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REVIEW: ‘Valerian’ is cinematic chaos, but it’s also a lot of fun

The Art of Nerding Out

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One of the things I learned about myself while I was attending film school is that I have a love of cheesy, bad sci-fi movies from the 1950s and 60s. They make me laugh, but many of them also impress me with how imaginative they are.

That love of cheesy sci-fi reared its head as I was watching “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”, a mess of a movie that manages to be a good time in spite of all its flaws.

The heroes of this movie, Valerian (Dane Dehaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) are interstellar operatives chasing down a cosmic McGuffin. In the process, they stumble across a mystery at the heart of Alpha, a massive space station, which millions of creatures from throughout the universe call home. Solving the mystery means plot twists, chase scenes and a frolicking through dizzying array of visually stunning sets.

“Valerian” has many flaws. It takes too long to get going. The dialogue feels incomplete, as if it’s a placeholder for more polished dialogue that was never written. The story jumps from scene without much cohesion and some scene feel out of sequence. The humor is hit or miss.

Then there’s the acting. Delevingne is gorgeous, but half the time she sounds like a phone book. Her lack of enthusiasm seriously undercuts several dramatic scenes. As for Dehaan, he’s fine, but he has always come off as a bit creepy to me. And I’ll never forgive him for being in that awful Metallica movie, “Through the Never”.

It’s always cool to see Clive Owen and Ethan Hawke is a riot as a… let’s call him a club owner. Rihanna has more costume changes than lines of dialogue, but she has a fun role. But the acting won’t win any awards, and in places, it’s pretty bad.

There’s a lot wrong with this movie. But I didn’t care about any of it.

“Valerian” reminds me a lot of the cheesy old sci-fi flicks I love so much. It’s a relentlessly imaginative movie and the visuals are fantastic. Watching “Valerian” made me want to search out the comics the movie was adapted from, just to see how the art compares.

Seriously, from the exquisitely detailed alien creatures to gorgeous sets, “Valerian” is like about seven normal sci-fi flicks jammed into one. There’s a beautiful planet that appears to be one endless ocean shore. Alpha is a giant metallic monster of a station, with a dizzying number of different environments inside.

And the action is pretty engrossing, too. You get the standard space chases and shoot outs, which director Luc Besson can pull off with aplomb. But the best action scene takes place in a market that exists in two dimensions at once. That’s the scene that hooked me.

And there are so many little things that I loved about “Valerian”. The flying bus that transforms into a hovering arsenal. The luminescent butterflies that flit about in Alpha’s dark places. The little gold patterns on the members of the movie’s military units. There is always something onscreen the holds your attention.

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is seriously flawed, but it’s so visually engrossing, so imaginative and so much fun that it’s hard to care. Like the old sci-fi flicks I love so much, it’s a film that is almost charming in its awkwardness. It’s so relentlessly inventive and clever in its visual aesthetic that you don’t watch it as much as you get lost in it. Movies like “Valerian” are the reason I love summer movies.

4 Indy Fedoras out of 5

MPAA Rating: PG-13