Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

… each faker than the last

H ow much effort goes into casting? Often material is written with an actor in mind. Does the green light turn red if, say, Brad Pitt ain’t on board? How much does that matter? I ask this upon reflection of the horribly miscast Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, a film that might have had a chance if, I dunno, maybe Clive Owen and Dane DeHaan, the respective villain and hero, switched roles … or if I could pick Cara Delevingne out a lineup. “Sir, if I could just ask you to step forward and identify the person who stole 137 minutes of your life.” I’m sorry. I just can’t do it; the thief made no impression whatsoever.

It is endless summer on the planet of ManuteBolia. The opaque reedy denizens spend their infinite leisure time harvesting soap beads and stuffing them down the throat of the docile, pig-like mini-Xerox beast that craps 50-fold everything it eats. This comes in handy on Thanksgiving when everybody wants a drumstick. Clearly, this is the most useful creature ever invented and is in great demand when ManuteBolia is destroyed.

Meanwhile, in another film, we have to accept that Major Valerian (DeHaan) is a ladies man. I hadn’t even begun to scoff before Sergeant Laureline (Delevingne) was introduced as the kind of person who would make a ladies man into an honest man. Yup, we are definitely in a sci-fi/fantasy now, aren’t we? The Major parlays uncomfortable innuendo into a marriage proposal, which seems both out-of-place and poorly delivered. One can only hope that the 28th century is less reasonable than our current existence in which, for obvious reason, military partners are not encouraged to become not-so-military partners. Luckily, at this moment in the script, the plot calls for action instead of awkward conversation. The tandem must, as holograms, steal something solid from the marketplace world of Garishland, where, apparently, there is no such thing as a bad idea when it comes to creating or outfitting aliens. I’d criticize further, by Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets actually starts to move at this point. Give the sergeant and major something to do besides discuss their awful relationship and, check it out, I’m almost invested.

Obviously more comfortable terrorizing Parisians (as is his norm), Luc Besson wanted to make another Fifth Element. He even gave us the same alien diva moment in this film highlighted by either a winning attempt to make Rihanna sexy or a not-quite-as-winning attempt to make Ethan Hawke sexy. Hawke is playing a role obviously intended for Sam Rockwell; did the casting director just take the week off? Anyway, the film comes out less Fifth Element and more Phantom Menace. What gets taken from Valerian is not quite Bruce Willis explaining his fantastic reality, but instead a feeling of “look at how many outrageous creatures we can stuff into this frame!”

Ima say this once: Dane DeHaan was never meant to be a hero. Dig? Have you seen his face? His posture? His countenance? The natural scowl? The premature circles under his eyes? This is the look of a villain. Good one, too. Because of the constant catering to a younger crowd, movie producers tend to insist quality young actors play heroes. It doesn’t work like that. At best, Dane DeHaan is the computer hacker friend who looks like that because he spends all day in front of a screen. In any case, he’s both wasted and useless as a hero. As for his counterpart, I think I remember Cara Delevingne doing something in the film. It involved being pissed off.

It’s the 28th century and here’s the game plan
Crazy critters abound this ascent of man
As long as you’ve drawn
That alien spawn
Could you CGI a heroic DeHaan?

Rated PG-13, 137 Minutes
D: Luc Besson
W: Luc Besson
Genre: Life in a green screen
Type of person most likely to enjoy this film: Those with the ability to imagine Dane DeHaan Solo
Type of person least likely to enjoy this film: If you didn’t enjoy The Fifth Element, don’t bother

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