Last summer's hot mess of a box-office bomb is this summer's... well, it's not a hot mess. It's not exactly good, either.
Valerian (also known as Valerian and Laureline) was an immensely popular French comic strip that began life in the late 1960's. It offered (emulating an earlier French strip, Barbarella) a combination of space opera and spies, a sort of Flash Gordon of Her Majesty's Secret Service. The strip was set hundreds of years in the future, but because of time-travel technology, agents Valerian (a guy) and Laureline (a woman) could operate throughout time and space so as to protect the future Earth alliance's interests.
The strip gradually elevated the spunky Laureline to the level of co-equal with Valerian. Indeed, in the story arc that writer-director Luc Besson based much of this movie upon, Ambassador of Shadows, Laureline is the protagonist while Valerian spends much of the story imprisoned off-panel.
No such luck here. Perversely, Besson's movie is a tone-deaf 'Love Story' in which Laureline and Valerian's relationship must end in the marriage Valerian wants because, you know, whatever. Of course, Valerian is a Major and Laureline is a Sergeant. No problem there! Valerian's courtship of Laureline throughout the movie runs the gamut from sexual harassment to assault to stalking. What larks! Of course Laureline, often incompetent (as is Valerian) falls for him in the end because LURV!
Of the other three major female characters, two are dead by the end of the movie. Whee!
Luc Besson professes to a life-long love of Valerian and Laureline. Boy, I'd hate to see the movie he would have made if he hated the source material!
There are sections of visual grandeur and cleverness. The movie comes out squarely against genocide, which is awesome. Rihanna is good as a shape-changing hooker with a heart of gold and the underwhelming name 'Bubble.' The score by Alexander Desplat is solid.
The two leads are a bit perplexing. Dane DeHaan is utterly miscast as Valerian unless the point was to satirize the typical male action hero, in which case I guess he's perfectly cast. As Laureline, Cara Delevinge is dismayingly underweight in a bathing suit and dismaying gaunt and hollow-eyed throughout. She spends about two-thirds of the movie in a padded spacesuit. I don't normally worry about the health of an actress based solely on her physical appearance on-screen, but here, yeah -- it's frankly a bit creepy.
There's certainly enough here to be interesting, so long as one doesn't try to watch its 2 1/2 hours in one sitting. It may actually be better than Besson's over-praised The Fifth Element, and it's certainly better than his equally over-praised Lucy, which to me came across as some sort of racist parable, intentional or not. Lightly recommended.