I at first wasn’t sure where to put Lucy on the spectrum of film quality. The great Luc Besson, who in his 1997 sci-fi adventure The Fifth Element made Milla Jovovich‘s Leelo one of my favourite female characters of all time, here brings us a film where Scarlett Johansson plays a somewhat more generic “strong for the sake of being strong” woman in a story that’s essentially Limitless without a male hero. Though on the other hand, she plays her assigned role pretty damn well and for what it is, it’s a pretty fun movie.
We can probably agree that this is not as good a Besson film as, say, Léon or The Fifth Element, but perhaps he’s on his way back? Consider, this is the man who spent the last couple years doing a critically hated crime comedy and finishing his epic Arthur and The Invisibles trilogy, and you can only go uphill from that. Adèle Blanc-Sec looks pretty good though.
Lucy revolves around the idea that humans only ever use 10% of their brain – which I could have sworn has already been debunked by now – and the extraordinary possibilities which using one’s full brain capacity would unlock. Johansson plays Lucy, a woman on vacation in Taiwan, where it isn’t long until her mysterious European friend Richard (Pilou Asbæk) gets her involved in the business of Taiwanese gangsters. First she’s injected with a newly developed type of narcotics (I think) and is then forced to carry it within her as they deliver it/her to some allies. It is at this point, however, that the drugs start doing bizarre things to her body and before she knows it, she’s granted superhuman abilities, physical and mental, that help her escape her capitivity and find out from her captors where else in the world these drugs are being delivered.
Powerful but perplexed, Lucy also seeks out Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman), a renowned researcher who might hold the key to helping her figure out what’s going on. He is seen earlier in the film holding speeches about the aformentioned notion that humans never utilize the full capacity of their brains, so of course he believes that Lucy’s extravagant powers are due to the drugs giving her the ability to use her brain to an increasing percentage. Even if it were a fact that humans normally use 10 percent of their brain, I have my doubts that “full brain access” would result in this.
The villain of the film, Taiwanese ganglord Mr. Jang (Choi Min-sik), is one of its best characters and I can see why Besson himself would state that its the most fearsome villains he has created since Gary Oldman‘s character in Léon. I haven’t seen Léon in a while, but in any case, Jang makes for a worthy foe of the increasingly powerful Lucy. But she also makes a friend in a French-Egyptian policeman played by Amr Waked, so it’s not all bad news.
Lucy isn’t great, but it occasionally come close. The action is consistently fun, Eric Serra‘s music is engaging, and Scarlett Johansson’s acting is strong and believable, even if she was better in Under The Skin earlier this year and so I probably won’t remember this performance as clearly as the one she delivered in that film (or, again, the one Jovovich delivered in Fifth Element).
It’s the nonsensical, improbable nature of the plot, which I’m sure is trying hard to seem smart and complicated, that has made several other reviewers before me feel torn as to what to think of this. Do I agree that it’s silly and occasionally nonsensical? Yes I do, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t entertaining, which I can reassure you Lucy manages to be.
There are several montages in the film that showcase the progress of humanity during our short time on this Earth. They often seem abrupt and random and would probably have worked better if they were cut together in a manner similar to the montages in Noah or perhaps the entirety of Ron Fricke’s 1992 masterpiece Baraka. We would have a totally different film if they did, but still, not a big fan of the montages. The film uses so much stock footage that sometimes it feels like filler, but I won’t let this reletively minor complaint lower my overall opinon on the movie too much.
If you’re not doing anything this weekend, checking Lucy out isn’t a bad option. It’s not very long, it’s enthrallingly fast-paced and apart from those sudden spurts of Koyaanisqatsi-esque stock footage, the editing is skillful and quick enough to keep the film entertaining, in spite of its sometimes questionable story. The visuals, courtesy of our dear friends at ILM, are another plus, as is the performance by Morgan Freeman, mostly due to how interesting he makes his lectures on science and human brain activity, not only (but largely) thanks to his stupendously magnificent voice. I think we’d all pay greater attention in class with Morgan Freeman as our teacher, even if we’ve learned that some of the stuff he says about human brains has turned out not to be true.