Parental Guidance

How Family-Friendly are Dunkirk and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets?

by | July 21, 2017 | Comments

You may be itching to see Christopher Nolan’s acclaimed new war epic, and you might be tempted to take your kids, considering it’s rated PG-13. But before you do that, have a look at what film critic — and mother — Christy Lemire has to say about it, plus her thoughts on Luc Besson’s colorful and bizarre space adventure, in case your kids see the trailers and beg you to see it.



Dunkirk (2017) 92%

Rating: PG-13, for intense war experience and some language.

Christopher Nolan’s World War II drama is a masterful, compact pressure cooker of tension and technical prowess. It’s at once intimate and epic – deceptively simple yet dazzling with the kind of complex narrative that’s long been a signature of the writer-director of Memento, Inception and the Dark Knight trilogy. From a trio of interwoven perspectives, Nolan depicts the evacuation of the beach at Dunkirk as Allied soldiers found themselves surrounded and forced to flee. Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, and Harry Styles are among the players whose fates intersect. Dunkirk features nearly non-stop violence and peril, as you would expect from a war picture. The soldiers are under attack from the air, ground and sea. Many characters (and extras) are shot to death, but there’s barely any blood. And there’s surprisingly only a bit of language, but that includes the one F-word you get in a PG-13 movie. Mostly, though, the unrelenting suspense on display here is what may disturb younger viewers. That, and the noise – the sound design is exquisite, but the gunfire is very loud, as are the screams as men find themselves trapped, abandoning ships, drowning or burning to death. I brought my 7 ½-year-old son to see it in IMAX (because I’m that kind of mom, and because he can handle heavier material); the one scene that bothered him takes place in a boat as men are being shot at and drowning. Mostly, though, I’d say this is OK for mature tweens and older. And at an hour and 46 minutes, it’s surprisingly short.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) 48%

Rating: PG-13, for sci-fi violence and action, suggestive material and brief language.

Good lord, this is a strange movie. Deliriously, delightfully strange, but still. It won’t be to everyone’s taste but it’s certainly never dull, and it’s frequently a lot of fun. This shiny, colorful extravaganza from sci-fi master Luc Besson is an intergalactic roller coaster ride with bits of snappy (albeit clunky) romantic banter tossed in between. It starts out hundreds of years in the future with the fiery destruction of a beach planet where parents watch their alien daughter perish. But the main story focuses on humans: a special ops team (Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne) trying to determine the origin of a hidden force buried deep within Alpha, the aforementioned City of a Thousand Planets. They also have to babysit a rare, miniature dinosaur that poops out powerful pearls. No, really. Characters are constantly in danger, and there are several outer (and inner) space battle scenes. Eventually, Rihanna shows up as an eager-to-please shape-shifter who performs a sexually suggestive dance sequence in a brothel. No, really. There’s a mind-boggling variety of creatures — some of them cute, some of them bizarre, some of them just plain off-putting. At 2 hours and 17 minutes, Valerian will be a long sit for younger kids. And even though it’s based on an influential comic book series, you might find it hard to follow, regardless of your age. OK for mature tweens and older.



Kong: Skull Island (2017) 75%

Rating: PG-13, for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for brief strong language.

Kids around 9 or 10 and older will love this big, dumb monster movie — and I say that as a total compliment. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ action epic has the spirit of a classic Ray Harryhausen film with the benefit of high-tech special effects. It’s about a group of explorers who visit an uncharted island in the South Pacific in 1973 and find more danger than they ever could have imagined. They include an expert tracker (Tom Hiddleston), a war photographer (Brie Larson), the head of a shadowy government agency (John Goodman) and a military team with a no-nonsense leader (Samuel L. Jackson). But you’re not here for the people. You’re here to see King Kong, who rules the island as a fearsome and deadly but ultimately gentle giant. This is not a spoiler: If you’ve ever seen any incarnation of King Kong, you know he’s misunderstood. But he might be super-scary for very little kids, especially as he battles the many other oversized monsters that happen to call this island home. (What’s in the water surrounding this place anyway?) I brought my 7-year-old son to see Kong: Skull Island when it came out theatrically and he had a blast. It is pretty intense, though, with a lot of violence, gunfire, monster action and helicopter destruction, and not everyone makes it out alive. There’s also quite a bit of language, including the one F-bomb you get in a PG-13 movie, courtesy of the great John C. Reilly.

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