Review: 'Valerian' Is a Bewildering, Exuberant Sci-Fi Trainwreck

Monday, 24 July 2017 - 3:30PM
Valerian
Monday, 24 July 2017 - 3:30PM
Review: 'Valerian' Is a Bewildering, Exuberant Sci-Fi Trainwreck
When it comes to terrible movies, Valerian was a pleasant surprise. Rather than groans or sullen silence, I got to join a theater full of people laughing at a two-hour-long trainwreck of MST3K proportions. There were so many moments where I had to remind myself that this was a real movie, and in fact, the most expensive movie made in European cinematic history. Early on, there's a scene where a beautiful Na'Vi-like alien feeds a luminescent pearl to a little rodent-reptile creature on a pristine beach surrounded by paradise, only to have the rodent start to swell like a balloon and disgorge a cascade of pearls out of its rectum like a fire hose, all while the alien looks on lovingly. A few minutes later the entire planet meets with a fiery apocalypse, then the movie cuts to a flirtatious scene between Valerian and Laureline.

That's not a one-off gag with the rodent-reptile thing, by the way—the entire narrative hinges on this creature's miraculous ability to create copies of things through diarrhea. And every time, it looks like it's defecating into someone's hand. 



Now that we've set the standard for how bizarre and bewildering this movie is, let's address the plot. The plot of Valerian is as minute-to-minute confusing and contradictory as a dream-sequence, with almost every scene taking sudden detours like we're walking between different rooms in a sci-fi carnival funhouse. When compared to the meticulous breadcrumbs Gareth Edwards had to place to help make sense out of Rogue One's plot, Valerian's moments of exposition are incredibly flimsy, and usually serve as putty to plug plot holes as they arise ("There's a woman inside me," Valerian says out of the blue, revealing that he's host to an alien ghost who's guiding him to a secret stronghold). Every new development can only be met with a confused, incredulous smile and a mutter of "I guess this is happening now."

Still, the visuals are bursting with imagination and riotous, over-the-top color, and the scenes are populated with weird and wacky characters who have genuine charm for the brief time we spend with them. The settings and sci-fi trappings are top-notch, and though you may never be able to take it seriously, it's hard not to be immersed. It's like a window into a six-year-old's exuberant imagination, and the sheer joy of letting yourself go along for the ride makes it easy to forgive how ludicrous everything is.

That is, except for Valerian and Laureline.

Every scene where the two title characters appear together means another round of wooden, cringe-inducing banter. I dreaded seeing them together. So much work is poured into trying to make chemistry between them, but Valerian remains a reckless, self-centered asshole/action-hero who never changes, making his constant appeals for Laureline to marry him even more obnoxious. Ironically, it's when Valerian and Laureline go off on one of the movie's many tangential adventures that they're half bearable because they're forced to shut their mouths and deal with the madness of this galaxy, confused and bewildered as us. Both of them can be obnoxious on their own, however—whether it's spouting quippy one-liners or acting like unprofessional children, there's very little to like about either character. That goes doubly for their superiors, who are interchangeable pieces of stern cardboard with the words AUTHORITY FIGURES stenciled across them. 

Valerian isn't Avatar or Star Trek, and it's definitely not Guardians of the Galaxy. It's so slipshod and over-the-top that, if anything, it resembles the infamous Turkish Star Wars: the inexplicably bad dialogue, one-dimensional characterization, and incoherent plot were just grating enough to make me think about packing it in, but in the end I had a hard time hating it. It's fun and ridiculous and it doesn't seem to care if it goes off the rails, because it's when it gets away from the plot that literally anything can happen, and you want to keep watching to see how far it goes. That's worth the price of admission, I think.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is in theaters now.
Science Fiction
Sci-Fi Movies
Valerian