Film Review – Lucy
If there’s something to say about Luc Besson’s Lucy (2014), it’s that he definitely swung for the fences.
The writer/director who made La Femme Nikita (1990), Leon: The Professional (1994), and The Fifth Element (1997) has returned with arguably his most ambitious work. Advertisements would have us believe this was yet another slam-bang actioner with a tough, no nonsense female lead. But oh, it’s about so much more than that. Besson has decided to present a story that touches on life, the universe, and existence itself. This is like a cartoon version of a bad acid trip. Imagine a person high on drugs, expounding on the complexities of time and the way it restricts us from our full potential. Because, you know, it’s all connected maaan.
You’ve got to give Besson some credit – at the very least this is never boring. The editing and pacing constantly keeps things moving, throwing in drug trafficking, Korean gangsters, science fiction, shoot outs, car chases, and more, all into one big cluster. Besson shows his talent as a craftsman, directing everything with a smooth and energetic polish. While it delves further into absurd (and let’s face it, ludicrous) realms, it remains unpredictable all the way to its over the top third act – and when I say “over the top,” that’s almost an understatement. The further it went, the more stupid it became. But I’ll admit, I was interested to see where it would go.
Despite having a number of surprising twists, the entire piece as a whole is a let down. It never balanced the action and science fiction elements in a way I completely bought into. By creating a universe where rules are broken (rules that are never solidified to begin with), Besson has essentially prevented us from catching our bearings. Instead he jumps headfirst and expects us to follow and accept everything he throws at us. I can suspend my level of disbelief to a degree, but this is going too far. We’re taken on a journey that becomes more manic as it went along, but in the end asks us deep philosophical questions that’s neither profound nor enlightening.
The biggest issue is with the main character. Scarlett Johansson has had herself a good year, with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Under the Skin satisfying both mainstream and art house fan bases. Her role here is one of contrasting traits. We’re first introduced to Lucy in Taiwan, where she talks about having to study but spends most of her time partying with her current boyfriend Richard (Pilou Asbaek). One day, inexplicably, Richard handcuffs a mysterious briefcase on her wrist, instructing her to deliver it to an unknown person. This person turns out to be Mr. Jang (Min-sik Choi), a ruthless Korean gangster. Soon enough, Lucy is forced to become a drug mule for Mr. Jang, transporting a bag of narcotics surgically placed in her belly. This is a special kind of drug, made with the same chemicals passed by pregnant mothers to their yet to be born offspring (told ya this was out there). Unfortunately, the bag starts to leak inside of her, and this is where things get really weird.
The premise is hinged on the silly notion that humans only use 10% of their brains. Once the bag starts leaking, Lucy begins to gain a larger percentage of her brain capacity, endowing her with special abilities (aka superpowers). Juxtaposed with a lecture given by brain research scientist Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman), we watch Lucy display power beyond human understanding, including mind reading and telekinesis. She learns languages in an hour, and accesses information using not one, but two laptops at the same time. Does Lucy freak out about her newly acquired powers? No, she continues forward as though this isn’t some kind of freaky occurrence, but an opportunity to get revenge on those that did this to her.
The longer the film went, the more disconnected I became with Lucy. In the beginning, she at least displayed some kind of personality. Once she expanded her brain, she became unexpressive, monotone, and kind of a bore. That may be the point, but that doesn’t make her any more fascinating. Her adventure has no obstacles, because she’s so powerful that a wave of her hand can diffuse any danger. This wipes away narrative tension, because Lucy has become god-like. Why go through the trouble of a shoot out or car chase if we know nothing can stop her? She’s a combination of Neo from The Matrix, Superman, Professor Xavier, and Yoda rolled into one. Supporting characters such as Professor Norman and the French policeman Pierre Del Rio (Amr Waked) have nothing to do but stand and watch in awe as Lucy does her thing.
Lucy ends with scientific mumbo jumbo trying to showcase where humans are going once they access 100% of their brains. By this time I was rolling my eyes so much I was beginning to get a headache. While Besson has made a film that looks good and does provide some amount of entertainment, he populated it with a character that sorely lacks a pulse.