Back in 2014, Scarlett Johanssen seemed to be on somewhat of a hot streak thanks to her stunning, near wordless performance in the wonderfully divisive Under The Skin and her triumphant return to the role of Natasha Romanov for the third time in the magnificent Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Her next role however contained even more promise as it was a rousingly high-concept sci-fi thriller from extravagant French director Luc Besson, the man who gave us notably iconic female ass-kickers in the shape of Anne Parillaud’s titular Nikita and Milla Jovovich wearing a bandage onesie in The Fifth Element. Not only is Johansson gonna be in a movie that casts her as someone who’s becoming the most powerful being on earth (take that Captain Marvel) but she’s got none other than a proven mega-director calling the shots!
Fucking home run right? Eh… Not exactly.
Lucy is a vaguely trashy American student studying in Taiwan who, thanks to the actions of an extremely sketchy boyfriend finds herself handcuffed to a mysterious briefcase with the orders to deliver it to a nearby hotel. Luck is apparently not high on Lucy’s talents as the recipient of said delivery is Korean mob boss Mr. Jang, who seems to pass the time causually shooting or chopping up people on the rug in his hotel room with absolutely no regard to getting back his deposit. Upon opening the case, we find that she’s been transporting an experimental drug known by the catchy moniker of CPH4 that’s a synthetic version of a chemical babies get in the womb and in order to say thank you for all of her hard work, the mob knock Lucy out and she awakes with a bag of the deep, blue chemical surgically implanted in her lower abdomen. Now essentially an unwilling drug mule set to transport the drug to Europe, Lucy’s day get stratospherically worse when some thugs get handsy and inadvertently break open the bag inside her while giving her a kicking causing the CPH4 to seep into her system. However, instead of overdosing noisily on the floor, the drug causes Lucy to access the various areas of her brain that usually go unused and as the percentage of her neural potential steadily climbs, she effortlessly escapes thanks to her body’s funky new abilities. Deciding to A) stop the flow of CPH4 and B) passing on all the shit her super smart brain is coming up with Lucy sets herself a plan and contacts sage expert in the field Professor Samuel Norman while simultaneously launching an assault on Mr. Jang using her enhanced talents (now including telepathy at no extra cost). Jetting over to France, Lucy calmly races against time with a deeply confused French inspector in tow to complete her tasks before she evoles beyond the physical form and become a being that is both beyond time and space. Not bad for someone behind in their studies.
The problem with Lucy as a movie, is really down to how seriously you want to take it, as even by Luc Besson standards it’s pretty ludicrous – and he made the freaking Fifth Element. Concept wise it’s a neat little fushion of Limitless meets Akira (with light strokes of The Matrix just for good measure) but Besson never met a female-themed wish fulfilment story he didn’t like and in his hands it becomes what you’d get if Stanley Kubrick took the themes of evolution from 2001: A Space Odyssey and then made the Star Child into a hot blonde with guns.
While Besson’s stylistic treatment of women may remain debated (objects or icons?), Johansson nevertheless does well with what she’s given while flexing both her Black Widow action muscles and her emotionless, monotone line readings from Under The Skin, but after a while, her emotion-stripped character merely becomes a cipher to what feats she can accomplish over who she actually was as a person. Plus, as Lucy starts using telekinesis, can pull phone conversations out of the air and can even transmogrify her own cells, she soon falls foul of the Superman effect, meaning that if she can simply walk through any problem that gets in her way without any hassle whatsover, that means she’s also evolved beyond being able to create any drama for the audience whatsoever. On the other hand Morgan Freeman’s only function is to spit out exposition and information in the vain hope the audience will accept it based solely on the fact that it’s being said in Morgan Freeman’s voice while everybody else is either comic relief or a Korean psycho with blood splattered on their face (Oldboy’s Choi Min-Sik deserves better).
On the plus side the entire film moves along at a fair old clip, is fairly impressive to look at and does admittedly contain some nifty stuff (Johansson nonchalantly speeding through thick Parisian traffic like she’s nimbly dancing between raindrops in a Peugeot 308 is impressively executed), but because of the random nature of of Lucy’s transformations and the detached nature of the movie, your left feeling distanced from both the story and the characters. A phone call made to her mother from a Lucy rapidly losing her grasp on emotions feels leaded and forced as at no point during a speech from her daughter – who rambles on about feeling the rotation of the earth and the vibrations in the air – does her mother ask if she’s off her tits on drugs.
It’s misjudged scenes like this that reduce Lucy to a bunch of trippy stuff happening before your very eyes that can best described as “entertaining bollocks” if you don’t take it particularly seriously and simply “bullshit” if you do. The whole brain percentage thing is only a theory anyway but Besson crams it down your throat with all the insistence of that dude with the funny hair from the History Channel in that meme that blames everything on aliens. Thanks to the frenzied action, the film can’t even play the metaphor card either as it’s pretty hard to contemplate the very existence and reason of the universe while the Korean mob blow up the Paris police with a bazooka they somehow managed to smuggle through customs. The Matrix managed to balance it’s action scenes that flip the bird at reality with deep philosophical musings that didn’t counter each other out but by the time Johansson turns herself into a biological living computer to put all the secrets of the universe onto a single memory stick you may find yourself checking out.
Not an awful movie to be honest, but at a lean one hour thirty you’d think that the evolution of humanity would warrant a little more story while not being as shallow as an empty swimming pool during a heat wave and for a flick about someone gaining 100% brain capacity, the filmmakers might have used more than 10% themselves.