Valerian revels in ambition, but does it succeed in it’s ambition? I would say “Yes… enough to recommend at least. Not enough to say it completely succeeds”
If anyone were to ask me “Hey Nelson, What movie has the best visuals going around multiplex right now?” I would say “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets by a long margin” because there are so many worlds and environments this movie takes you on and makes you feel like a kid in a candy shop. However, this movie is by no means a masterpiece as Valerian is considerably subpar on it’s other movie elements, especially in storytelling.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a story played out almost exactly like Avatar. There is a planet that is run on pearls as it’s main resource and is governed by a friendly alien species. There is one human in power that seeks to destroy it and the main characters Valerian and Laureline (Dane Dehaan and Cara Delevingne) are there to try and save it. If you ever get confused with the plot (which I understand) just think of the story of “Avatar” and it’s essentially the same thing.
I could explain the plot further and in more detail, but in doing so I am essentially spoiling the movie from this point on. That is because Valerian is one of the films that only gives you a bit of info one moment at a time either by adding new information on the plot, or you have a retelling of the story told from the perspectives of different characters. This is actually a ballsy move because if you don’t care about the movie as you are watching it, you will be completely lost. If you are into the movie, it is like a gift that keeps on giving.
For me, I understood the majority of the plot but only after listening intently and memorising what was said. I liked the ideas from the plot itself but for a movie that relies on you losing yourself emotionally with the visuals Valerian expects the viewer to use a lot on intellect and memorisation of the plot to get the full concept of the movie. The intended experience, I believe, to be at one with your emotion or your intellect in the movie. In practice it does not mix, either giving you 30 minutes of visuals or 30 minutes of plot rehashing and repeating that process for more than two hours. I understood and liked both elements, but they never came together for me.
There was only one moment in Valerian where the movie was particularly bad which occurs when the story just stops completely. It is the two scenes that involve Rihanna. It’s not that she was bad, it was just that her character arc made seemingly no sense in the movie’s story. Those scenes just don’t develop any of the characters, nor do these scenes have any impact of the main plot whatsoever. If you took the two scenes out that involve her, I believe the story would have made just as much sense and you would have missed nothing.
What you would not have missed in Valerian is the visual experience of it all. If you take out the mountains of average- sounding dialogue, it is like those Imax films that only exist to test the limits of the imax medium. It is, in of itself, beautiful. Alpha, which is the name of the city of the thousand planets, helps illustrate the visual variety. Since many planets from many species inhabited this city, there are various environments that are traversed and experienced, testing the limits of imagination. That, alone is more than enough of a recommendation to watch this film. ⭐⭐⭐1/2