Warning: This post contains spoilers for a storyline in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. If you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want to know anything about what happens, stop reading here! Story continues past photo below.
If you’re playing the role of a “glamourpod,” it stands to reason that you’d suffer a glamorous death. So it really shouldn’t be a surprise that Luc Besson gifts Rihanna with an opulent farewell midway through his space opera, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. The director specifically crafted the role of Bubble — a shape-shifting alien “glamourpod” who bravely supports the titular hero (Dane DeHaan) in a rescue mission that ultimately claims her life — for the singer, whom he considers musical royalty. “She’s the queen,” Besson tells Yahoo Movies. “When I wrote the character, I was inspired by her. For me, Rihanna is Bubble and Bubble is Rihanna.”
Considering Rihanna’s outsized presence in the film’s trailers and poster, though, Bubble’s sudden death may catch some viewers by surprise. But Besson says it was the plan from the beginning. “Bubble always died [in the script]; she’s the ultimate artist, and as the ultimate artist, she has to die on stage.”
It’s no accident, then, that the first time we meet Bubble, she’s performing, although it’s not the classiest of productions. She’s the main attraction at a seedy nightclub in the teeming planetary metropolis known as Alpha, where much of the action takes place. Peacekeeping agent Valerian has entered the establishment — which is owned by fast-talking hustler Jolly (Ethan Hawke) — seeking the aid of a shape-shifter who can help him infiltrate an alien palace where his partner, and love interest, Laureline (Cara Delevingne) is being held prisoner.
Taking the stage, Bubble proceeds to demonstrate her morphing talents for him, seamlessly switching between various looks and hairstyles. Eventually, she sheds her human skin altogether and reveals her true form as a blue-ish, well, bubble that can glom on to others and include them in the illusion. This ability enables her to smuggle Valerian into the alien stronghold, climbing on his shoulders and allowing him to blend into the crowd.
It’s a plot point that comes straight out of the Valerian and Laureline comic book series that inspired the film, specifically the 1975 graphic novel, Ambassador of the Shadows. In that volume, it’s Laureline, not Valerian, who dons the glamourpod (who, on the page, are known as the “suffuss”) in order to gain intel on her missing partner. “That part is in the comic, but Bubble is an invention,” Besson says. “I made her a real character — the fact that she’s an artist and develops a friendship with Valerian. Rihanna wants to be seduced by a character, and she was definitely seduced by Bubble, because it’s an emotional role.”
Bubble’s death scene was also created expressly for the film; fatally injured while fighting and fleeing alongside Valerian and Laureline, the glamorpod glamorously dies in the hero’s arms, quoting Shakespeare as she slips away. (Her final words, “There’s beggary in the love that can be reckoned,” are taken from Antony and Cleopatra.) Besson says that Rihanna enjoyed shooting her character’s final moments. “She let go so well — people are very touched when they watch the scene. And Dane is a very generous actor; he’s not just a guy giving her the line. I think that helped her a lot. She was very focused and took it seriously. It’s not easy to die and quote Shakespeare at the same time, even when you’re the Queen of Pop!”
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