Lucy, Luc Besson‘s latest action-thriller-sci-fi film starring Scarlett Johannson and Morgan Freeman, is an exercise in lackluster, incoherent ideas masquerading as profound, deep ideas. It is quite a shame, as Besson has proven himself not only as an action master (Leon, The Transporter, Taken) but also adept at sculpting vast sci-fi vistas as well (The Fifth Element). But here, he has the sleek, amateurish mark of a first-year film school student who believes that his are the only profound ideas worth pursuing.
Johannson stars as Lucy, who, as the film begins, is forced to become a drug mule, transporting a mysterious substance known as CPH4. While transporting the substance for the mysterious and dangerous Mr. Jang (Choi Min-Si), Lucy is attacked and the bag containing the substance (which has been sewn into her stomach) breaks, unleashing the mind-altering drug and endowing her with super-human intelligence and, inexplicably, strength. As the film progresses, her physical body breaks down while her mental capabilities expand, to the point where she can incapacitate a room full of armed men just by thought, and, eventually, upload her consciousness into what is, presumably, the world wide web in order to exist in a technological aether. While the action is slick (for the most part: sadly, there are only so many ways a shoot out can look unique, especially when directed by the man who seemed to redefine mid-90’s gun violence), the ideas are stale, oddly reminiscent not only of mid- to late-90’s techno-thrillers such as Lawnmower Man, Johnny Mnemonic, this year’s Johnny Depp picture, Transcendence, and, especially once Lucy uses her telekinesis to knock out adversaries without touching them, The Matrix.
Perhaps that is the biggest fault with this film: it feels like a pastiche of films that have already been made, without adding much else to the mix. The very physics and reality within the film make little sense as well: when Lucy is using 20% of her brain capacity, little changes later on near the climax when she is nearing 90% of her capabilities. There is little reference to what the difference is in her abilities. And, consequently, there is a ridiculous sequence where she is shown typing out on two separate computers simultaneously, and as she focuses, she types faster and faster until she is typing and computing at near-light-speed. This doesn’t make any sense at all, as, even within the very rules and reality the film is portraying, increased brain capacity does not mean “light speed reflexes” (think about it: if someone could knock someone out, or steal thoughts or information through clairvoyance, why would reflexes need to be light speed?) How heightened brain activity translates to physical speed (light speed, mind you) is never explained. And how these abilities occur when Lucy is only utilizing about 30% of her brain capacity is never explained as well. And, getting into spoiler territory, how Lucy manages to completely transcend time itself and go back in time to the birth of mankind, meeting Lucy, the hominid ancestor to humanity in a scene that recalls the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey…that is never explained ever at all. It just happens. Because…Lucy is really smart? And being smart means being able to get around that whole law of relativity thing.
This is one of those films that tells much, much more than it ever shows, and never explains the logic behind its own conceit. And it’s quite a shame, because, again, technically, the film looks amazing and is shot with a master’s eye. And while composer Eric Serra creates another rousing score, there is little memorable about it, it lacking the distinctive sounds of such soundtracks as The Fifth Element or GoldenEye, or even the subtle highs and lows of Leon. Luc Besson has proven himself to be a much more accomplished director, and capable of pushing the action and science fiction genres to interesting and often classic directions. But Lucy feels like such a misstep, such a laughably and ultimately boring experience that it felt like being let down. I know he’s capable of better, why doesn’t he? Just because Lucy can use 100% of her brain doesn’t mean the filmmaker should expect me to use less than 5% to enjoy it.
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