This story contains spoilers for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Luc Besson's magnificently-designed space epic, takes place in the 28th century. This means that humans can now get around in voice-controlled spaceships rather than Uber, and we've traded in the Mall of America for a fantastic marketplace in another dimension.
For those who hoped that this would also translate into a more enlightened social structure, I regret to inform you that, 700 years from now, we appear to still be ruled by aggressive white men. Sorry ladies, the patriarchy isn't yet a thing of the past, even in the very, very distant future.
Aggressive White Man #1: Valerian.
Let me just set the scene: Valerian ostensibly has two protagonists: the eponymous government agent (Dane Dehaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne), his partner. But it's no coincidence that the film's title, unlike the French comic series it's based on, features only his name.
Valerian is in love with Laureline. He needs her, he yearns for her. Which is fine and all, but this desire prompts him to constantly proposition her during work hours. He ogles her as she's catching some rays on their ship's fake beach; he begs her to kiss him, promising to abandon all his other conquests, who, I should add, are memorialized in a holographic wall of fame that he can broadcast for the world to see. He even goes as far as to propose just as they're about to embark on a mission. (The fact that as a Major to her Sergeant, he is technically her superior, makes it all the more inappropriate.) Now, it just so happens that Laureline is also in love with Valerian, albeit less inclined to share this news with the entire world. But what if she hadn't been? Would he have stopped his constant barrage of suave seduction? Somehow, I highly doubt it.
When he isn't sexually harassing his co-worker, or assigning an overqualified agent to backup duty in order to "protect" her, Valerian is busy breaking all the rules to prove that he is the most intrepid man who ever was (except when it actually counts, in which case he pleads the "I'm a soldier, I follow the rules" defense). He repeatedly puts himself in harms way to impress Laureline (who is not impressed), and usually needs her help to get himself out of the mess he created. Sound familiar? That's because Valerian is the 28th century equivalent of your highly regrettable high school crush.
Aggressive White Man #2: Commander Arun Filitt
Clive Owen's character may have a weird name, but he's a wholly recognizable archetype. As the leader of the human faction on Alpha, the so-called City of a Thousand Planets, which is actually a space station where almost every species in the universe is represented, Filitt is tasked with keeping the peace. Instead, he orchestrates an elaborate cover-up to mask past indiscretions, which ultimately threatens stability on Alpha. When confronted with his disastrous actions, Filitt reacts like an insecure bully.
This is frustrating for two reasons. First, because not only is this man directly responsible for the demise of an entire planet, he also attempts to hide this by trying to eradicate the only survivors. Second, because it seems deeply disturbing to me that 700 years from now, we'll still be dealing with leaders who put their own petty interests above those of the society they are representing.
Aggressive White Man #3: Jolly The Pimp
Disclaimer: Ethan Hawke is positively delightful in this movie, and aside from Rihanna, delivers one of the most memorable (if brief) performances. That said, as Alpha's resident pimp, he's a lowlife who profits off the suffering of women, be they human or amorphous blobs. Case-in-point: his nose ring that loops into his ear, which appears to pay homage to Kendall Jenner at Coachella.
The good news is that 700 years is still an awfully long time away. Let this movie be a warning — the future isn't guaranteed to be female. It's up to us to make it so.
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