This is a fast paced and visually impressive science fiction film that will leave you intrigued, and possibly contemplating it’s tried and tested theme of science’s impact on humanity. It is a story which has been about a decade coming from French fantasist Luc Besson, who, judging by his previous work including The Fifth Element (1997) and Taken (2008), is travelling pretty comfortable ground. He takes the helm on this project, surrounded by many usual collaborators, who have created a true feast for the eyes. Besson tackles some crazy ideas with the script, all based around that tantalising theory that humans use only about 10% of their brain power. It’s not a particularly new idea – 2011’s Limitless immediately comes to mind, brain-enhancing synthetic drug and all, not to mention the hyper-mobile cinematography – and the humanity angle is as done as a dinner. That said, it is an exciting ride following the titular character go from helpless to godlike in the space of a sub-90 minute movie.
The first half of the movie is easily the most exciting, and conversely less science fiction. Our Lucy, Scarlett Johansson, was a normal student living in Taipei until some dick of a boyfriend, Pilou Asbæk, sets her up to make a dangerous delivery to a mysterious Mr Jang, Oldboy himself, Min-Sik Choi. The chaos of the opening scenes is intersected with metaphoric and illustrative footage, mostly archival, and the tension is cleverly heightened by a language barrier. Poor, terrified Lucy is alone amongst the predators, quickly and unwittingly becoming a drug mule for a new synthetic drug. We feel her pain and fear that bit more as she is just an ordinary person, caught in this horrible situation. Credit to Johansson for nailing the fear and helplessness of her character in these early scenes, which as a result are pretty confronting.
At Strategic intervals throughout this rather graphic opening act we are snapped back to normalcy by the expertly honed, reassuring tones of Morgan Freeman. He makes a rather obligatory and wordy, but utterly convincing appearance as a top researcher of cerebral capacity. His character, Professor Norman, serves as the movie’s partial, diegetic narrator and primary information source. I think every student will be wishing they could have him as lecturer after this, no one would skip out on that, and he sure seems to know what he’s talking about.
It turns out the drug Lucy is carrying increases brain function, hence all the scientific information and the ‘X%’ intertitles. I’m not really sure who the target market was for this illicit drug though, probably tryhard students. In any case, Lucy gets beaten up and the massive pouch somehow stashed in her abdomen splits, giving her an instant overdose and a rapidly increasing set of powers. This starts her on a journey, both to secure the rest of the product for herself, and at Dr Nelson’s suggestion, to pass her incredible knowledge on. On her way to Paris she somehow enlists the help of French Interpol agent Pierre Del Rio, Amr Waked from 2005’s Syriana, who is way too trusting. She also becomes a bit of a bitch, with Johansson switching from vulnerable girl to robotic, with a hint of philosopher, in a heartbeat. The craziness of the story ramps up with Lucy’s cerebral access, as she goes from using the fastest MacBook in the west, to levitating people, to traversing time and space.
As ridiculous and chaotic the story gets, it is given a good leg to stand on by some expert stylistic work. Thierry Arbogast’s hyper-mobile camera work looks great, keeping the scenes flowing as rapidly as the story, and it’s all tied together deftly by editor Julien Rey, who isn’t afraid of a good jump cut. The way in which the illustrative footage and scenic shots of Taipei are cut in really works for the film too. The score, by another frequent Besson collaborator in Eric Serra (who also happened to do 1995’s GoldenEye), is a bit odd, although it does feature Blur’s Damon Albarn as a bonus.
Lucy is a film that will impress the senses and deliver a good dose of excitement, yet maybe not satisfy from a narrative perspective. It turns out to be more of an action film in a psychedelic sci-fi wrapper, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It starts promisingly, full of style and tension, however the major theme of humanity and consciousness, while delivered in a fairly believable way, isn’t fleshed out enough to make an impact. At the very end Lucy says “life was given to us more than a billion years ago, now you know what to do with it,” but I have to admit I’m none the wiser there. Maybe in the mind of Besson the proceedings meant much more, although you can’t deny he is a creative bloke.