The first thing you'll observe about Luc Besson's Valerian is how gorgeous it looks, how much work went into the perfect realisation of this world. In a time where nearly every blockbuster features tons of CGI, Valerian stands out and highlights how cheaply the effects are done in most of the other ones.
Next, the sheer inventiveness of designers, artists, set builders, wardrobe and makeup - again, makes us painfully realise how off-the-rack and dull most blockbusters are. Add to that Besson's quirky aesthetics and you're in a world that's nearly overpowering you with its inventiveness, its visual splendour, and also plain fun. I mean, a movie where a Jessica Rabbit cameo doesn't feel forced or out of place, that's just unique.
In my opinion, the optical fireworks were even a bit overdone, some scenes were plainly set up in a certain way to make them more spectacular but didn't really add to the story - an early on action sequence in a half-virtual market comes to mind that would work nearly equally well in a normal bazaar, just without some gags.
As to the story-line - lovers of the books (as I am) will recognise a lot of ingredients and species, and the main set-piece, a space city, is obviously taken from "L'Ambassadeurs des Ombres", but the story itself is a new one and revolves around a planet wiped out in a war about 30 years back, and the repercussions thereof. The "secret" someone wants to keep is not that secret to us, in fact about half an hour into the movie you already have a pretty good idea of what's going on, the joy comes from the detours we're taking on the road to the happy ending, not from silly plot twists.
Now, the characters, Valerian and Laureline: Dane DeHaan looks too young for his part from the comics (where Valerian was the more experienced partner, here he just has a higher degree), Cara Delevingne is perfectly cast, standing her ground with just the right amount of sarcasm and spunk. The team dynamics were as readers know it - Valerian the one who tends to stick to the rules and play by book while Laureline tends to act more impulsively - but both working together really well, be it as a duo or solo. There is a romance angle in the movie that was not taken from the books and feels a bit forced, thankfully it stays marginal and doesn't lessen the overall enjoyment.
And cheers to the screenwriters (Besson, mostly) for not going full in with the stakes. While there's some serious action here - people die and some more might die if V&L didn't succeed - it's actually a rather smallish plot, with just one single villain, and no worlds or even the universe to be saved, just the lives of some innocent bystanders.
Big recommendation for all fans of colourful SciFi and optical fireworks!
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