Lucy is a conundrum: A thinking man’s action movie that shouldn’t be thought about too hard. It’s loud and brash, filled with Bay-esque car chases and the type of architecture destroying hallway shootouts that would make a Wachowski sibling envious. And yet, it’s also kind of trippy, going from kaboom to Cosmos in a microsecond, and filled with all sorts of ponderings on the origins and eventual endgame of life.
It’s messy and occasionally downright boggling, but it’s also admirably ambitious and very entertaining, and arguably the best thing writer-director Luc Besson has done in more than a decade and a half.
While Besson has been keeping busy with several commercially successful Eurotrash thrillers over the last few years – occasionally dipping his toes into some genre fare, as well as a couple of animated flicks and a biopic – we’ve only seen glimpses of that unhinged, kooky creativity that produced 1997’s The Fifth Element, the fan favourite sci-fi romp about another kick-ass post-human heroine who holds the fate of humanity inside her. With Lucy, Besson admittedly doesn’t quite hit that high watermark again, but it’s certainly not for lack of trying.
Lucy is the name of Scarlett Johansson’s party girl abroad in Taiwan, and also the name of a famous fossilized human female believed to be mankind’s oldest discovered ancestor. We’re informed of this last factoid by Lucy’s sleaze ball boyfriend, moments before he tricks her into delivering a mysterious briefcase to some Korean ne’er-do-wells led by impatient drug boss Mr. Jang (Oldboy‘s Choi Min-sik), who after a spot of violence, some language barrier gaps and a bout of unwilling invasive surgery, turns the frantic Lucy into one of his drug mules. And if having your stomach turned into a travel bag for a pouch containing a mysterious new designer drug wasn’t bad enough, there’s a swift kick from an overly aggressive thug to go with it. (Un)Luckily, this results in the pouch breaking, releasing this new, untested narcotic into Lucy’s bloodstream, kickstarting an evolution of her physiology that sees her pushing past the human limit of only using 10% of your brain.
And right there, you have the first of many “don’t think too hard” moments, as many people should know that this mythical mental limit is complete hogwash. You wouldn’t say that though listening to Morgan Freeman’s Paris based academic, Professor Norman, as he lectures on about how pushing past the 10% limit could theoretically result in the development of superhuman physical and mental abilities like telepathy, telekinesis, time manipulation and even sonar like a dolphin. [INSERT EYE-ROLL FROM THE AUDIENCE HERE] His theories become reality though when Super-Lucy shows up, complete with an ever-expanding repertoire of abilities bordering on the supernatural – all tied to her current, ever-increasing percentage of brain usage, tracked on-screen through some handy giant white numbers, in case anybody forgot – and a group of pissed off Koreans trying to exchange a bullet in her head for their drugs in her gut.
But as Lucy gets closer to that 100% godhead she starts leaving behind her humanity, and before you know it, we’re the ones leaving behind the straight up action beats to be treated to sweeping, CGI vistas exploring the universe’s explosive birth, final heat-death and everything in between. Besson maintains this juxtapositional approach by abruptly splicing footage into the action that will be right at home on the Discovery Channel. Yes, this is the type of idiosyncratic movie that boasts big budget action beats with automatic weapons and bazookas, but also scenes of buffalo intercourse.
These contrasting flavours don’t always work though; in one heavy-handed scene, a cheetah hunting down a gazelle mirrors Lucy being grabbed by some brutes, but this is a message that would have been perfectly clear without the documentarian visual aid, and thus just feels superfluous. And it almost feels as if Besson himself knows that these gimmicky additions are not always successful, and thus as the movie goes along he uses them less frequently.
As Lucy, Johansson ups her ass kicking superhero street cred again, but while she puts in a very strong showing initially as a death-panicked foreigner, the role calls for to her become more emotionally distant as she gets more powerful, thus not leaving much dramatics for her to really sink her hyper evolved teeth into. So too the script doesn’t really give the other actors anything major to work with, although they all do fine enough work. Morgan Freeman is Morgan Freeman and Choi Min-sik is a creepy, slightly daffy Korean gangster, as expected.
The real star in this production though is Luc Besson and not just for his ability to film a pulse pounding Parisian car chase. Besson’s ambitions may outstrip his execution at times, his existential ponderings and space-time meanderings may occasionally feel more mentally challenged than challenging, and his big visually impressive ideas may be built on factually ludicrous concepts, but at the end of the day, it’s all still very entertaining to see realized. Lucy is not some 100% perfect being like its titular character, but at least it’s trying to evolve in unexpectedly creative ways, and I applaud it for that.
Last Updated: August 27, 2014