It appears most critics really wanted to love Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. But love shouldn’t be this boring.

Based on the French graphic novels Valérian and Laureline, the film tried to set itself apart from other big budget comic book flicks by not being a Marvel movie and also featuring Rihanna. But not even bombastic visual stylings and a shape-shifting pop star could save Valerian from itself.

From what we’re reading, writer/director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element and Lucy) stuffed Valerian with visual delights, but left little in the way of actual human (or alien) interest. And that may have as  much to do with the cast as anything.

So get ready to be overwhelmed for 30 minutes or so … then very effectively underwhelmed for the remaining 137 on July 21st.

Remember the Star Wars cantina scene? So does this movie.

Peter Debruge, Variety:

Besson [expands] upon the multiculturalism of the “Star Wars” series in a big way, taking the intermingling of species in the classic cantina scene and expanding it to a vast city named Alpha, where a seemingly infinite number of aliens coexist in harmony … No doubt, there are dark and sordid “Blade Runner”-esque corners to this hyper-modern megalopolis, but Besson never lingers long enough for us to play more than fly-by tourist.

Steve Pond, The Wrap:

A sci-fi epic with a personal touch and a taste for quirk and kink, Luc Besson’s “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is the cantina scene in the first “Star Wars” movie on steroids. It’s fun and colorful, a special-effects extravaganza that somehow feels friendlier and homier than most films of its ilk.

David Ehrlich, IndieWire:

From the trio of duckbilled data savants to the hammer-headed fishermen who try to feed Laureline to their king, “Valerian” is at its best when it feels like a “Star Wars” spinoff about all the fantastical creatures who bleep-blorp through the background; it’s like a reservoir for all of the creativity that Disney is trying to eliminate from a galaxy far, far away.

Someone fire this casting director

Steve Pond, The Wrap:

The clunkiness and silliness that surrounded lead actors Dane De Haan and Cara Delivigne had me actively disliking them and everything around them. Cool environments and crazy creatures, after all, can’t compensate for a pair of lead actors who drive their leaden one-note repartee into the ground for two hours plus.

Peter Debruge, Variety:

Too bad Valerian himself is such a dud. Written as a kind of cocky intergalactic lothario, Valerian ought to be as sexy and charismatic as a young Han Solo, though “Chronicle” star Dane DeHaan— so good in brooding-emo mode — seems incapable of playing the kind of aloof insouciance that made Harrison Ford so irresistible.

Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter:

During lulls in the action, there are bumbling attempts at what seems to be Besson’s notion of romantic banter between the two leads, with Valerian awkwardly gurgling sentiments about settling down somewhere (and where would that be?), while Laureline looks disdainfully skyward as the man-child eats her dust. Any old hack Hollywood screenwriter could have rewritten the “romantic” interchanges here to infinitely better effect in one night’s bourbon-fueled effort. 

Erin Whitney, Screen Crush:

DeHaan might play the title character, but he’s easily the least interesting part of it. He plays Valerian with a haughty indifference and cold, bro-y demeanour. … DeHaan tries to make Valerian’s cheeky insouciance alluring and sexy, but instead he comes off stiff, passionless, and a bit irksome. Casting a lanky, boyish type like DeHaan as a dashing ladies-man hero is a much more interesting choice than the expected strapping Hollywood type. Points for trying, but DeHaan just wasn’t the guy for the job.

A pretty face, without much to say

Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter:

What ensues is unclear, unfun, indecipherable, indigestible and, before long, an excellent sedative; anyone who could clearly lay out what takes place in this narrative in 25 words or less would deserve a small prize.

David Ehrlich, IndieWire:

Alpha is a miraculous place, a Wonderland in orbit, but this incredible world is desperately in search of a story worth its sights. Besson’s film is mesmerizing as long as Valerian and Laureline keep digging towards the center, diving through massive computer circuits and stealing parasites off the backs of giant alien scallops in their quest towards the big nothing at the end of the tunnel, but the vividness of this place only underscores the lifelessness of the people leading us through it.

Erin Whitney, Screen Crush:

But as beautiful as Valerian is to look at, it’s also a bit frustrating to watch. The first hour and change is a well-crafted space adventure filled with wild, head-rushing set pieces, mesmerizing world building, and humorous banter. But about halfway through the film’s 137-minute runtime, the narrative becomes repetitive and the pacing slackens to an aggravating degree. The jokes don’t land as well as they could and the momentum of the final set piece fizzles out.

Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly:

If your mind wanders (and it will), you’ll wonder how it’s possible that Besson put so much obsessive detail and care into his visuals and world-building and how little he’s put into his plot.

Why Rihanna, why?

Peter Debruge, Variety:

Even Besson, who convinced the world that Milla Jovovich could act (in “The Fifth Element”), can’t salvage Rihanna’s awkward line readings — unless that’s the effect this sophisticated, Shakespeare-trained glampod is going for.

David Ehrlich, IndieWire:

The film’s most fun aside — the one involving Rihanna as Bubble, the most guileless sex slave in the entire galaxy — epitomizes Besson’s singular gift for threading the needle between spectacle and stupidity. For 15 glorious minutes, you’re watching exactly the movie that he wanted to make. 

Steve Pond, The Wrap:

[Rihanna’s] dance sequence is so over-the-top that every video she ever makes for the rest of her life will seem anti-climactic.

Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter:

Rihanna should pretend this never happened.

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