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Valerian reviews: A 'Razzie Award frontrunner' to 'one of the best films of the year'

The reactions to Luc Besson’s sci-fi film are radically mixed

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Vikram Gounassegarin

The reviews for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets have finally landed and they’re about as radically mixed as it can get.

The sci-fi film from Lucy director Luc Besson has garnered quite the headline-grabbing descriptions, including “Star Wars on crystal meth,” “Euro-trash,” and “an epic mess.”

As severe as those reactions seem, many of the same critics are praising Besson’s ambition and the “intoxicating” opening 30 minutes, with one even dubbing it “one of the best films of the year.”

In his C- review, EW’s Chris Nashawaty writes, “Valerian and Besson strain so hard to sizzle your retinas and knock you out with the film’s oddness that it eventually becomes numbing — and then just exhausting. … Still, you have to give Besson credit for not playing it safe. He at least swings for the fences and doesn’t spoon-feed you the same old sci-fi clichés.”

VIDEO: 5 High-Grossing Page-to-Screen Adaptations

Read more Valerian reviews below.

Chris Nashawaty (Entertainment Weekly)

“If I had to make a prediction, I’d guess that Valerian will suffer a similar fate [as Besson’s The Fifth Element]. Its imagination is so outré and wild and its rhythms so idiosyncratic, that it’s easy to picture moviegoers not knowing what the hell to do with it until some far off date in the future. During the film’s intoxicating first 30 minutes, for example, I couldn’t decide whether what I was watching was brilliantly bonkers or total folly. Then, as the story went on, it came into sharper and sharper focus: Valerian is an epic mess.”

Todd McCarthy (The Hollywood Reporter)

“The Razzies don’t need to wait until the end of the year to anoint a winner for 2017. The Golden Turkey Awards should be republished with a new cover. Euro-trash is back, while sci-fi will need to lick its wounds for a while. Dane DeHaan, who has starred in two of the most egregiously bloated misfires of the year with A Cure for Wellness and now this, should do a couple of indie films, while Cara Delevingne needs to learn there is more to acting than smirking and eye-rolling. Rihanna should pretend this never happened. And the Hollywood studio chiefs can breathe easy that, this time, at least, they’ll escape blame for making a giant summer franchise picture that nobody wants to see, since this one’s a French import.”

Peter Debruge (Variety)

“It’s a bold goal in a marketplace that hasn’t traditionally been very welcoming to Star Wars imitators, but Besson is one of the few living directors with both the ambition and the ability to establish his own rival universe. At a time when Star Wars itself has gone corporate (granted, the tight control has recently yielded some of the series’ best entries), Valerian manages to be both cutting-edge and delightfully old-school — the kind of wild, endlessly creative thrill ride as only the director of Lucy and The Fifth Element could deliver, constructed as an episodic series of missions, scrapes and near-misses featuring a mind-blowing array of environments and stunning computer-generated alien characters.”

David Ehlrich (IndieWire)

“Imagine if someone projected an entire decade’s worth of sci-fi space epics on the same screen, at the same time. Imagine you were in the audience for that event. Now imagine, for some insane reason, you decided to pre-game for the experience by eating an entire bag full of mushrooms that had been garnished with a fine layer of France’s best crystal meth. That, more or less, is what it feels like to watch Luc Besson’s delirious Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, an independently financed $200 million intergalactic adventure so high on its own supply that it makes Guardians of the Galaxy look like an Ozu film (and not even one of those later Ozu films that he jazzed up with color).”

Scott Mendelson (Forbes)

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets starts out so gloriously gonzo that it becomes a disappointment when it turns out to be merely pretty good. Storytelling hiccups and a surprisingly muted climax aside, as well as a latter-half tendency to give Valerian most of the big action beats, Luc Besson’s newest mega-budget science-fiction fantasy works as intended. It takes us to a whole new world, one filled with unbelievable sights and indescribable feelings. That first act is an all-time classic, and its two stars remain enjoyable goofy throughout and some of the wilder creatures inspire awe and/or laughter. In an era of recycled and/or nostalgia-driven IP, Valerian is the sort of ‘new to movies’ franchise that deserves to live long and prosper.”

Steve Pond (The Wrap)

“Besson takes all that fun and color, along with a wild array of fantastic creatures, and deploys it in the service of a big, dopey story that remains resolutely uninvolving and often quite annoying.”

William Bibbiani (Crave)

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is one of the most gorgeous science fiction movies ever made. Extemporaneous and unpredictable, it’s the perfect antidote to certain “other” sci-fi movies, which seem to have given up on breaking new ground, and now seem content to rely on recycling bits and pieces of themselves. Valerian is distinctive and innovative, and seemingly high on its own capacity for wonders. Don’t get hung up on a few minor malfunctions: this is profoundly exciting filmmaking, and one of the best films of the year.”

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets opens July 21.