Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)
July 22, 2017 11:01 PM - Subscribe

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.

From the NYTimes review:
"To say that 'Valerian' is a science-fiction epic doesn’t quite do it justice. Imagine crushing a DVD of 'The Phantom Menace' into a fine powder, tossing in some Adderall and Ecstasy and a pinch of cayenne pepper and snorting the resulting mixture while wearing a virtual reality helmet in a Las Vegas karaoke bar. Actually, that sounds like too much fun, but you get the idea."

Apparently the critics hate it, but didn't they also hated the Fifth Element when it appeared: 'It delivers that big badda-boom and nothing more.'

I thought the leads were kinda flat, but the film itself is gorgeous and BURSTING with amazing visuals and ideas... Like tourists on a virtual reality shopping spree, wandering through a massive mall in their headsets, while wandering seemingly aimlessly through a desert in 'reality.' On getting out, we talked a little bit about the bad dialog, and then spent another hour going over our favorite sequences.
posted by kaibutsu (32 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I love the visuals and the worldbuilding while also not really feeling any connection with the leads. Which is too bad because I was sappy enough to be crying in the opening in the whole Major Tom sequence and the destruction of planet Mul.

I'm glad space UN exists, and also that the space Pacific Islanders got their space reparations.

Also I honestly thought it was Cate Blanchett but it turns out it was Elizabeth Debicki doing her Blanchett 2.0
posted by cendawanita at 5:31 AM on July 23 [2 favorites]


I so loved the Major Tom beginning and Mül sequence, too, and I was utterly charmed by the visuals.

But it seems to have regressed even from The Fifth Element.

It was relentlessly heteronormative. Are any same-sex relationships portrayed at all? I was looking and didn't see them.

Goodness and beautifulness were thin; fatness was either evil or a joke.

Where were the women and POC in positions of power the military? It's the goddamn multicultural future but all the women are in subordinate positions. And the Asian guy's single most important action is to be tech support? Herbie Hancock is relentlessly underused in a "Black Judge" role as the Defense Minister who doesn't have much to do other than be exasperated with Valerian's hijinks. There's the one black guy who appears on screen for three seconds before he gets heroically shot in the face for trying to do the right thing.

Bubble also showed promise as a character, but then turned out to be both Magical and disposable.

One notably good thing is that the One Good Old White Military Guy demonstrates that he is indeed a Good Guy by immediately ending the torture and showing compassion for the torture victim. This is when you learn that you can trust him to do the right thing, and it was well done.

And, yeah, it had an anti-colonialist message but I am really wondering about the choice to make the Pearls so very, very white. Was that a deliberate choice, because they would more easily evoke sympathy from the audience? What if they had had a darker skin color? How would that have changed the film, and the audience's reaction to the film? Or just swap the Pearls with the aliens who kidnapped Laureline. You know, the ugly, fat ones that were mowed down wholesale without any moral qualms? What if they had been the ugly and "primitive" but empathic, sympathetic, clever victims?

In the end, the storyline is about Valerian being taught the True Meaning of Love by the women in his life: his military subordinate, a victim of genocide, and a victim of sex trafficking.

I don't regret seeing it—even shelling out to see it in the theater—because it was gorgeous and charming in a lot of ways. I kind of wish I could watch it all again but with the plot surgically removed.
posted by BrashTech at 8:11 AM on July 23 [28 favorites]


BrashTech, i wish i could favourite your comment more. exactly my thoughts.
posted by cendawanita at 11:23 AM on July 23


I had been aware of the original source material going back to when Fifth Element was in theaters, as even then Luc Besson would talk up the Valerian and Lauraline comics in interviews even then (and also had the comics' artist, Jean-Claude Mézières do concept art for Fifth Element). However, I only really started digging into the comics recently in the lead-up to this film's release, as the publisher rode the wave of marketing to push out a new set of English translations.

One concept that was integral to the comics' storyline was the fact that Valerian and Lauraline were Spatio-Temporal agents, charged with not only investigating incidents throughout space, but also with covertly preserving the timeline from interference by rogue time travelers. Aside from the pearl princess's soul energy wave traveling 30 years from the point of her death on its way to possess Valerian, there's no trace of the time travel shenanigans these two are known for in the comics.

