Film Review: Lucy (MA15+) (USA & France, 2014)

scarlette-johanssen-lucy-trailer

From the man that brought you La Femme Nikita, Leon: The Professional and The Fifth Element comes yet another stylised badass individual out to settle some scores whilst simultaneously attempting to advance humankind through a very thinly veiled pseudo-science and psychology subplot.

Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is our hapless damsel unwittingly roped into being a drug mule for Mr Jang (Min-sik Choi) and a fancy new drug that enables a person to unlock the full capacity of their brain or basically turn into some sort of superhuman. After becoming exposed to the drug, Lucy takes revenge on her captors and seeks to unlock the truth of her new-found abilities with the help of Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) and her rapidly increasing rate of evolution.

Initially the film leads us in under the guise that this is all based in the realm of science but to my understanding the notion of humans only being able to use 10% of their brain capacity has been debunked long ago. So really you need to go into this with a grain of salt and suspend your disbelief and scepticism for a while and just accept what’s being told to us as fact – or at least in this version of reality where Morgan ‘God’ Freeman is a professor explaining all of this to us. The first 10 minutes or so does a good job of explaining the premise as well as the hypothetical potentials of what could happen if a person were able to evolve and use more of their brain capacity. As we get the narration from Professor Norman, along with interspersed cuts of wildlife documentary footage, this is strategically timed to coincide with what happens to Lucy as she evolves.

Luc Besson has delivered us some really great heroines such as Nikita in La Femme Nikita and Lee-Loo from The Fifth Element and Lucy had all the initial makings of that in the beginning but sadly failed to live up to her true badass potential. There is definitive character development for her, from the slightly ditzy girl who gets sweet-talked and easily captured and turned into a drug mule, to the ass-kicking superhuman with telekinetic abilities but the biggest change is in her personality. Once acquiring her new “powers” she suddenly becomes cold and detached and almost devoid of emotion, surely even for somebody who has had this transformation forced upon them such a sudden shift in persona wouldn’t be so abrupt? And this raises the question of whether our personality is dictated by our emotions or cellular behaviour or a combination of both?

Apart from a bizarre emotional phone call to her mother shortly after her transformation, and a minor freak out session when some side-effects start becoming apparent, we barely see Lucy’s countenance shake. To add to this, apart from her seeking a little revenge on her captors and Mr Jang, Lucy doesn’t seem to make use of her new abilities even when she realises that time is against her. We’re even lead to believe that previously unused muscles could suddenly become strong enough to overpower somebody all thanks to this miraculous drug, so it’s not just opening up neural pathways but enhancing other anatomical areas? I’m happy to sit back and accept that a drug could potentially do all of these things in a world of science fiction but at least make the character’s personality stand out a little more to give a little gravitas to everything that’s going on.

Credit where credit is due though, Scarlett Johansson manages to carry the weight of this ridiculous film almost solely on her own. The story may be ridiculous but she makes Lucy believable in both pre and post transformation. Johansson’s ability to be steely yet remain likeable is a trait used in good measure in this. Unfortunately for us, Morgan Freeman is severely underutilised and left to narrate parts of the story or when his character finally does get to interact with Lucy he just looks confused, repeatedly. The supporting cast are all relative unknowns aside from Min-Sik Choi and Amr Waked who have both respectively starred in numerous international films but neither having large mainstream success.

Lucy is a bit of a mish mash of a film, it takes some of Besson’s artistic shooting and direction styles and puts them to work. Slow-mo gun blazing shots set to classical music is a cliché, but it neither detracts nor adds value to this film, it just is what it is. What is intriguing is how Besson has made this more of a film about existentialism and what it means to be human and what our ultimate purpose is. If you’ve seen the Bradley Cooper starring Neil Burger directed film Limitless, where that film examines the exploitation of the abilities for self-gain, Lucy prefers to push the notion of sharing the knowledge for wider gain. Annoyingly though all of this psychological study and some thought provoking analysis comes too late in the film. Conceptually Besson had something interesting here, but sadly the execution didn’t deliver what potentially could have been an interesting film with another badass heroine in the lead.

Review Score: TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Running Time: 89 minutes

Lucy is out nationally today through Universal Pictures