Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Reserved Seating: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

by Rob DiCristino and Adam Riske
The review duo who understand the true meaning of love. For each other.

Adam: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Adam Riske.

Rob: And I’m Rob DiCristino. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is the new film from mad Frenchman Luc Besson, based on the comics by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mezieres. It’s the story of space cops Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne) and their adventures on Alpha, the titular city of a thousand planets. When they’re instructed to use an Oculus Rift to retrieve a magic Tribble that poops planets, they unravel a mysterious plot involving the Na’vi, Space Commander Clive Owen, shapeshifting burlesque dancer Rihanna, and John Goodman as the scrap dealer from The Force Awakens. Along the way, Valerian exhibits enough bravery and cunning save the galaxy while simultaneously earning the love of a Victoria’s Secret model who should really be smart enough to know better. It’s a wacky and colorful adventure with all the excitement of an acid trip and none of the coherence.

Adam: In this clip, three birds (?) barter with Laureline for information.

This scene represents my favorites in Valerian, where there are masterful visual effects, Cara Delevingne on-screen and Dane DeHaan nowhere to be found. Valerian is almost too much movie to have a cohesive opinion on, but I’ll do my best. I didn’t like it, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I enjoyed several things about it. Mostly I think it’s a movie I would have rather watched with earbuds in while I listened to Daft Punk. Overall, what did you think Rob?

Rob: I’m of two minds about it. On the upside, it’s exactly the kind of orgiastic imaginarium I was expecting from the trailer. The easiest comparison is to The Fifth Element, and like that film, this one is chock full of ideas. On the downside, well, there’s everything else. The characters range from laughably thin to openly infuriating, and the story bounces from one happenstance to another. That doesn’t always seem to matter, though — this is a movie you don’t so much think about as you do feel about, and that makes it kind of immune to certain criticisms. I can absolutely see how people could have a good time with Valerian, but it wasn’t totally for me.

Adam: I love the phrase “orgiastic imaginarium.” If you don’t end up quoted on the Blu-ray cover for that one, I’ll be mad. I’m glad you brought up the trailer, because I think it’s great with the song “Because” by The Beatles playing over some truly beautiful visual effects. The movie doesn’t reach those heights except in the opening sequence, where we’re introduced to a planet inhabited by aliens looking like the engineers from Prometheus dusted with glitter. This is definitely a movie where the many millions are all on-screen. As a visual trip, this should satisfy a lot of people and I’m sure it will develop a cult following over time. I was with Valerian for the first act, but then I think it gets progressively less interesting as it continues. By the end of the long 2 hour 17 minute runtime, I was very happy it was over. The movie is at its best in its action sequences, including a race through several portals and a VR-type experience at a space market.

My biggest issue with the movie is Dane DeHaan. I want to be polite and not as emotional about his performance as I was right after I saw Valerian, but to judge the movie honestly I have to say that he sunk the film for me. He’s very monotone and miscast as a rogue.
Rob: The runtime is a serious problem, especially considering the awkward story construction. There’s this big, expansive plot that comes together in the end without really affecting our characters in a meaningful way, which robs it of its resonance. Everyone sort of just nods and pretends like they learned something. And yeah, Dane DeHaan is a mystery to me. I’m starting to wonder if studios even understand what makes Harrison Ford and Chris Pratt so good at playing loveable scoundrels — it’s the way their ego masks their insecurity. They have to have gooey centers, but Dane DeHaan is just goo. I would agree he’s miscast. Did you have a hard time seeing him and Delevingne as adults? I was in such a weird headspace watching the movie and wondering if they’re supposed to be adolescents or seasoned experts, especially in scenes played against Clive Owen. They’re talking about marriage and family when I kept thinking they should be getting their first apartment or something.

Adam: They look very youthful. I know DeHaan is in his early thirties, but he looks like a teenager and Delevingne looks pretty young, too. Their dynamic is supposed to be similar to William Powell and Myrna Loy in The Thin Man (if it’s not intentional, it’s a remarkable coincidence) but they don’t have the dialogue or the chemistry to make their relationship zippy, which it sort of has to be to make their partnership work. He’s dead weight, but I think she is interesting in a way I can’t figure out yet. I’ve only seen Cara Delevingne in Valerian and Suicide Squad, but I think she has personality (I’m curious now to see her in Paper Towns) and could eventually turn in a great performance once she finds a movie that uses her well. Here, she’s unfortunately window dressing and Luc Besson doesn’t discourage the male gaze in how she is costumed. The rest of the performances didn’t really click for me, either. Clive Owen sort of drifts in and out of the movie and I’m not the biggest fan of his to begin with (I always think of his leaden narration in Sin City, which is like being repeatedly hit in the ear by potato skins) and there’s not enough Rihanna or Ethan Hawke in the movie. I wish Valerian was about their two characters and whatever weird Las Vegas strip business they ran but, alas, you can’t have a small relationship comedy in a movie with this much foreign investment behind it.

