If the only thing you knew about the new sci-fi filmValerian and the City of a Thousand Planets was its title, you'd probably think the movie was about, well, a dude named Valerian and a highly-populated outer-space city. And you wouldn't be totally wrong — but what you would be missing is the fact that Valerian (Dane DeHaan) isn't the only protagonist of this story. In actuality, his partner, Laureline (Cara Delevingne) is as big a presence in the film as he is. Yet for some strange reason, she's not mentioned in the movie's title, despite the film being based off a comic series called Valerian and Laureline — and unfortunately, leaving her out is only one of many disservices the movie does to its leading lady.
As in the acclaimed French series,Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets follows the adventures of futuristic space-and-time-traveling agents Valerian and Laureline as they work together to fight off a dangerous enemy and save the universe. Although their missions differ, the two heroes have an equal amount of screen time, and are seen both together (usually flirting or fighting) or working on their own. In other words, Laureline is just as big a player in the movie as Valerian — just as she often is in the French comics — so it's pretty ridiculous that the title doesn't reflect this reality.
And to make matters worse, Laureline not being in the movie's name is just one of the film's many mistreatments of her character. Although her job and missions make her an equal to Valerian in every way, her personality and motivations are lacking in comparison to her male peer's. While Valerian is not exactly a highly complicated character (he's hotheaded, bold, and a bit of a man-child, like far too many other male action stars), he's strides more defined than Laureline is.
Her characteristics are pure male fantasy: she's girl-next-door but totally sexy, super capable but still often in need of Valerian's rescuing, witty and sarcastic but always generous and kind-hearted in a way that serves as a necessary lesson to the more jaded men around her. She's not an actual woman, but an amalgam of a dozen cliched personality traits.
Worst of all, the intelligence and competence that she does get to show in some work-related scenes are totally overshadowed by her most defining trait of all: her reluctant, but still totally evident, love for Valerian. All throughout the movie (especially at the most inopportune, annoying times), Valerian flirts with Laureline and declares his love for her, arguing that they should get married because she so clearly feels the same way. She rebuffs him nearly every time, but with the kind of good-natured "oh, you" tone that makes it clear she actually finds his incessant prattling endearing. Even when Valerian does something late in the movie that makes Laureline, briefly, question his character, she soon puts it all behind her, and, eventually (spoiler alert) happily accepts his proposal.
In the movie's best moments, Laureline is just a fairly one-dimensional character, but in its worst, she's a manic pixie dream girl and damsel in distress combined. She's simply there to help Valerian grow up and become a better man, and even when she gets the chance to show off her own skills in combat and analysis, she typically ends up needing his help.
It's a true shame, considering both how large a role Laureline plays in the French comics (in which she's been considered by many to be an iconic feminist hero) and how easily the filmmakers could've given her equal weight in the movie. If writer and director, Luc Besson, wanted her to end up with Valerian, fine — but couldn't he have made it so that she had both agency of her own, and actual reason to fall in love with him?
Laureline may be the star of the movie, but she certainly isn't treated like one, neither in the film's title nor, sadly, in the entirety of its plot.