However, by setting the time-agent plot aside, they also sidestepped the weirdness behind Lauraline's origin. In the comics, she's a peasant girl from medieval France who meets Valerian while he's on the hunt for a criminal from his time. As a result of a magic spell cast by the fugitive (yes, they didn't shy away from putting sorcery into their time-travel space opera setting), Lauarline gets turned into a unicorn temporarily, and inadvertently learns of Valerian's time-traveler status and the future he comes from through the power of unicorn telepathy.

His time-traveler's masquerade broken, he has no choice but to bring her along to the future with him, and figures if she's going to have to come along, she might as well be useful and gives her a crash course via neural-interface learning helmet on everything she needs to know about his time and being a Spatio-Temporal agent.

In the anime adaptation, they streamline this by having Valerian meet Lauraline in medieval France while he's still a cadet on his final evaluation mission. No one gets turned into a unicorn, he's just green enough to have her discover he's from the future on her own. They also skip the knowledge-dump helmet, letting her to the fish-out-of-water style of interactions with Valerian's time instead.

I have to say, of the three, I like the movie's approach the best. The film lets her be his equal, by being from his time, and having worked very hard to get there. She didn't have to be some doe-eyed French peasant girl for the movie's story to keep up the same level of whimsy that the comic books had.
posted by radwolf76 at 12:32 PM on July 23 [6 favorites]


My general reaction was "I want to stick around and have fun in all these pretty and interesting-looking places; please stop being jerks and shooting everything."
posted by one for the books at 1:40 PM on July 23 [6 favorites]


Lauarline gets turned into a unicorn temporarily,

Have not seen it yet but how could any sophisticated modern filmmaker pass up this scene?
posted by sammyo at 1:57 PM on July 23 [4 favorites]


It was relentlessly heteronormative. Are any same-sex relationships portrayed at all? I was looking and didn't see them.

Bubble did a solid Liza Minnelli impression, called Laureline a 10, and adopted Valerian's image in order to flirt with her. That felt suggestive... so then obviously she had to die.
posted by one for the books at 2:06 PM on July 23 [6 favorites]


Visually gorgeous, worth seeing just for the world-building and effects, but be aware that's all you're seeing it for. Sometimes you just have to let the movie go and be silly fun and ignore the critics, but this time the critics have a lot of good points.

I thought Cara Delevigne pulled her weight as Laureline, but there was zero chemistry between her and Dane DeHaan, who was just a disaster as Valerian. The pestering about marriage might have been a funny backpoint in a second or better third movie, but with as little as we know about the characters when we meet them it just came off as creepy. He looked and acted more like a 14 year old cosplayer than an actual government agent, and the flat-aspect Keanu Reeves approach to his job just felt wrong for the character. (James Bond's actors usually give him a pretty flat aspect, but they also have to have the dignity to give it some weight.)

As others have noted the first half hour or so was pretty good, as we saw the development of Alpha from a humble Earth space station, the handshake of friendship greeting various races and then species, and then the genocidal destruction of Endor Mül. Unfortunately things go downhill quickly after we meet Valerian. As one critic said, "I wish I could rewatch it with the plot surgically removed."
posted by Bringer Tom at 2:36 PM on July 23 [5 favorites]


Bubble did a solid Liza Minnelli impression, called Laureline a 10, and adopted Valerian's image in order to flirt with her. That felt suggestive... so then obviously she had to die.

And a man (who has been hitting on his costar since his first frame on screen) has to tell her she done good so she can die in peace. Meh.
posted by Bringer Tom at 2:38 PM on July 23


Have not seen it yet but how could any sophisticated modern filmmaker pass up this scene?

For what it's worth, there's a much different scene in the movie where Lauraline gains telepathic insight into plot-critical information about Valerian through... unusual methods. You'll know it when you see it.

---------------------

He looked and acted more like a 14 year old cosplayer than an actual government agent, and the flat-aspect Keanu Reeves approach to his job just felt wrong for the character.

Even in the original comics both Valerian and Lauraline have a carefree manner of approaching their job and the worlds and time periods they have to visit with a sense of childlike wonder. With Lauraline's woman-displaced-in-time status in the comics, it's hard to say her behavior on those pages isn't justified. For Valerian, that behavior seems harder to excuse at first, but getting to live the constantly shifting tapestry of spectacular sights and experiences that his job throws at him certainly could have an effect on his attitude and demeanor. That same reasoning can be applied to both in their film incarnations, since their backgrounds were made to be similar.

