Take note: just because a film is directed by a French man who has been at the helm of a few interesting if not spectacular projects before, doesn’t mean his new movie is going to follow the same track. Lucy is a Hollywood film that wants to be smart, that thinks it is smart, but most definitely is not smart. Unless shouting its main theme and ideas in your face for a brief 90 minutes is regarded as enough to qualify it as such.
Director Luc Besson, whose previous work includes Natalie Portman’s first film Leon: The Professional (1994) and Milla Jovovich’s breakthrough The Fifth Element (1997), here continues his trend of slick action thrillers starring strong female leads. This time it is Scarlett Johansson stepping into that role as she plays this film’s main character, Lucy, who becomes unwittingly embroiled in a drug trafficking plot and ends up accessing extra levels of mental powers after absorbing large amounts of the synthetic drug CPH4 into her bloodstream.
Resting on the myth that humans use only ten percent of their brains as its faulty premise, Lucy tries to convince us that accessing these remaining parts would somehow produce superhuman-like powers such as telepathy, telekinesis and weird bodily contortions that defy the laws of physics. But this is not a film overly concerned about actual science, regardless of how much it tries to pretend otherwise with Morgan Freeman’s character Professor Norman, who we first see giving a lecture on evolutionary theory to a class of intelligent-looking university students.
Freeman is part of a cast that Besson has clearly looked to make as diverse as possible. Acclaimed South Korean actor Choi Min-sik plays a mob boss, the films shady main villain; Mr Jang, who manages to instill a sense of threat for most of the story, at least until things go gloriously over the top towards the end.
Egyptian Amr Waked also joins the fray as a police officer who becomes somewhat of a questionable sidekick to Johansson’s Lucy, who gradually loses her humanity as she gains increasingly far-fetched abilities.
If nothing else, you can tell that this cast had as much fun making the film as Besson had in directing them. Should the audience be able to suspend its disbelief long enough to do the same, then you have an entertaining action movie that occasionally hints at originality. Though just when you think it’s going to properly tap into this originality and explore what we haven’t seen before, it ends.
As abruptly as that. If you were enjoying it (as I admittedly was, in a sort of mindless way that trusted there was more to come), you will merely be disappointed in knowing it could have done better. If on the other hand you were not, which I think is just as possible, you may ask, as one audible audience member sitting in the row in front of me did: is that it? Well, that was rubbish.
That Lucy would split its audience in this way, between those who appreciate the potential of what it tries to do along with the popcorn-thrill beauty of some of its better moments, and those who do not simply because they like their movies to make sense, is indicative of the type of director that Besson is. He is typically said to prefer style over substance, spectacle over narrative, and has been described as the most ‘Hollywood’ of contemporary French directors. This isn’t even to mention his part in the ‘Cinema du look’ movement of the late 1980s and early 1990s, where films such as Nikita (1990) and Subway (1985) helped contribute to the highly visual, stylish elements of French cinema at that time.
For certain, you can’t accuse Lucy of being dull, either in the bright colour palette of its Mise-en-scene or in the fast pace of its narrative direction. The problem is not that it will bore you, per se, though it may test your patience in other ways.
There comes a point when you have to wonder why, for example, too much CPH4 makes Lucy’s body start to disintegrate for no apparent reason while on board a plane, and why the only way to stop it is to ingest a bucket-load more of the stuff? It’s a curiosity that the movie doesn’t feel it needs to justify to its audience. You suspect that, quite like a few other sequences in this film, it is there simply to give us action when the story would otherwise struggle to provide it.
Which leaves you with a decision to make if you decide to invest your time in watching Besson’s latest film. You can either enjoy it for the slightly silly action thriller that it is, or become agitated at its lack of grounding in the rules and laws of the real world.
Normally I’d say such a decision isn’t a problem, but it quickly becomes one when the film itself appears not to have made its own mind up yet. From the start it feels almost like this movie is trying to convince itself that it’s intelligent, never mind its audience. By all means, it has some nice moments and actors play out their roles well, but it is unfortunately not intelligent. Therefore, one cannot really claim that Lucy hits all of the marks that it intends to.
5 / 10