US Release Date: 07-25-2014
Directed by: Luc Besson
- Scarlett Johansson, as
- Morgan Freeman, as
- Professor Norman
- Min-sik Choi, as
- Mr. Jang
- Amr Waked, as
- Pierre Del Rio
- Julian Rhind-Tutt, as
- The Limey
- Pilou Asaek, as
- Analeigh Tipton as
Scarlett Johansson and Amr Waked in Lucy
With Lucy and Le Femme Nakita, Luc Besson clearly has a thing for strong female characters. A woman wielding a gun and kicking ass can be uniquely fun and quite sexy. Scarlett Johansson fills the sexy quota for this film but the fun was mostly left out.
Scarlett plays Lucy, a young woman living in Taiwan who accidentally gets caught up in a drug deal. She and three other people are abducted and have a plastic bag filled with a new drug surgically implanted in their stomachs. After getting beat up and kicked in her abdomen, the bag breaks, releasing some of the drugs into her system.
Although the idea that we humans only use 1/10th of our brain is debatable, this movie works completely on that theory. The drug has the effect of stimulating her brain and starts to activate the other 90 percent. This happens over time and she gets more and more powers as her brain gets more and more active.
At first she gets revenge on her abductors but then decides she needs to do something with all of her new found intellect and powers. She contacts a scientist in Paris and they determine that what is best is for her to pass on all that she has learned. She flies there, followed by the Korean drug dealers who still want the drugs back. She teams up with a Parisian police detective, and they make their way to meet with the scientists.
There are some action scenes but we know early on that Lucy is not going to be harmed as she becomes more powerful, controlling everything around her with telekinesis and even time travel. She is also impervious to pain almost immediately after first being injected with the drug. This is where the film loses its way. Besson includes an action climax but the philosophical conclusion bogs it down to a truly WTF ending.
The very first scene in the movie is of Lucy, the oldest know humanoid skeleton ever found on Earth squatting by some water, covered in fur. This Lucy is the very definition of primitive human. She survived on instinct and scavenging. The Lucy in the modern world becomes more and more advanced and thus less physical. At first she fights men but then merely waves them away like magic later.
The point Besson is making is that the physical is for the unintelligent. Like the brainy Sheldon Cooper on "The Big Bang Theory", Lucy loses interest in other people. At one point she tells the French Policeman to stay with her as a reminder of the physical world. She then kisses him. The scene is trying to make a point, but she just met this guy and has no emotional attachment to him, so what exactly is he reminding her of?
In short, if mankind would just use more of the brains it supposedly does not; there would be no wars or conflicts. His suggestion is that to be human is to be stupid. Of course the species that uses 100% of their brain would come to an end as emotions that drive us to reproduce disappear as the brain becomes more active. Lucy advances so greatly that the world around her becomes moot. Thus nothing is truly learned from the audience or even the characters in the film.
I do not hold it against Besson for trying to say something deep in an action film but an audience must sympathize with the characters and be rewarded at the end for us to enjoy it. Neither of these occurs leaving us with an uninspired movie that will not cause as much conversation as he likely hoped.
Scarlett Johansson in Lucy.
Actually, the idea that humans use only a tenth of their brain isn't debatable at all. That urban legend has been debunked time and time again. However, even if it were true, the powers that Lucy develops bear little relation to brain capacity. They resemble magic more than simply a higher functioning mind. This point wouldn't be so irksome if the script didn't spend so much time spouting pseudo-science to try and justify her abilities. It has as much basis in fact as any other superhero movie in theaters these days and there's no sense implying otherwise.
As Eric wrote, Besson has shown strong female characters kicking ass in the past. The previews for this one definitely play up that angle of the story. And although there are some action sequences, unfortunately they are under cut by the script that is trying and failing to say something about humanity and its place in the universe. Also, as Eric mentioned, Lucy becomes so powerful, so quickly, that she is never in any danger. The ordinary humans around her are, but we never get to know any of them well enough to really care.
The best thing the movie has going for it is Johansson in the lead role. She's particularly good in the film's opening scenes where she's still very much human and actually in danger. Her fear in the drug dealer's office is palpably real and her conversation with her mother is delivered with real feeling. Her transformation into the cold, calculating, unemotional being that she becomes is more impactful because of these opening moments, but happens too quickly. It would have been more interesting to see her slowly lose her emotions and humanity. It would also have given her the chance to enjoy her new found powers, but instead she accepts her new godlike abilities without blinking.
Besson does provide some style to the proceedings. The film zips along, spanning the globe from Taiwan to Paris and briefly to New York City. The swift pace means that at the very least the film doesn't dawdle. It clocks in under 90 minutes. He also provides a few moments of genuine humor, which the film is in desperate need of more.
With its ludicrous premise, the only way this movie was going to work is if it went over-the-top and had fun with the concept. Instead, Besson takes the concept too seriously. More action, more suspense and a true sense of danger would have gone a long way to improving the story. Instead Besson is trying to make a movie with a message, but it's a muddled and not very original one.
Scarlett Johansson in Lucy.
The secret to enjoying Lucy is to accept its scientific inaccuracies and forgive its grandiose notions. This is a cheesy little, fast-paced, action flick. I never found it to be overly serious or preachy. I didn't care about the technical side of it, I just thought of Lucy as the ultimate mutant. She's the human equivalent of a supernova, destined to burn brightly but for a very brief period of time. She may become impervious to physical danger but she's also physically dying. Her transformation from unsuspecting drug mule into supercomputer, and ultimately, god-like consciousness is quite engaging. The premise is no more ludicrous than any X-Men movie and if you ask me it's pretty over-the-top already.
Yes Luc Besson invited criticism by using the 10% brain power theory. Just remind yourself that this is the movie world and not the real world and let it go. The action scenes help in this regard since they feature the type of gun battles that exist only on a movie screen. And Besson wastes no time getting started. Within ten minutes Lucy goes from ordinary citizen to terrorized drug mule. Then her brain capacity begins to increase and as it does so her connection to the physical/emotional world decreases. Eric, kissing the French policeman -because of the physically/emotionally intimate nature of the act itself- reminds Lucy of her humanity. That and audiences pay to see those famous Scarlett Johansson lips kissing someone.
The visual effects are pretty stunning, especially when Lucy time travels. I was curious to see how her powers would manifest themselves next. Besson has said he intended the film to begin like Léon: The Professional, morph into Inception in the second act, and then go out like 2001: A Space Odyssey. Several shots are based on ones in those films. At least you can't accuse the guy of lacking ambition. Some of his pretentious flourishes are worthy of an unintentional chuckle or two, like Lucy and her primitive namesake coming face to face and then mimicking the Sistine Chapel.
The concept of what makes us human is something Johansson has dealt with in several recent films. In Under the Skin she played an alien being on earth. A cold and emotionless creature who preys on males but then begins to experience stirrings of empathy and genuine human feeling. In Her she provided the voice of a computer program longing to be human. Here her character starts off human and then loses it as she evolves into a super being. Am I safe in assuming the actress is drawn to this subject matter?
Scarlett Johansson is the real deal. Like Elizabeth Taylor she's a true beauty who's also a great actress. Lucy succeeds only because of her. She delivers lines like, "We've codified our existence to bring it down to human size, to make it comprehensible, we've created a scale so we can forget its unfathomable scale." and somehow makes them sound profound. Whether playing Lucy as a terrified victim in way over her head, or as a coldly calculating genius, she's never less than riveting. Morgan Freeman, by comparison, seems to be phoning it in as Professor Norman. Lucy is far from a great movie but I was never bored watching it.
Photos © Copyright Universal Pictures (2014)