Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Choi Min-sik, Amr Waked, Pilou Asabek, Mason Lee, Analeigh Tipton, Frédéric Chau, Claire Tran, Christophe Tek, Jan Oliver Schroeder, Yvonne Gradelet, Paul Chan, Michél Raingeval
R for strong violence, disturbing images, and sexuality
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Luc Besson is nothing if not adventurous. Steering clear of conventional subjects, Besson’s films range from daring to disappointing with Lucy falling somewhere in between, a generic amalgam of action clichés predicated on a scientific fallacy.
Living in Taiwan, Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) becomes an unwitting part of a new drug operation designed to smuggle a batch of designer drugs into Europe. Abducted and forced to become a drug mule for a prominent Korean drug lord, Lucy discovers that an altercation with a pair of goons has forced a portion of the drug pouch to seep into her blood stream giving her access to more an increasing amount of her brain’s mental capacity.
Johansson has a handful of terrific scenes as a vulnerable, frightened student thrust into a terrifying situation, but as soon as the drugs kick in, she becomes an emotionless automaton that is more emblematic of her standard career work than the highlights that have emerged at irregular intervals. She supported in thinly written roles by Morgan Freeman, Choi Min-sik and Amr Waked. Min-sik has some glaring to do, but not much else becoming a carbon copy of every other criminal misanthrope that’s ever been captured on film.
The film’s basis is on the myth that humans only have the capability of utilizing 10% of their brain’s capacity. Scientists have easily proven that humans use 100% of their brain’s power. Besson doesn’t seem to care, using the fallacy as a interesting, but flawed idea to explore just how much more powerful humans could be if they could access more of their mental capacity, positing sudden evolutionary changes, the ability to go beyond the physical capabilities of the human body and other tenuous suppositions that make great fiction, but encourage belief in a sophism.
Freeman’s participation is something of a disappointment. As one of the foremost narrators working today, he’s leant his incredible vocal talents to countless nature and scientific documentaries. That may be one of the reasons he was chosen to take on this role, though it perhaps gives too much credence to the 10% myth. Freeman should have recognized the incongruousness of such a role and how it might unfairly or disproportionately lead to the belief that “if Morgan believes it enough to star in the film, then perhaps it’s true.”
If you understand science or even understand the nature of cinematic roles, we all know that taking on a part does not necessarily condition itself on believing what you’re character believes. If this were the case, Ralph Fiennes would be considered a Nazi or Charlize Theron a serial murderer. Regardless, lending credence to any belief, especially in a capacity where one is not the villain of the piece, can lead to incongruent thought, which is just as dangerous as presenting the thought at all.
As a work of cinematic storytelling, Besson’s penchant for bountiful set pieces, creative chase sequences and exaggerated violence are on full display in Lucy. The requisite chase through city streets of Paris call to mind his work The Professional. The visual panache of the final scene reminds one of the visual marvels in The Fifth Element. Everything here has been done before, by Besson if not by someone else. He forges no new paths, develops no new techniques and is ultimately over-reliant on the cleverness of his plot.
Besson also has a clear appreciation of women in strong roles, typically where they successfully kick the ass of every male they come in contact with. The strength of his female characters in physical prowess is exemplified in the likes of Nikita and The Fifth Element, while he’s less successfully leveraged strong emotional and impassioned women in films like The Messenger and The Lady. Lucy lands squarely on the physicality end of his female spectrum, though he’s a little less focused on her physical appearance than he was with Milla Jovivich in The Fifth Element. That tendency to fetishize his female figures diminishes his efforts to make them more centrally effectual.
Lucy is engaging. It’s sometimes fun, but frequently frustrating. If you believe or accept the notion that humans use only 10% of their mental capacity, it will be much easier to find a common ground with this film. If you can’t relinquish the scientific truth, you’ll be perpetually reminded of its centrality to the plot. As science fiction, the film is an abject failure. As science fantasy, it works but only within the confines of its very narrow scope and even narrower cinematic inventiveness.
August 7, 2014