Review: Lucy (2014)
Luc Besson’s career is inconsistent, diverse and utterly baffling. After some minor success in the eighties, he wrote and directed Léon, one of the most critically acclaimed films of all time, and then went off the rails for almost two decades. In recent years, he’s written prize tut like Taken 2 and 3 Days to Kill, and directed trash like Arthur and the Invisibles and The Family. To suggest he’s suffered a fall from grace would be an understatement, yet with Lucy, his latest venture into the weird and wonderful world of science fiction, he might just be embarking on an all too elusive concept – the “return to form”.
Clocking in at just less than 90 minutes, Lucy dispenses with the pleasantries of intricate plot development and just throws you in straight at the deep end, which is perhaps for the best. Lucy (Johansson; Captain America: The Winter Soldier), an American living in Taipei, is roped into a dodgy drug deal by her boyfriend, who abandons her at the mercy of a Korean mob boss, Mr. Jang (Choi Min-Sik; Oldboy). Forced to work as a “mule”, Lucy faces certain death when the package she is carrying – a synthetic powder known as CPH4 – bursts inside her stomach and enters her bloodstream. Instead of killing her, however, the package reacts with Lucy’s body in such a way that she is able to access parts of her brain that no other human ever has before. She develops telekinetic abilities, astronomical intelligence and begins to see existence in its purest form. With her new powers and with less than 24 hours to live, Lucy sets about getting revenge on the people who have wronged her and attempts to make contact with Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman; The Shawshank Redemption), the only scientist with any real understanding of what is happening to her.
As you can see, the film’s entire plot is predicated on an adherence to the rules and regulations of one of the most common myths in mainstream science – that humans only use 10% of their potential brain capacity – so it’s rather churlish to complain that it refuses to conform to even the most rudimentary notions of logic or rationality. It exists within a bubble, in which science-fiction knows no bounds and in which fantasy always trumps reality. That it lacks an internal logic is problematic, as it makes for an experience that has a tendency to feel scattershot and bitty, though thanks to Besson’s tongue-in-cheek directorial approach and an often humorous and engaging screenplay, it’s difficult not to be swept away on the immersive waves of fun, folly and frivolity upon which Lucy makes its most pertinent mark.
Furthermore, unlike Marvel’s studio-saturated Guardians of the Galaxy, which only ever flirts with eccentricity, Lucy is a genuine balls-to-the-wall thrill ride that simply refuses to be restrained by logic, genre or formula. It’s a dynamic summer blockbuster that is positively overflowing with heart and ambition. It’s flawed, admittedly, and Besson certainly doesn’t even get some of the basics right, but the fact that he manages to pay homage to everything from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey to Malick’s The Tree of Life, with hints of his own nineties cult classic The Fifth Element and even a few exploitation, rape-revenge influences thrown in too – all in the space of just 90 minutes – is a testament to how ambitious this project is. That the film also manages to have a distinctive personality of its own is but the cherry on top of this delicious but indulgent cake.
The film’s success rests almost entirely on the shoulders of its leading woman, Scarlett Johansson, who manages to avoid falling into the obvious pitfall of playing Lucy as little more than another “feisty”, Black Widow-esque rip-off. Lucy is rich, personable and pointedly human, and Johansson brings genuine emotion to a character that, on the face of it, is the inevitable end result of Hollywood taking audiences’ reasonable requests for more “strong female characters” a little too literally. Yes, she’s a badass, yes, she takes down countless men without lifting so much as a finger and yes, she oozes sensuality and sexuality, but she’s also a complex and multi-faceted woman who feels like a genuine character, rather than just a fantasy. In Besson’s irrational, ludicrous universe, Lucy is the element that grants the audience an opportunity to invest in the drama and grounds everything in something resembling reality.
Of course, not everything about Lucy works. Some of the humour falls flat, some of the cutaways feel cheap, and Scarlett Johansson is the only person who makes any real mark on the proceedings, but that’s not to say that it still isn’t infectiously entertaining. The ever bankable Morgan Freeman plays, well, Morgan Freeman in a role so similar to his recent turn in Wally Pfister’s directorial debut Transcendence that I’m not sure even he knows who it is he’s supposed to be anymore, while Choi Min-Sik is thoroughly wasted on a character so stereotypical it borders on insulting, yet still the film survives because it’s just so energetic and wacky.
This is the summer blockbuster I’ve been waiting for all year. It doesn’t quite hit the same beats or heights as Doug Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow, but it packs more fun into 90 minutes than Marvel have packed into their last bazillion films combined. Johansson is brilliant, and continues to prove herself as a force to be reckoned with, while Besson returns to what he does best and has the time of his life in the process. Yes it’s daft and yes, it’s a little bit tacky, but Lucy has authentic heart, charm and charisma, and it doesn’t outstay its welcome.