There is something gloriously hit and miss about directors who get bandied in with that ‘visionary’ tag by a marketing team. The studio knows they make money but often end up with a product that seems hard to sell. That’s director Luc Besson for you. Best known for The Fifth Element, he returns here with a sci-fi/superhero/pseudo-philosophical ball of nonsense. But entertaining nonsense.
Lucy has a high concept of, ‘You know that myth that we only use 10% of our brains? What if someone gained access to the rest?’ and then tacks on a whole bunch of grab bag features to have exploratory fun with the idea. Scarlett Johansson plays Lucy. She’s at the wrong place at the wrong time and is forced to become a drug mule. But this is no ordinary drug, and when it all gets dumped into her bloodstream, her physical and mental abilities grow exponentially.
You can never argue that Luc Besson doesn’t have style. He doubles down on the ‘10% brain power’ element by slamming a giant graphic over the screen that keeps track of the growing amount extra Lucy is able to use. And with it comes telekinetic powers, super strength, the ability to mentally hack computers, and so much more.
This is really a movie of two halves. In the first half, it is classic ‘revenge fulfillment’. Johansson plays Lucy with excellent vulnerability to ensure we root for her because once those powers kick in she will need to get her hands dirty. She’s slap bang in the middle of a Korean crime syndicate and the bullets and fists fly as she tries to get her hands on the rest of the valuable drug. So it’s car chases and all the usual trappings but done with that superb Besson flair for popcorn-munching action.
But you can’t have one Besson without the other Besson: the one who likes play around in semi-highbrow land. So as more and more of Lucy’s brain unlocks, the movie explores such weighty concepts as the nature of self, the possibilities of the universe, and what constitutes human evolution. Lucy as a movie was a polarising one on release and it is this latter aspect that the detracting critics often dismissed as clunky.
Personally, I had no problem with the odd mismatch of styles. Sure, sometimes it doesn’t really work. It’s hard to screech from the highway of exciting fights and then turn off into a cul-de-sac of chin-stroking deep thoughts. But even when the movie clunks through different gears there is still that Besson flair for the cool that makes the movie a fun watch.
Johansson is a magnetic lead who carries the movie superbly. And she has a great supporting cast in Morgan Freeman (wise old scientist, obviously), Choi Min-sik (amusing evil gangster) and Amr Waked (cop in way over his head). If you liked The Fifth Element then you will probably like Lucy because the style is so distinctive. And if you haven’t seen a Luc Besson film before then Lucy is a good launchpad to get started.
Words by Michael Record