And although he gives Besson credit for not playing it safe, Nashawaty writes, "Valerian and Besson strain so hard to sizzle your retinas and knock you out with the film's oddness that it eventually becomes numbing — and then just exhausting."
Not everyone was left cold by the film, however. Cinemablend's Eric Eisenberg finds that, although "some elements just don't work as they really should" — such as the chemistry between the leads and a somewhat bloated second half — the film is still a "spectacle of the summer." In short, he writes, "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."
Forbes' Scott Mendelson goes so far as to call the film "a dazzling delight." Praising the special effects, he compares the feel of Valerian to other sci-fi classics such as Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy. Unlike Eisenberg, Mendelson calls the chemistry between DeHaan and Delevingne "terrific," although he takes issue with the decision to separate the characters for a large portion of the film. However, he writes, "In an era of recycled and/or nostalgia-driven IP, Valerian is the sort of 'new to movies' franchise that deserves to live long and prosper."
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