The thing about Luc Besson is that you can love him or hate him, be inspired by his work or steer clear of it, but you can’t stay indifferent. After all, the man is a genius, no one can deny that. Evil or good? Well, that’s up to interpretation.
In his most recent film Lucy, Besson, who is known for creating strong female characters in such cinematic masterpieces as The Fifth Element, Leon and Le Femme Nikita, introduces us to Lucy, an American student/expat in Taiwan played by the ever brilliant and every kind of amazing Scarlett Johansson.
No time is wasted on introductions. Barely catching a glimpse of Lucy, we watch her being forced to deliver a mysterious suitcase to a very psychotic Korean drug lord Mr. Jang (Min-sik Choi) – a suitcase that happens to contain a new drug called CPH4 that is meant to expand the capacities of human brain. After they go through basic formalities – aka massive massacre – Lucy is offered a job of a drug mule, and by offered I mean ‘knocked out’ after she so much as opens her mouth to politely decline. A while later she wakes up with a drug package sewn into her stomach and instructions on where she should take it. The plan goes wrong when she gets beaten up by Mr. Jang’s thugs and the package breaks inside of her, its contents leaking into her system.
Parallel to this action sequence, we’re introduced to Samuel Norman, an American Professor brought to you by Morgan Freeman who is reading a lecture in Paris on neural capacity of a human brain, voicing the infamous ‘10% theory’.
Cut to Lucy whose drug infused body makes her literary crawl up the walls, literary. It doesn’t take her long to turn into a superhuman with excellent combat skills and the ability to speak every language in the world. Interestingly enough, the expansion of her mental abilities starts stripping Lucy of her humanity and everything that comes with it. She’s on a mission now, basically having two goals to achieve before the drug destroys her – find the other carriers that were sent to different parts of the world, and pass her knowledge on to someone who’d be able to appreciate it and use it for greater good (aka Professor Norman).
Of course, Mr. Jang’s thugs are after her but how hard can it be for Lucy to handle them when she can control the matter itself? With the help of local police officer, she ensures that the other ‘mules’ are captured and taken to Paris where she deals them in under two minutes before literary turning herself into a super computer that contains all wisdom of the world that she compresses into several Gb of information before she stops being. Or, as Besson puts it, before she becomes everything around us.
* Despite the fact that scientifically Lucy makes no sense whatsoever, the idea of building a story around someone who goes from using only 10% of their brain to full 100% and becomes super human is not something you’d call overused. I could almost hear half of the audience cringe and wince and want to punch something at the very idea of such a blatantly loose interpretation of the theory that hasn’t even been existing for years now but you’ve got to give Besson points for creative approach.
* Scarlett Johansson is always a win. You can put her in an empty room and make us watch her sit there for 2 hours straight, and it’d be brilliant. Let’s call it ScarJo effect, if you please. The script doesn’t have to be particularly impressive for her to make the best of it. As Lucy, she goes from being a hungover and scared expat to a super being that slowly but steadily loses everything that makes her human, all of that done primarily with body language and facial expressions alone.
* Even though he stays primarily in the background, Morgan Freeman’s character is an essential part of Lucy, representing the audience and making the film a little more grounded and relatable. Just like the rest of us, he is disbelieving and confused up until the moment he meets Lucy and gets to witness her demonstrate the effects of CPH4. It’s thanks to him we see how fragile and vulnerable humankind is, especially compared to what we’d be capable of if only we could flip the switch (IF the 10% was the actual thing, at that). Freeman’s is the voice of reason that Lucy needs, and we’re grateful for it.
* VFX and pace are undeniably engaging. You may love or hate the story but good luck with looking away from the screen! Personally, I’m not even sure I was breathing for an hour and a half. Besson doesn’t waste time establishing the story – he pushes us right into action, and before we know it, there is blood and bodies dropping all around. Want to pause and catch your breath? Haha, no.
* As undemanding as I usually am, I’d still prefer Besson to go with something more plausible than the ‘10% theory’ because it instantly diminished the value of the film, making it almost laughable. Had it not been positioned as a sci-fi/action film, I’d be tempted to call Lucy a parody. Basically the scientific aspect is THE main problem of the film. Sadly, being the essence of Lucy, it is not something you can’t easily ignore.
* Fast pace that I do call an advantage also failed to established a relatable character – it’s hard to care about Lucy enough to be fully invested in her well-being, survival or any kind of positive outcome, let alone the other characters. I loved the film. I’d watch it again. I probably wouldn’t care much about anyone the second time around.
* Like several other Besson’s films, Lucy doesn’t live up to its full potential. It has a promising start but it loses its momentum somewhere along the way, essentially leading to a rather bland ending. It was very ‘Bessonian’ though, which was to be expected. Which doesn’t make it any less underwhelming and unsatisfying.
The thing about Lucy is that it’s very easy to enjoy it as long as you drop your expectations and just go with the flow. The 10% theory hasn’t been a thing for quite a while already, making this particular aspect of the film more or less cringe-worthy. I would imagine that any member of the audience that managed to graduate from high school would find it beyond ridiculous. But Lucy is not a scientific documentary and shouldn’t be treated as such. If Luc Besson wants to use the 10% theory and build his film around it – just let him. It’s not like the existence of Captain America or Batman means that they are running/flying around, saving the day.
*Of course they do, but let’s keep it between us, shall we?
Lucy, regardless, of the themes it touches, is a dynamic and visually extraordinary film, peppered with Baraka-style clips meant to emphasize the thematic statement of the film. Its dialogue is minimalistic and, I have to admit it, it works that way. It does feel a bit clunky at times but not overly so, and since the film doesn’t rely on words as much as it relies on imagery, this particular flaw is almost forgivable. Obviously, Lucy cannot possibly aim for becoming a cult film but it’s impossible to ignore and overlook Besson’s creativity. Scarlett Johansson did a pretty decent Black Widow-style job with the role, fighting bad guys left and right and clearly enjoying combat sequences.
Like any other film ever made, Lucy will certainly have its lovers and haters, as well as lovers-haters, what with its controversial subject, talented cast and an almost offensive approach to all things science. My advice is to view it as something Matrix-like and let the imagery and action do their job.
Was it implausible? Yes! Was it enjoyable, though? Absolutely!