But I do agree with you that his channeling of Keanu Reeves was distracting.
posted by radwolf76 at 4:41 PM on July 23


but getting to live the constantly shifting tapestry of spectacular sights and experiences that his job throws at him certainly could have an effect on his attitude and demeanor

I can see how that might work, but they really didn't sell it very well. Valerian and Laureline are supposed to be badass super-agents more effective than mere soldiers who seem superficially stronger and harder than they are. And in some cases it's the flat aspect that sells it -- that's what sold us Neo in the Matrix, it's what sells most of the James Bonds, it's what sells Jason Bourne, hell it's what sells Keanu as John Wick. But When DeHaan tries it it just doesn't work. I suspect that's because when we already see him as a cosplaying 14-year-old creepily pestering his partner about getting married, his shift to I'm-serious-now mode just doesn't play.

Probably the most discordant note in the whole film is Valerian's sudden loyal reluctance to turn over the Energizer replicator maguffin. Valerian's character has been all over the map but this isn't consistent with anything we've seen from him so far, and Laureline's impassioned speech to convince him is a bit of a stretch for her so far cynical and more professional soul too. All in all while Laureline is more consistent than Valerian, it doesn't look like anyone spent much time on shaping either of them as rounded human beings.
posted by Bringer Tom at 5:14 PM on July 23 [4 favorites]


I rarely watch TV (ads anyway), but caught a number of ads for Valerian on someone else's TV. I know absolutely nothing about this show, but the ads screamed "box office bomb" and it looks like my instincts weren't wrong. I mean, the ads didn't show i) Important Actors, ii) attachment to some f'ing Universe or other, iii) irony-laced moxie; moreover the ads themselves looked cheap, with big text banners.

Thewrap.com says "an estimated $17 million in its domestic opening ... put it in fifth this weekend, failing to even beat a third-week 'Spider-Man: Homecoming,' which made $22 million". Huh.
posted by sylvanshine at 10:29 PM on July 23


I can't disagree with the criticisms enumerated here, but I will say that the couture monster scene is the funniest thing I've seen all year. The movie is full of delightful bit characters who positively chew the gorgeous scenery.
posted by mykescipark at 11:58 PM on July 23 [7 favorites]


Yeah, I really hate to ever say I'm disappointed in a movie, but... I mean, to me there's only one real flaw, unfortunately it's a huge one, and that's the total lack of chemistry, presence, or charisma from the two leads. They're not helped that the attempted banter dialogue between them is all pretty bad and flat too.

The rest is really great and gorgeous, though. Profligate with imagination - so much stuff swooshing by with amazing details that clearly took a lot of time and care to think up.
posted by dnash at 11:46 AM on July 24 [2 favorites]


I don't regret seeing it, but this is my least favorite Luc Besson film, and I have seen a lot of them (I still remember Pauline Kael's review of Subway in 1985 — "the end of French cinema as we know it."). I blame the unexciting leads, and the 20-30 talky minutes of exposition toward the end of the film. The comic book — high on visuals, light on dialog, with dozens of over-the-top characters — is Besson's natural base, so this should have been a slam-dunk, but tossing a boatload of information in at the end just doesn't work for him. I really wouldn't have minded seeing another one, but it seems the film has to make $350 million worldwide for that to happen, so I'm not holding my breath.
posted by ubiquity at 8:05 AM on July 25


"the end of French cinema as we know it."

Oops, that was Terrence Rafferty on La Femme Nikita in 1990, not Kael on Subway in 1985. Just because I've seen a lot of them doesn't mean that I can keep them straight in my head.
posted by ubiquity at 8:46 AM on July 25 [1 favorite]


I really enjoyed the Valerian comics, but what I remember from them is scenes and lose concepts rather than plots. As I recall, they mostly boil down to a series of obstacles solved with funky, creative sci-fi tricks. Which is fine. The real treat, and what made it an influential thing, was the visual language and the bit characters. I could be wrong but I don't recall much thematic world-building in the comics. What I remember is "They're time cops or something. Whatever. Hey look, a ray gun that shoots platforms! ADVENTURE!"

And this movie does share the virtues. When it's on it's game (neuro-jellyfish, slime guns, monster couture, pan-dimensional flea markets, butterfly fishing, etc.) it's super fun. It seems to really insist on spending a lot of time on a very by-the-numbers anti-imperialism plot, though. It wasn't particularly convincing to begin with, but was pretty badly sabotaged when the heroes went full Red Wedding on a different primitive people's royal dinner party. Like, I get that Laureline's brain was on the menu and all, but the whole Space Government, including Valerian, apparently knew what they were about and permitted it up until then, so what, are a different set of Space Agents going to have to make amends for that massacre in 30 years? It's all kind of insincere, isn't it?

