– Summary –
Director : Luc Besson
Year Of Release : 2014
Principal Cast : Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Choi Min-sik, Amr Waked, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Pilou Asbæk, Analeigh Tipton, Nicolas Phongpeth.
Approx Running Time : 89 Minutes
Synopsis: After a bag of illegal drugs opens inside her body, a drug mule suddenly acquires the ability to use more and more of her brain’s capacity, exponentially enhancing her abilities.
What we think : Style and style and style, Lucy’s European-slash-Asian flavor adds spice to Luc Besson’s action thriller, which sees Scarlett Johansson playing the blonde bombshell heroine of this fantastical allegory of the human experience. Mix a few parts The Professional, one part Tarantino, and a whole lump of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey at the very end, and you have a damn entertaining movie that asks as many questions as it hypothetically answers. A blast from start to finish.
Welcome back, Mr Besson.
I guess if you’re going to have a character in your film whose sole purpose it is is to explain to the audience whatever scientific gobbledy-gook you’re trying to spout, Morgan Freeman is as good a choice as any. Lucy, the brain bending semi-science-fiction action thriller from Luc Besson (Leon: The Professional, The Fifth Element, and ugh The Family), sees Scarlett Johansson given the entirety of her brain to use, rather than the more established “10%” the rest of us use. It should be noted that the science behind this theory is utterly preposterous, yet the idea that we only use a small portion of our brain’s true capacity persists, perhaps in part through the science fiction subculture of which Lucy is now a part. Regardless of the truth behind the science, Lucy tells a damn good story, and tells it well, and remains defiantly entertaining in spite of any arguments about the factual accuracy behind the premise, so even if you don’t believe humans use all their brain capacity, I think you’ll still have a fun, silly good time enjoying ScarJo bounce about Taipei and Paris staring into the sky at all the pretty things only she can see.
Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is a party girl living in Taipei, Taiwan. When a loose acquaintance, Richard (Pilou Asbaek) involves her in a risky, shady operation he’s running on the side, Lucy is brought to the attention of the evil Mr Jang (Choi Min-sik), a drug lord who is hoping to send a new, dangerous product internationally. He sews several bags of the drug, known as CPH4, into the stomachs of several mules, including Lucy, with the intention that they return to their country of origin where the drugs can be re-appropriated and distributed. However, after she’s assaulted by one of Jang’s henchmen, the bags inside Lucy rupture, causing a chemical reaction. After regaining consciousness, Lucy discovers that the ability of her brain to absorb information, and allow her control over other people. She escapes, using her new powers to hunt down the remaining drugs using French detective Pierre Del Rio (Amr Waked), while also contacting brain scientist and professor, Norman (Morgan Freeman), in order to try and aide her in controlling her new abilities. As Jang and his cronies hunt down Lucy to get their drugs back, Lucy herself begins to manifest more and more crazy, amazing abilities that make her an unstoppable force to be reckoned with.
Loopy premise aside, Lucy is a whole bunch of silly, Besson-inspired fun. Violent, cerebral (ha) and containing a heady mix of visual effects both stunning and elegant, Lucy is one of those rare films where the sheer audacity of the plot and characters vastly outweighs the chasm-sized holes within said plot and characters. This isn’t an examination on the human condition, although most of the film’s voice-over narrative might indicate otherwise (if you’re seen the trailer, it’s a lot of Morgan Freeman discerning the ability of humans to tap into their brain’s true capacity, and that’s all he does for most of the film), but the energy and zany French-ification Besson brings to the film catapult it into one of the more enthralling thrillers I’ve seen in a long time. Nope, it’s not in any way realistic, nor are the characters evolved beyond stereotypes and cliches, but for the pop-culture stimuli-loving cineasts amongst you, this one hits the mainline to the adrenaline system.
Lucy centers around Scarlett Johansson’s character, a person we assume is of fairly low moral standing (the opening scene has her as a bit of a party girl, heading home after a night out with a complete stranger) who may or may not be working with a full library of books in the upstairs department. As a character, she’s pretty much a blank slate, although Johansson manages to eke out some minor likeability through shared terror; it’s not like she’s much more than a cypher for Besson’s focus on brain-power, so I guess if you’re gonna choose anybody, “a ten” is a safe bet for audiences. Nobody wants to see Melissa McCarthy being smart. Morgan Freeman’s Professor Norman is as single-dimensional as it’s possible to be on film. Freeman is simply an expositionalist here, a character designed to fill us in on just how awesome it might be were were to suddenly have 100% brain capacity being used, and his dialogue reflects Besson’s flight-o-fancy fantasy on the matter. Freeman is offered nothing by way of character, either with any backstory or even a dramatic arc within the film – things happen around him, in spite of him, and never too him. Rounding out the holy trinity of characters here is resident villain, Mr Jang, played with teeth-clenched cliche by Choi Min-sik. Jang is a prototypical Besson villain – sweaty, prone to violent outbursts, and thinks he’s invincible (even when he’s not). Min-sik is probably a good actor in his own right, but when even the great Morgan Freeman can’t sink his teeth into a decent character here, what chance does a secondary Asian actor with no affiliation to Western residences have. Small roles to French actor Amr Waked, as one of the Good Guys caught up in Lucy’s mission, and Analeigh Tipton, as one of Lucy’s study-buddies, round out what is a fairly simplistic spread of characters.
The main hook with Lucy is watching her start to gain the upper hand. After a brutal opening which sees her handcuffed, beaten, kicked and beaten some more, and then operated on against her will, you kinda expect a bit of sweet, sweet payback. You’d be right; this is a Luc Besson film after all, and Lucy does indeed take it up to those who would seek to do her wrong. Telekinesis, the ability to morph her cells into different shapes, and the power to read minds, all sweep through Besson’s fantasy-writ-large effort, as Johansson and Co dazzle with the film’s engaging visual effects. Besson, being such a visual director, gives the film a moist, almost viscerally palpable aesthetic, with plenty of close-up and eyeballs shots in excruciating detail. He pulls out all his grab-bag of tricks, from slo-motion to crane shots to a really sweet car chase through Paris which makes the one in Ronin look positively antiquated. While I lamented the use of a full frame aspect, and would have preferred this one in a nice wide, 2.35 ratio instead, Lucy looks nothing but amazing for every moment it’s on the screen.
While the characters are merely window-dressing to Besson’s action-oriented mandate, the film overcomes audience disinterest by being…. you know, fun. Besson knows what works with audiences (mostly) and gives it exactly what we need – there’s a playfulness here, a sense of wink-wink all-in-jest energy and it seeps through the pores of all that transpires. Yeah it’s big and dumb, and the final act gets a little too 2001: A Space Odyssey for my liking (Lucy has some kind of weird mind trip that echoes Kubrick’s universe-spanning conclusion) but the infectious enthusiasm with which Besson presents it is just terrific. It won’t linger long in the memory, nor will it bring any nuance to the scientific debate about the premise of brain use, but as a seat-filling good time at the movies, Lucy delivers plenty of action and wit.