Picoreview: Valerian & the City of a Thousand Planets: much worse than it had to be.
I went to see this with a friend who’s visiting, and we agreed that it really was much worse than it had to be, which is different, perhaps a step up from, “not as good as it could have been.”
The dialogue, specifically the dialogue between leads Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne, was excrutiating. They had roughly the chemistry of two wet paper towels (although that may be doing wet paper towels a disservice), and the attempt at a romantic storyline between them was very possibly the worst I’ve ever seen on film.
The stupid thing is that it was totally unnecessary. They could have eliminated all attempt at a romance and made them just partners and it would have improved the film 100% and cut it by at least 20 minutes, which would have improved it another 80%. (It would require at least another 10 minutes of cuts for cuts to improve it by a full 100%.)
Aside from the total lack of chemistry, DeHaan and Delevingne were desperately mis-cast in terms of size and physical attributes: they literally looked like children with their waifish forms, big eyes, delicate bone structures, and teensy tinsy heights. Everybody else (including the obviously very young and very, very pretty Kris Wu as a young sergeant that my companion and I said sadly to each other, “He’s obviously going to die,” as soon as he came on screen) looked like adults and towered over them. It was genuinely bizarre.
On the other hand, it turned out Delevingne, whom I’d only half-seen in the half-watched Suicide Squad, was really pretty good when not on screen with DeHaan, which made her character being sidelined a lot annoying even though I’m not a reader of the original comics, which are titled Valerian and Laureline and the characters evidently carry equal story weight. (My companion didn’t think she was as badly used as I did, so YMMV.) I want to see her in a well-written part, now, but I wish they’d cast somebody else in this role. Someone who didn’t look like a Wolfrider thrust amongst humans.
All that (and more) bitching aside, I’m not sorry I saw it. The effects were glorious, the maps from Valerian & Laureline to every piece of space opera from Star Wars onward were clearly and brilliantly overlaid, starting with a
Jabba the Hudefinitely not Jabba character and rolling right up through Avatar (we, in fact, kept referring to the main alien species as “the pale Avatar people”), the underlying story was decent, and the first five minutes were among the best I’ve ever seen in science fiction film making.
Seriously: the first five minutes were worth the price of admission. Even if the rest of it had been irredeemably horrible (instead of just a lot worse than it needed to be) I would not have been sad to have seen it on the big screen just for the first five minutes. They were uplifting and hopeful and funny and poignant and *beautiful*.
Also Rihanna was wonderful. I love Rihanna anyway and although her introduction in the film was, um. Yes. It sure was um. Anyway. She was amazing in her small part and the movie would have been vastly improved if she’d been cast as Valerian. Unfortunately, what casting her *did* do was play up how poorly cast the leads were, because she was all emotion and riveting screen presence and completely overwhelmed DeHaan (Delevingne was only on screen with her for a few seconds), but dang, I loved her.
So I thought the bones of a good–even great–movie were in there, but they were tragically given body by two badly miscast leads and a script that needed to stop forcing romance onto a working relationship, and that’s genuinely too bad.
But really, man, the first five minutes. Wow.