Review: ‘Lucy’ Is Much Smarter Than Her Own Film
Let’s pretend for a moment the theory regarding humans only using about ten percent of their brain capacity (widely poo poo’d by the scientific community) was true. How interesting would it be to watch the intellectual progression of someone who was able to function at a much higher percentage; say 20, 30, 50 or even 100 percent? This concept is the narrative catalyst for Director Luc Besson‘s latest film, ‘Lucy‘. Unfortunately the film— while at times entertaining— never quite reaches the level of lofty intellect achieved by its main protagonist. Part revenge thriller, part lecture, ‘Lucy’ would have been best served sticking with one or the other. 89 minutes is not enough time to flesh out such a highly theoretical concept effectively and still accomplish all of the badassery required to satisfy audiences that have eagerly bought into the plot established in the first twenty minutes of the film.
Lucy (Scarlet Johansson) is in a bit of a spot: her douche bag boyfriend, whom she’d only met a week prior, has tricked her into delivering a locked briefcase to some undesirables behind an international drug ring, headed by the ruthless Mr. Jang (Choi Min-sik). It’s well established from the start that Jang and his crew are assholes of the highest order, killing at will as if they need to reach some agreed upon body count quota by days end. Inside the briefcase? Four packages of a powerful drug known as CPH4, capable of increasing the brain’s capacity to function. Should be a real party favor on the streets. Lucy is forced to serve as a drug mule, transporting the drugs from Taiwan (where she currently lives) to Europe for distribution. And because Jang is such a dick, the drugs are sewn up inside Lucy’s abdomen, which I haven’t decided whether is preferable to having them shoved up your ass, but I digress.
When Lucy reaches her destination she is met by other bad seeds and is held in a locked room to await whatever hack is going to come remove the drugs from her mid-section. When she protests some thug’s advances, he takes it personally and gives Lucy a thorough beating complete with kicks to the stomach, releasing some of the drug into her system. The effects of the drug have nearly instant reaction in Lucy and her journey into higher functionality begins. Ironically, as Lucy becomes more focused, the film loses it own.
For a while, Lucy decides to enact some revenge on Jang and his crew, and the action is tight and exciting. These waters are familiar to Johansson, and she navigates them flawlessly. But at some point, the narrative attempts to become something more cerebral (pun intended), but fails to do the necessary work to make the ambitious ideas comprehensible. If you want to make presumptions as to what a human brain might be capable of, it would be helpful to build in some degree of explanation for these choices rather than just throw ideas from some script brainstorming session into a blender and dump everything out onto the table. What you’ve built essentially is a functioning super human with abilities that ignore basic laws of physics. That’s fine in a Superman or Batman film, but it doesn’t make much sense here. The notion that a human at fifty percent capacity is capable of levitation, mind control and physic vision might make for a good lead into an action sequence, but ventures too far into the absurd to be taken seriously, mostly because no reasoning is given for any of it.
Professor Samuel Norman (Morgan Freeman) is one of the world’s foremost authorities on brain function, and he spends quite a bit of time regaling us with facts and hypothesis regarding the capabilities of a higher functioning human and to tell us that we’re dumber than dolphins. As he spends quite a bit of time addressing his colleagues on his twenty years of research, Besson feels the need to insert a montage of imagery along with each of Norman’s points as if we’re not smart enough to figure out what’s being said. After Lucy is exposed to the drug, she finds Dr Norman and seeks his expertise in helping her. Of course, all of Norman’s work is rooted in theory and hypotheticals, so he’s of no real use to Lucy and is soon relegated to plot device rather than essential character. After all, when Lucy reaches 100 percent, she needs to pass on the torch of knowledge to someone.
Police Captain Pierre Del Rio (Amr Waked) also serves little purpose to the narrative other than to provide the story with conveniences when needed. He initially buys into Lucy’s predicament far too easily, then he just sort of tags along for the ride as Johansson does all of the heavy lifting. He spends more time operating as an observer in a game he’s far too outmatched to play. None of this is Waked’s fault, his is simply a poorly constructed character that is needed to connect a few dots.
The third act is all over the place, taking on the task of lecturing us on what we would do if all of the knowledge we were capable of was revealed. At times, Jang and his crew become afterthoughts while the film tries to establish some sort of mission statement on how little far we’ve come in a billion years. The bad guys are still there but never feel like any real threat to the process, becoming more of an annoyance getting in the way of this new direction in the story. The climactic scene falls flat, achieving a new level of absurdity that fails to stick the landing.
For her part, Johansson is wonderful. It’s exciting to see her not get caught up in the Marvel universe, challenging herself with roles such as this and ‘Under the Skin’ (a film I didn’t really dig, but to no fault of hers), and she proves very worthy of headlining a film. She is capable of fronting her own action series and I hope she is given the chance to do so at some point.
Ultimately, ‘Lucy’ fails as a result of indecisive narrative direction. It was trying to say too many things that just got lost in the middle of an action flick, and the two simply don’t mesh. That isn’t to say I didn’t find myself enjoying parts of the film. I actually think it’s worth a look, especially to support Johansson and a unique concept in story, even if it doesn’t fully work. This is not a cookie cutter experience by any means. Just don’t expect to use more than ten percent of your brain capacity in trying to figure any of it out.