I think it doesn't help that Valerian and Laureline themselves aren't characters that hold up to modern sensibilities well. Valerian's over-the-top advances and Laureline being all coy and evasive about it instead of either of them just saying what they're thinking is annoying, where I think it's supposed to be cute.

It's weird. It's one of those movies that I THINK I liked? It definitely had things it did super well that are worth seeing, but most of what I have to say about it is pretty critical. It's hard to recommend compared to something like Guardians of the Galaxy, which I enjoyed without qualification.
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 1:28 PM on July 25 [5 favorites]


Valerian and Laureline themselves aren't characters that hold up to modern sensibilities well.

That's one way of putting it. I'd call their relationship the most retrograde piece of sexist crap I've seen in a scifi movie in ages. Like, seriously 1950s-style gendered idiocy. Ruined the pretty parts of the film for me.
posted by mediareport at 8:01 PM on July 25 [2 favorites]


Guardians had plenty of the retrograde gender bullshit, even more in the sequel. They just played it for laughs and hung a little fuck-you lampshade on it. It was worse in the sequel with Mantis. I don't understand how GotG wasn't raked over the coals for the Mantis "jokes."

Anyway I hated the introduction of our heroes and wished Rihanna was given a legit sidekick role for more than a set piece. Agree with the general consensus that it was an awesome movie that had some huge problems.
posted by kittensofthenight at 11:17 PM on July 25


I saw this in a theatre with like two other people and that was the best possible way to see it.

It was entirely stupid and I wanted three more just like it

Also ETHAN HAWKE?
posted by The Whelk at 2:09 PM on July 26 [3 favorites]


I saw Fifth Element when it came out and I have nurtured a deep and abiding loathing of Luc Besson ever since. Not only is he a Polanski level perv but if you look at the female cast in the FE and in this, every single one is a model or model-esque. He seems to have no use for women besides their physical beauty. This looks pretty enough but sounds like it just eye candy. It's no Jupiter Ascending.
posted by nikitabot at 5:22 PM on July 26 [1 favorite]


My head canon is Bubble faked her own death because she found the two of them annoying.
posted by RobotHero at 9:45 PM on July 26 [13 favorites]


I hated the introduction of our heroes

Yep. I've never had such a quick, disappointing turnaround in my feelings about a movie as during that 2nd scene, with the ridiculously stupid and clumsily written marriage stuff between two actors with zero chemistry. The opening showed real, beautiful anthropological scifi promise and then.....a grating halt while we suffer through an inexplicably regressive caveman romance narrative. I was shocked, even with my already low expectations. Every time that story was foregrounded, I was yanked right out of the interesting, beautiful future and slammed back into a 1950s "adults only" party LP. And that stripper scene just had me thinking "What an asshole this director must be" while massively downgrading my fairly high opinion of Ethan Hawke. Ugh. Such a waste of a story.

Pretty space city pictures, though.
posted by mediareport at 4:27 AM on July 27 [4 favorites]


RobotHero: My head canon is Bubble faked her own death because she found the two of them annoying.

Oooh, me too, now. Thank you.

I love a lot of the films Besson has directed, finding them fascinating even with flaws. So I was expecting something somewhat stupid, but exciting and fun. This was neither.

It had a promising start, until we meet the leads. They didn't have character, charm, chemistry, or comic timing. The background and world was interesting, but I wanted to go off on my own, not follow the leads or the tired plot. There was some thought, some life put into those backgrounds, at least.

Laureline seemed to me drawn in a very modern mode, but in the Joss Whedon mode: she's a strong​ woman because she punches people, too. (I did chuckle at how long she was punching the Commander).

