Lucy, the latest movie from incredibly prolific filmmaker Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, Léon: The Professional) is entirely built upon the false premise that we only use 10% of our brains. It is an annoyingly ubiquitous notion that we as a society have not been able to shake. Your enjoyment of Lucy will probably depend on your ability to suspend your disbelief regarding such fallacies. It would be very easy (too easy, in fact) to sit there and say “[blank] doesn’t work that way” throughout the film, but it wouldn’t be any fun.
Scarlett Johansson stars in the titular role as your average, gorgeous, American college student in Taipei who – through mostly unexplained circumstances – gets roped into becoming a drug mule for the menacing Mr. Jang (Oldboy‘s Choi Min-Sik). When the drug leaks into her system, Lucy begins to access greater and greater percentages of her brain, including the superpowers that apparently come along with such enlightenment.
“Fun” should be the name of the game here, but it takes the movie some time to get going (which can be deadly for a 90 minute movie). We spend a lot of time with a scared and crying Scarlett Johansson jusxtaposed against Morgan Freeman (basically playing himself) delivering a lecture on brain capacity. I like Professor Freeman’s voice as much as the next guy, but a pseudoscience-heavy lecture is pushing the envelope a little too much.
Eventually Lucy gets her powers, and Dr. Freeman finally stops rambling, but we lose something here. The emotion that Johansson brings to the character is lost as soon as she becomes a superhero (more or less). Besson does a great job of putting us in Lucy’s head in the first act, but she becomes a machine after that, and we never really get a sense of how she feels about it, aside from a well-handled monologue delivered over a telephone. The degradation of her humanity may be part of the point, but it isn’t necessarily addressed well enough to be worth what the movie sacrifices in terms of character.
Besson is dealing with a lot of heady science-ish concepts here, so much so that there isn’t a whole lot of room for action. There is an exciting driving scene around the halfway point, but aside from that, it’s hard to build peril around a character that is slowly becoming omniscient.
Besson manages to create tension in the final setpiece, regardless, which is one of the director’s gifts. As is an eye for visual storytelling. There are some excellent visuals throughout Lucy, especially in that final sequence. The effects can be a little hokey at times, but they mostly work. Besson also utilizes metaphoric cutaways in the movie (like the kind Lars von Trier used in Nymphomaniac), but some are a little too on-the-nose to be effective.
Lucy isn’t one of the great science fiction films of our time. Or even of the year (see: Edge of Tomorrow). Or even of Scarlett Johansson’s year (see: Under the Skin). But it is a quick movie that will entertain you – if you are willing to let it. Character motivations don’t always make sense, but Morgan Freeman could bring gravitas to the reading of a cookbook. Luckily Besson gives him a little more to work with than that.