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REVIEW: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Fucking Problems

So after some hilarious palaver on my part, thinking that I had booked tickets to see Atomic Blonde, accidentally walking into a theatre and sat through five minutes of Cars 3 before realising that Atomic Blonde wasn’t out for another week and leaving rather sheepishly, we booked seats for Valerian.

I’d seen only one trailer for this and it really. really excited me. There was something very Bladerunner about it and I was thrilled to see that Rihanna was in the cast as well as Dane Dehaan (Chronical, Life After Beth) – the visuals made it all look like the next sci fi blockbuster and so I was really eager to see it. Despite also really being in the mood for Charlez to kick serious ass in AB, I treated my friend to Valerian instead, hoping it would make up for my scheduling mistake!

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It did not.

Valerian is a film based on the french comics Valerian and Laureline (I can’t find anywhere that explains why Hollywood dropped Laureline’s name, probably ’cause she’s a woman and a supporting role right?) The comics ran from 1967 to 2010 and it appears that all the misogyny, racism and ignorance of those years have been respected and charmingly captured in this ‘modern’ adaption.

My first inkling that this film was perhaps a waste of £20 was after showing the ‘evolution’ of the human race, almost 1000 years into the future, the remnants of our species are still controlled by a militarized hierarchy where surprise surprise! it’s white men in power! and imperial BS claiming ‘space for 3000 different alien races’ (as long as they abide by the rules, of course). Clive Owen plays well… Clive Owen, a General misguided and tainted with power and guilt (obvs) who ends up betraying everyone, and doesn’t even die for it. Dane Daheen is the heroic manfellow Valerian who’s sexist wank is commonly mistaken for charm as he continually harasses his co-worker and partner Laureline (Cara Devinge) who mentions several times through the film that she ‘just wants to get on with her job’, and spends most of her time being patronised or hit on, or kidnapped and saved. Classic.

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Rihanna’s role as Bubble, though heavily marketed, was barely a foot, let alone a note. Her  dance performance, though dazzling, filed up most of her screen time and her only purpose was to assist Valerian in saving Laureline in a uncomfortably wedged in plot twist where Bubble then DIES and wait, get this, THANKS HIM FOR GIVING HER AN IDENTITY. That’s right. Mhm. I know. Rihanna’s character was built up to be an amazing and integral part, but it just wasn’t. When she talked about dancing from the age of 5, when she talked about being the child of an immigrant, of the places that she was forced to work, THAT was interesting. I want to know about her story, not the heteronormative vomit romance we were lumbered with.

It was the same with the Mül, we were dangled, like an fat carrot dipped in beetroot hummus, an amazing storyline about an almost extinct alien race, refugees of a war, victims of Clive Owen. We were set up this story, only to be shot to a different location entirely. This seemed to be a bit of a pattern in a film that tried to sandwich more in that they do at Eat a Pitta (Bristol reference). I honestly didn’t care about anyone, apart from Bubble.

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I thought, perhaps stupidly, that Valerian might follow in the footsteps of Star Trek Beyond, Rogue One and The Force Awakens in progressiveness, but it appears that my hopes were just too high and that Sci Fi can’t progress all at once, it still has to make a toys-out-of-the-pram alternative to prove that thousands of years in the future, we’ll still just be cockroaches, afraid and trying to control what we don’t understand in a heteronormative, racist, patriarchal society ruled by weapons and Clive Owen.

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