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‘Valerian’ Reviews Range From ‘Mind-Meltingly Beautiful’ to ‘Dramatically Clunky’

Critics are confounded by Luc Besson’s wild sci-fi epic, and reactions are as vast as the universe itself

STX/EuropaCorp’s “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” has completely confounded movie critics, who have had a wide range of opinions about the dense sci-fi fantasy created by cult hit director Luc Besson.

With early reviews still coming in, “Valerian” currently has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 73 percent, with critics’ opinions varying wildly depending on what element of the film they’re discussing. Most seem to agree that the movie’s visuals are fiercely, unapologetically original, with some even saying they exceed those of James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” films.

But others criticize the film’s wild tonal shifts and relentlessly fast-paced plot, which they say some moviegoers will find alienating. What’s more, Dave Schilling of Birth.Movies.Death. says that Besson’s film doesn’t seem to care if you can’t keep up with it.

“‘Valerian’ is like getting slapped in the ass with a bedazzled lawn gnome. It’s either your thing or it isn’t, but you will remember it forever,” he writes. “As Hollywood wrings its hands over a perceived ‘franchise fatigue’ and audiences beg for fresh ideas, ‘Valerian’ offers that breath of fresh air people are craving.”

Schilling adds: “But what film fans and critics are really asking for usually isn’t something actively strange, it’s an old idea with a new coat of paint or a film like ‘Baby Driver’ that taps into warm and fuzzy feelings of nostalgia and breathless teen romance. The only thing ‘Valerian’ taps into is the boundless imagination of Luc Besson and the stories he was obsessed with as a child.”

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“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” hits theaters July 21. For more of the wide range of opinions the space epic has spawned, check out more of the reviews here:

Alonso Duralde, TheWrap

“‘Valerian’ might well represent the apotheosis of Besson’s singularly loony brand of filmmaking. It’s bonkers and gorgeous and confusing and thrilling and tiring and overflowing with ideas. This is the kind of movie that soars beyond adjectives like ‘good’ or ‘bad': It’s sincere but overstuffed, visually gorgeous but dramatically clunky, and it represents a singular vision while simultaneously featuring two wildly miscast actors in the lead roles.”

Bilge Ebiri, Village Voice

“‘Valerian’ is at times so mind-meltingly beautiful and strange that I’m still not sure I didn’t just dream it all. My favorite bit involves the mundanely named Big Market, a cluttered, multilevel, Möbius-inspired mall city of a million shops — think Istanbul’s Covered Bazaar meets the Death Star — that exists in another dimension, so that you have to enter it via special glasses and gloves.”

Stephen Whitty, Newark Star-Ledger

“‘Valerian’ isn’t a children’s film, exactly. But it’s certainly a childish one, full of ridiculous alien creatures, hammy human performances and characters as deep as strip of celluloid. It’s like “Barbarella” without the ’60s camp and zipless sex. And what fun is that?”

Susana Polo, Polygon

“Often, ‘Valerian’ seems to treat itself as an excuse to show as many wild things to the audience as quickly as possible. And as long as it is showing you those wild things — and they are just as wild and creative and wondrous as any fan of ‘The Fifth Element,’ ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Doctor Who’ could ask for — Valerian succeeds.

It’s when ‘Valerian’ stops to explain anything, or when it pauses to give the relationship between its leads any screen time, that its interstellar flight starts to feel the inexorable pull of gravity. And beyond a certain point, Valerian traps itself in the stale atmosphere of its underwritten dialogue and its director’s love of some adventure fiction cliches better left to gather dust.”

David Ehrlich, IndieWire

“‘Valerian’ imagines a multi-cultural future where diversity has assumed extraterrestrial dimensions, where life is so varied and fractured that entire species can be wiped away without anyone asking questions. Besson presents a future in which people are the least interesting things in the universe, and yet the world still revolves around us. A white dude is still pulling the strings of power. Equality is still hard because erasure is still easier. There are 394 million stories on the City of a Thousand Planets, and Valerian’s might be the only one we’ve seen before. Still, any excuse to visit this place is one worth taking.”