Throughout the movie, I kept trying to figure out why Luc Besson would cast DeHaan and Delevingne as the two leads and not more established stars who could, presumably, recoup more of the $197M budget back in foreign dollars. My best guess (and this is something I’m noticing a lot in the past year or so) is that studios are casting actors with large social media presences and followings over seasoned, established actors. Back to your original point, the casting is all wrong, since Valerian and Laureline are written as 30 (or even 40)-something’s but are played by adults that look like kids.

Rob: Your point about social media presence is interesting, and I’d be curious to see how much more evidence we see of that in the future. I also found Cara Delevingne interesting. I hate to focus on her physical appearance, but there’s so little for her to work with character-wise that I almost have to. I’d describe her as very striking; she carries a lot of capability in her body language and acting style, and it’s a shame the movie didn’t give her more to do. In fact, one of my biggest issues with Valerian is that they took a second act sequence that could have fleshed-out her character and gave it to Rihanna’s shape-shifter, a character that’s in and out of the film so fast that it gave me whiplash. And she’s good, too! Now I’m extra pissed off because the movie robbed us of two opportunities for characterization. All in all, though, I feel like most audience members are going to embrace the visuals, and they’re top-notch in that loud, eclectic sort of way. It’s not exactly graceful (the screen is often so crowded with shit that I couldn’t focus), but it’s exactly the kind of stylish and unconventional world I’ve come to expect from Besson. That part worked just fine.

Adam: Did you see it in 2D or 3D?

Rob: 2D. 3D has never worked for me, so I never seek it out in a theatrical experience.

Adam: Same here. So, I read a four-star review for the movie and some of the aspects that reviewer championed was the political and humanitarian facets of the movie and the positive, non-dystopian worldview the movie posits. It’s an interesting take. It made me remember the opening credit sequence where we see the City of a Thousand Planets evolve from cross-cultural to cross-species and I thought the sequence was lovely and attention-grabbing. It helps that it’s a sequence driven by visual and not spoken language. Valerian is at its best in those moments. I didn’t take to the allegorical aspects of the movie as much as that reviewer, though, because the movie is so overstuffed that the subtext didn’t register.

Rob: I haven’t read that specific review, but sure, the film has a political bent toward cooperation and humanitarianism. It’s blunt and obnoxious in its delivery, but I’d agree its present. Honestly, any potential themes are crushed under the weight of awful dialogue. There’s a moment where Valerian (who’s spent the film going rogue and doing his own thing) suddenly has a problem making decisions without the approval of the top brass. I just started laughing. Anyway, yes, the movie has those messages floating around, but I’d argue that it’s not really interested in exploring them in any meaningful way.
Adam: Last question for you. In a movie stuffed with creatures, did you have a favorite? Was it the diamond pooping porcupine tribble? The weird trio of vultures? Bubble, aka Rihanna? Ethan Hawke looking like he walked off a Schumacher set?

Rob: I agree that we need a spin off with Hawke and Rihanna. I think they hinted at a vibrant world that we really only got to crash through the walls of ten at a time. There were so many flashes of so many interesting things that were never developed. Maybe it’ll perform well enough for a sequel. Did you have a favorite?

Adam: There was a “Swing Lady” that was pretty cute in the sequence where Ethan Hawke shows up. So, how are you voting for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (omg, that title)? I have to go Mark Off.

Rob: I’m also Mark Off, though again, I think there are people who will have a lot of fun with visuals and design. I just can’t imagine ever sitting through it again.

Adam: I hear ya. Reserved Seating will be off for a week, returning soon. Until next time…

Rob: These seats are reserved.


  1. I could kinda see Dane DeHaan in a Wishmaster sequel as the offspring of Andrew Divoff's Djinn. I mean sure, I'm mostly saying that to give Adam an aneurysm, but Divoff does has a look about him when he's trying to appear evil (without the makeup on) that suggests that he could have been responsible for bringing DeHaan onto this Earth.

  2. Strangely, your guys' review made me want to see it more than any strictly positive review ever could.

    1. That's cool. I'm never intending to dissuade people from seeing a movie. I like to see everything and form my own opinion. Let us know how it goes bud!

    2. So, Dane DeHaan... why? He has no charm and sounds like a bad Keanu Reeves ripoff. While I was watching it, I thought I had never seen him in a movie before, but a quick IMDb search proved me wrong (Kill Your Darlings and Lincoln, I guess). I haven't read the source material, but I can guess that Valerian isn't so bland and growly in it--how else could he get Laureline, who, even though she is thinly written, is clearly a badass? Speaking of which, why not call it Valerian and Laureline? Adam is right in that she doesn't have much to do, but she steals the show (although maybe that's not hard to do against DeHaan). Although I found myself enjoying many parts of this movie, it would be much better with a better, less made-of-goo male lead.
      There's more to talk about regarding plotting, gender, etc., but those are my brief and salient thoughts immediately after watching.

  3. Top marks for Rob's opening synopsis.