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[Movie Review] Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

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Plot Summary: A dark force threatens Alpha, a vast metropolis and home to species from a thousand planets. Special operatives Valerian and Laureline must race to identify the marauding menace and safeguard not just Alpha, but the future of the universe.

Director: Luc Besson

Writer: Pierre Christin, Jean-Claude Mézières

Runtime: 2h 17min

Main Cast:

  • Dane DeHaan as Major Valerian
  • Cara Delevinge as Sergeant Laureline
  • Clive Owen as Commander Arun Filitt
  • Rihanna as Bubble
  • Ethan Hawke as Jolly the Pimp

1st Review: by Mia

2nd Review: by The Superior Spider-Sam

Science Fiction is where I thrive. Creativity has no bounds in a genre founded on reaching far into the future for how humans may recreate themselves in a new world. For me, science fiction has always been a social experiment rooted in the author's understanding of humanity's past and possible future. We turn to look in on ourselves in a way that no other genre does: what will we become? What does the universe have in store for humanity? How will we face a bigger world as we continue to hone humanity's compulsion to create?

Mia’s Review

Science Fiction is the genre of wonder. Before superheroes, film had super futures like Star Wars, Battlefield Earth, Alien, Planet of the Apes, Star Trek, Total Recall, Fifth Element, and so many others. We watched the average or sometimes the advanced human deal with battling through space and time. Race relations could include alien species and the fate of an entire planet. Looking into the heart of humanity could be the only way to save the universe.

Luc Besson exemplifies the Sci-Fi spirit in each films within the genre with films like The Fifth Element. He pushed boundaries with his casting and his world building in this film in a way that made my highly anticipate his return to the genre with Valerian and The City of a Thousand Planets. I knew already from his development of The Fifth Element story that Besson understood how to transition an amazing Sci-Fi from book to film form and still manage to wow the audience with a visual presentation of a complex world. The real question for me regarding this film was how well the characters would pull me in. Besson’s films are usually full of humor, dark internal conflict, and sometimes authentic human cowardice, but how would he bring these complex films to life with stars like RIhanna, Cara Delevingne, and Dane DeHaan? All three actors have major films under their belt. However, all three have little to no really impressive stand out roles. Dane DeHaan is admittedly the best choice for casting in his films. His past roles gave him experience with showing complex emotions on camera as well as dealing with the rigorous special effects that go into filming a Sci-Fi film. Both Rihanna and Cara Delevinge have similar experience with their past roles, but less engaging acting skills. I root for them each film, but hope to see some leap forward with their skills every time, especially where Cara is concerned. She has been securing amazing roles for herself in the past few years, but was she ready for a lead in a Luc Besson film?

One of the things I really like about Luc Besson is that his casting is never predictable. I love seeing him give big roles to budding names. I wish more films took chances on new actors instead of leaning on big names like crutches. Still, I came into the theater wary.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, a film I entered without having read the comic book series from which it originated, tells the tale of two military elites (played by Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne) who are well known for tackling the impossible jobs no one should expect to come out of unscathed. These partners in planetary adventures are witty and reckless, with the skills and cunning needed to get the mission accomplished while pissing off everyone they encounter as they go.

Before we meet our daring duo, we are introducted to the Planet Mule, which is full of stunning visuals of a tropical paradise inhabited by androgynous pale skinned Avatar-esque humanoids. These inhabitants, called Pearls, are living blissfully in peace when their world suddenly grows dark and tragic. One moment, we are watching them go through their day of pearl manufacturing to fuel their planet and the next chaos is raining from the sky in the form of burning spaceships. Planet Mule is burned away in the aftermath of a war that we have no background on.

In true Besson fashion, the camera cuts from chaos to Major Valerian and Sergeant Laureline where we meet them on their futuristic, AI-sufficient ship, during some down time before the action begins again. We meet the daring duo en route to the mission that will send them hurtling across space to solve decades old mysteries while saving the lives of thousands. They are assigned to an acquisition mission that requires inter-dimensional travel and weapons smuggling. They team up with a locally assigned unit and get the job done. From there, they must deliver the prized acquisition to their general on Alpha, the city of a thousand planets. Alpha houses millions of people from differing worlds, languages, backgrounds, ecosystems, and demographics all united on the same orbiting space station to grow their own unique melting pot world.

