TL;DR: “Lucy” requires a reasonable tolerance of creative licence. If accepted, it’s a great action flick that takes a standard MacGuffin chase plot, snorts a line of Darwinism and doesn’t care if you’re going to check if its bibliography is legitimate or full of made-up theory-crafted references.
I thought Luc Besson’s “Lucy” would have been perfect for me. I’m a big fan of Korean cinema, “Lucy” has Min-Sik Choi (Oldboy, I Saw The Devil). I think Scarlett Johansson is on particularly good form as of late (Her, Under the skin). A compact and ambitious movie is my cup of tea, “Lucy” is 90 minutes long and grasps haphazardly into the abyss that some might describe as “out-there”. The film is very enjoyable (more and more so as the film progresses), unfortunately, it’s also a pseudo-intellectual, unrestrained script loosely fastened down to this dimension with slightly better than mediocre performances, a thin plot and an apparently narcoleptic editor.
Some of the popular opinions before the film was released were that it rips off “Limitless” as well as disdain towards the film’s central premise of increasing brain activity being proportional to the acquisition of super powers you’d find 4 generations down from a cross of Professor Xavier and a lucky dip of three of his students. In a recent Reddit AMA Besson draws comparisons with Peter Parker being bitten by a spider and how that could never logically birth Spiderman, he’s absolutely right and I believe “Lucy” should be believed blindly in much the same way.
Johansson plays Lucy. Lucy unwillingly falls into the role of drug mule for a Korean mob headed by Min-Sik Choi’s character. A bag of CPH4 is surgically inserted into her stomach area in order to bypass security. CPH4 is the new party drug all the kids in Europe will love, apparently. Lucy’s bag ruptures inside her and courses through her circulatory and nervous system like something out of a Spiderman opening credits sequence. This causes her to rapidly experience fulfilment and the full potential of her brain but at the cost of her physical form.
Luckily for us, this is all put in context by Freeman in the very fitting role of university professor as he reels off highlights of my first year BIOL101 classes interspersed with kind-of science about dolphins and evolution. It works, if you want it to work. It’s like explaining black holes with knowledge gathered from a Brian Cox programme when he does those simplified schematics in the sand with stones and twigs, except the sound cut out right there and you’re spewing out what you think he would have said.
Johansson transitions seamlessly from ditsy party girl to an omniscient being that’s fully integrated with time and space which I’m grateful for as at the beginning of the film I got “Don Jon” flashbacks and nearly fell asleep. Freeman and Min-Sik Choi are both convincing as their respective roles but aren’t remarkable. The film’s real problems lie in its lack of control. Generic footage of human achievement and nature (including a sequence of entirely unnecessary X-rated animal footage) cut into Freeman’s lecture make the first 30 minutes feel like an usher accidentally broadcast broadening his horizons with YouTube videos to the audience. Several scenes are long-winded or completely unnecessary including a Korean-English translation with suitcase opening, visiting a friend to use a laptop and 3 identical airport arrests. Every second of “The Fifth Element” had cool, futuristic visuals or a good laugh so why is “Lucy” a 65 minute film in a 90 minute’s body?
That being said, it’s hard to take your eyes off anything going on. An Inception-like skitter over every wall in her jail cell (similar to Leeloo in her regeneration pod in “The Fifth Element”), a massacre of henchman that would make Darth Vader jealous and a clever twist on the car chase are just a few examples of excellent CGI and stunts showcased in “Lucy”. The Sci-Fi elements are all handled well with us watching through Lucy’s eyes as she puts those cocky dolphins and their 20% brain usage to shame. The film is also very funny, in fact, I’d say I involuntarily exhaled the same volume of air through my nose here as I did in “Guardians of the Galaxy” though that definitely wasn’t the case for everyone in my theatre.
All in all, Luc Besson’s “Lucy” is definitely worth a watch. It’s nothing on his early work, but it is fun in an abstract, all-encompassing “2001: A Space Odyssey” with more guns kind of way.
And Scarlett’s in it.