I could get behind something that has such incoherent and inconsistent characterizations, but if this was intentional it didn't tip us off or sell it.
posted by mountmccabe at 6:31 AM on July 27


Well, it was better than John Carter or Jupiter Ascending but that's a pretty low bar to jump over. It's still deeply silly and the lead actor is just miserably bad. The role called for some over the top loopiness like maybe a young Bruce Willis but he seemed to be struggling just to get his lines out. The plot actually made more sense than The Fifth Element's but the characters seem to be dropped in from a Heinlein novel; the whole marriage subplot was just weird. It did look neat in a 1970s prog-rock album cover sort of way and it kept moving fast enough to keep you from being too bored.
posted by octothorpe at 9:27 PM on July 28 [3 favorites]


Interesting contrast today as I watched Atomic Blonde, based on a different graphic novel and seized upon by Charlize Theron as a vehicle for herself, and like Valerian filmed to look more like a graphic novel than a conventional movie. Although its visual stuns were ultraviolent instead of alien world-building they were engaging in their own way, and while still a bit shallow the characters actually worked within the context of the story they were telling.
posted by Bringer Tom at 1:59 PM on July 30


I enjoyed the bejeebus out of this, more so when I'd tuned into the sheer awfulness of DeHaan's lead performance. I realised he was trying to do the Indiana Jones-Tom Cruise Loveable Cocky Asshole thing, but without even a speck of charisma, charm, sex appeal (seriously, he looks 14, and like his love interest's little brother) or presence.

Bubble for Space President.
posted by Gin and Broadband at 3:48 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Saw it with my 13 year old and thought it was exactly perfectly ... fluffy. Now, I didn't think Laureline was subordinate to Valerian in any ability (she guards the replicator creature, fixes the dimensional thing is all around kick-ass) but I hated seeing her 'fall' for Valerian. Because Valerian was a hilariously silly, vaguely inept but foolhardily brave character - exactly what he should have been: when he refuses to give over the replicator creature was exactly who he was. I didn't take Bubble as being 'released' by Valerian but I did chafe that she was a slave released by him and... just, frankly they could have thought that through at least a little better. Laziness like that is distracting - the idea that this character's reason for being is to 'act' for others... ok, but all this went over my kid's head and I let it for now.

There was enough inventiveness and cool-ness and it never really dragged (like the 2nd GoTG) and sank. It was totally worth it and later it will be a great touchstone for further discussions with the kids.
posted by From Bklyn at 8:33 AM on August 18


Well, it was better than [...] Jupiter Ascending

You take that back

The marriage subplot was so jarring for me because it didn't even seem like they were a couple? He was in sort of a terrible "why won't you date me" mode and then jumps straight to "actually, just marry me" and she's like "I'll consider it" (???). So I guess we're supposed to believe that they're already a couple but she doesn't believe in premarital sex and he's pestering her about it which is *also* a really weird and gross scenario for a futuristic space opera to take. Given current trends if your scifi character from 24XX doesn't believe in premarital sex I need either evidence that they're notably religious, from a weird subculture, or there's been some interesting cultural developments in the meantime, none of which seem to be the case here.

Or we read it at more of a face value and she just doesn't believe in premarital sex with him in particular because he's a weird gross slimeball in which case why is she willing to marry him and I don't know the whole thing doesn't make any sense, and I'm going to go with my first reading of they have no chemistry and they're not a couple.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 12:42 PM on August 25 [2 favorites]


it was gorgeous and charming in a lot of ways. I kind of wish I could watch it all again but with the plot surgically removed.

Surgically remove the plot and the humans, because they're all garbage people, flat and pointless except to move the dumb plot forward, and/or stuipd stereotypes.


one for the books: My general reaction was "I want to stick around and have fun in all these pretty and interesting-looking places; please stop being jerks and shooting everything."

Co-signed. Really, at the end I was hate-watching it to see if Valerian would finally die. Nope, instead he became a superhero with amazing shot who killed all the killer bots that decimated other troops. Zap! Bang! Powie! He's our hero!


I'm going to go with my first reading of they have no chemistry and they're not a couple.

I could see that if they were re-cast (or re-shot, you know, with actual acting skill to portray a couple in love), this story could have made sense, but as it stands I agree with you. WTF all around.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:27 AM on November 20


I think Besson was going for a Moonlighting vibe between the leads and totally failed. The whole "marry me" thing could work in the hands of someone with skill like Joseph Gordon Levitt or natural charm like Joe Keery.
posted by fiercekitten at 10:23 PM on November 27 [1 favorite]


If you listen to Valerian speak without looking at the screen, he is doing an excellent impersonation of Keanu Reaves. Obviously just the voice, without any screen presence or charm.

This was a terrible, terrible film. Besson should be shot for the banality of the dialogue alone.
posted by biffa at 5:50 AM on December 1


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