While on Alpha, Valerian and Laureline are thrust deeper into a decades old conspiracy that is coming to light all while debating the age old question that forms between two people bonding over life and death: “What are we?” They fight to protect their rare acquisition, their military leaders, and one another as a battle for survival climaxes right at the core of the Alpha space station.

What I Liked:

Besson doesn’t hold back on the visuals of this film. The cinematography and special effects come together in ways reminiscent of both The Fifth Element and new aged special effects heavy alien films like Avatar. The new techniques available in computer graphics and special effects made this year the perfect time to bring this comic to life. Alien life is abundant and visually diverse. The Pearls are amazing conceptualization of a world without gender bias influencing the aesthetic of its people. The men and women are identical. but at the same time very distinguishable by observing their body language and how they interact with others. The lightness between characters within this film is refreshing. I love witty characters and dialogue and punch lines that round off an action scene well. I also love the premise of the mission and the peril that the main characters face with moral principles ready to drive their actions.

If you love Sci-Fi, you will love seeing this world built on the big screen. You will find minor characters compelling and wish for more from the city of a thousand planets. The world could provide us with countless stories and action films if Besson returns to it later. My favorite action sequence is the dining hall scene where Valerian and Bubble (played by Rihanna) rescue Laureline from the fate of a soon to be cracked walnut. The knife fighting is smooth and well choreographed here and the chaos of the scene works well with the urgency of the rescue.

The film’s ending gives you hope that the future of the characters is just as action packed and happily ever after as their saving of just one of a thousand planets.

What I Didn’t Like:

The acting and chemistry between characters fell short. I wasn’t surprised, but I was definitely disappointed. I wanted so much more from a film that was giving us so much to take in and conceptualize culturally from its alien characters. The romance between the main characters was forced and superficial. To be fair, this is very similar to the romance we witness in the Fifth Element. There’s no real building of chemistry or emotional attachment between the love interests. We are simply told to accept their dynamic and then force fed dialogue that lays the romance on thick without actually pulling us into their emotions. I actually rolled my eyes a couple of times during romantic moments between the characters.

I refuse to give up on Cara just yet because she has definitely improved between this film and Suicide Squad, but I have to acknowledge that she is still in serious need of training. Her character’s personality is appealing and well executed, but her facial expressions are often dead readers for the emotion we are supposed to grasp in the scene. Think Kristen Stewart (who is honestly not a bad actress but can leave you wondering what her character is really feeling if their voice sells the moment but their face was never switched on).

As great as the action sequences in this film look visually, the lack of experience for these characters in fighting choreography shows for the majority of the film. There was just not enough attention to detail put into the action. I know Besson is capable. Milla Jovovich’s fight scenes in The Fifth Element sell the skills of her character and Bruce Willis’ gun sequences do the same for his character. The action in this film, however is inconsistent. Cara’s character is sold to us as a badass, but she is rarely shown handling the heavy lifting on her own and when she does the camera cuts away from the action in a way that obviously compensates for a lack of fighting skill. Unfortunately, gun fights are handled similarly. We see the shooting, but not the landing of those shots. We have to rely on our imagination to prove to ourselves that these characters have any real military skill.

That great knife scene is followed by an absurd character development for Bubbles. Maybe my disappointment in her character’s development is because I haven’t read the comics. I committed quickly to her role in the film and envisioned her joining the military prowess of the duo as their grifter. I saw her shapeshifting prowess being a recurring asset to Alpha. Clearly the story line saw differently and her exit from the plot is an acting train wreck that doesn’t bandage that disappointment well.

Finally, the conspiracy just isn’t fleshed out enough. The emotions of everyone involved aren’t believable because we’re told more than we’re shown. The Commander’s development is handled well but the Pearl’s closure is not, especially their final escape during the final massacre.

