Valerian and The City of a Thousand Planets, Luc Besson’s new assault-on-the-senses Fifth Element-on-steroids adventure film is hitting theaters in a few weeks. To be fair, it looks like a visual stunner, even if it seems a little busy. The stars of Valerian are DiCaprio doppelgänger Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne. And, if you pay super close attention to the new trailer and TV spots circulating out there, you will notice another familiar face: Clive Owen.
It would be easy to miss Clive Owen in these previews because, you see, Owen’s character is the stock Commander of Valerian, the military blowhard who will undoubtedly guide or deter our heroes from their mission. It’s a familiar archetype for adventure films, one that could be filled by any number of competent character actors who are experts in blending into the green screen background and getting out of the way of the central players. Only this time, it’s Clive Fucking Owen.
Saying that Hollywood is wasting Owen might be shortsighted; I’m sure there are a handful of reasons why one of the most magnetic leading men of the 2000s has been relegated to also rans in the tapestry of a summer sci-fi movie. But, for the sake of time, let’s just assume this supporting role in Valerian is all he could get. Why?
There may not have been a more captivating star of the previous decade than Clive Owen. After working his way up the ladder with bit parts in The Bourne Identity and starring roles in lesser fare like Beyond Borders, Owen tried his hand at action in Antoine Fuqua’s uneven King Arthur adaptation. But in 2004, he showed incredible ferocity as Larry, the alpha male in Mike Nichols’ Closer. As a scorned but pigheaded, arrogant volcano of a human being, Owen commanded the screen in the film’s greatest moments, especially this one:
He was nominated for a Supporting Actor Oscar for Closer, and should have won; instead, it went to Morgan Freeman, who played the “Morgan Freeman wise character” in Million Dollar Baby. And then, two years later, Owen anchored the greatest science-fiction film of the decade, and one of the best of the entire genre: Children of Men. Around these classic performances were solid turns in Spike Lee’s Inside Man, the hyper-violent Shoot ‘Em Up, and the incredibly underrated financial thriller The International. Even his lesser films like Derailed, or the bubbly grifter comedy Duplicity, remain undeniably watchable because of Owen’s presence on screen.
This guy is a movie star, and if his acting prowess were ever in question, even after a run of greatness like he had in the 2000s, look no further than his performance in Steven Soderbergh’s brilliant Cinemax drama, The Knick. As John Thackery, the drug-addled surgeon at the heart of Soderbergh’s period drama, Owen leaned into his brash, commanding aura, creating one of the most fascinating characters on television.
And from there, well, Clive Owen has been relegated to window dressing for a movie like Valerian. Maybe he will end up being an integral part of the story, or maybe he will stand out among the supporting cast; this poster, however, makes me think he’s just another spoke in the wheel:
And again, Valerian could be an absolute blast. I’m not here to bash it, this is more about what Clive Owen is not doing these days, and that’s headlining incredible movies the way he once did. He does have a handful of projects in some stage of production, including what should be a meaty role as Claudius in the Shakespeare (spinoff?) Ophelia. He’s also headlining a science-fiction thriller from Andrew Niccol called Anon. We’ll see if any of these upcoming films utilize the incredible talents of Clive Owen.
Regardless, the guy needs to step out of the shadows of green screens and get back to being a badass.