The Superior Spider-Sam’s Review

Valerian and The City of a Thousand Planets stars the guy I think always looks sick- Dane Dehaan and the woman whose beauty can only make up for her acting choices for so long – Cara Delevingne. So I was not too excited when I heard about this movie, but then I saw the trailer and my interest rose greatly. So I went to watch the tale of Valerian and The City of a Thousand Planets, and well…

What I Liked

The movie had an opening mission in which the heroes had a chase in a market place, but in order to see this market place you needed special lenses because it was in another dimension- that was cool.

All the tech you may have seen in the trailer like Valerian’s suit, and the gun that shoots hard (solid) light which one can step on to traverse through the sky was also cool.

What I Didn’t Like

It’s rare a movie outside of Fast & Furious makes me really wonder if my humans deserve to be subjected to such an attack on their brain cells, but Valerian does just that. I can’t break down the issues piece by piece like I normally would so let’s just call all of the problems plot related. Well, that is actually a stretch because I’m not sure this movie has a plot. So Dane Dehaan and Cara Delevingne are Valerian and Laureline respectively- basically, they are two space cops. So, in the history of this movie Earth went into space and built a space station that other world and civilizations soon joined and added parts to, so now there is this massive space station made up of a ton of other space stations that sustain millions of lives and became known as the city of a thousand planets. Being so massive, the station could not stay in Earth’s atmosphere so it had to move, but luckily a power source emerged in the center of the station so it was able to remain viable on its own. Valerian and Laureline are two officers assigned to protect this power source and therefore protect the city of a thousand planets…I think. Where did this power source come from? How does it sustain all that life exactly? No F**** clue. So that’s the first big problem of this movie- you as a viewer have no clue why any of the stuff on screen is happening. If you’ve read any other review I am certain he/she will say what I’m saying- a lot of stuff happens and you do not know why. In movies there is the greater overall plot (for example, the city needs protecting and it’s my job to do it, cool and simple), and then there are subplots that should and usually do play into the larger plot (for example my family is held hostage so I have to save them and still protect the city), Valerian has several subplots…and that’s it. Seriously it’s like you think the main goal is to protect the power source and then there are several (SEVERAL) detours that literally have nothing to do with protecting the power source. You WILL ask yourself “Why are they here?” “What did that resolve?” “Where did this come from?” “Who is that?!” It’s as if the writer had short term memory loss so every couple of minutes he’d forget what he wrote and start a new story. None of the subplots come together in anyway and that makes for an incoherent jumbled mess.

Imagine seeing Titanic and when Jack (Leo DiCaprio) first meets Rose (Kate Winslet) it cuts to Leo’s character from Django meeting Dr. Schultz , then immediately moves back to the Titanic sinking, and as it’s going down cuts to Kate Winslet talking to Jim Carey in Eternal Sunshine; sounds like a mess right? THAT would have been more enjoyable than this movie. It was all over the place so in the end, you don’t even know if the main plot was resolved.

Another problem that’s lost because of how bad the plot issue are is the characters and acting. If Valerian is a dumpster fire Dane Dehaan is a banana peel- doesn’t help put it out but not greatly adding to it, but Cara Delevigne is like a bottle of kerosene. Now Dane Dehaan, I have never liked. I know people are for him in “Chronicle” but he just doesn’t do it for me. Having that I will admit I think he has some acting talent- none of it was on display in Valerian. His line felt forced and unbelievable, it is quite possible he was just miscast. Cara Delevingne, my dear girl, it might be time to hang it up and keep up the wonderful modeling you do. I am a bit biased because I’ve recently watch Paper Towns, Suicide Squad, and now Valerian– all of them bad showings for Cara Delevingne. If I only knew box office numbers I’d be willing to believe she may have just chosen some bad roles to take on, but I saw the dumpster fire that is Valerian and it does not help her case. These two have ZERO chemistry and the bad acting takes it to another level. Laureline meets someone in the beginning of the movie- an extra on set who has no bearing on the plot (I think- again, I’m not sure there is a plot) and she has a better interaction with this extra in those 5 minutes than she does with Valerian THE ENTIRE MOVIE. That’s not all on Cara’s acting and it’s not all on Dane’s acting either because the writes have to take some culpability, but it’s hard not to look at these two after this and say out loud “I don’t know you should be in movies.”

Images Courtesy of IMDB

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