Director: Luc Besson
Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Choi Min Sik, Amr Waked, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Pilou Asbaek, Analeigh Tipton.
Action cinema does not have that many positive and strong heroines – there has of course been Sarah Connor from The Terminator, Ellen Ripley from Alien, Milla Jovovich in the Resident Evil series, Luc Besson’s Nikita, Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, and Angelina Jolie in Salt. Now joining them is Scarlett Johansson as Lucy, a kick-arse action heroine in a role originally intended for Jolie. But Johansson acquits herself well as an action heroine.
This is easily the most commercial of Johansson’s recent films, as she was recently seen as an alien in human disguise driving around isolated Scottish towns picking up men in the oblique and head scratching Under The Skin, and of course she was the seductive, sexy voice in the artificial intelligence romance Her.
Johansson is cast as Lucy, a carefree young woman on holiday in Taipei with her feckless boyfriend Richard. She is tricked into delivering a mysterious suitcase to Jang (Choi Min Sik), a ruthless Chinese gang boss. The suitcase contains a blue drug that is actually a synthesised designer drug CPH4, that enhances the capacity of the brain. This is the chemical that pregnant women produce naturally and which gives life to their growing babies.
A package of the drug is sewn into the intestines of Lucy and three other unfortunate tourists so that they can become drug mules and smuggle the drug into America and Europe. But after a beating by a thug, the bag bursts inside Lucy, and she suddenly starts to experience phenomenal growth in her understanding and abilities.
She develops super powers, is able to tap into the full potential of her brain, although she comes across at time more like Carrie with her powers of telekinesis, and she can even speak different language, control radio and communication devices. And she even transforms into an accomplished killer. She sets out to destroy the drug operation, with the help of an initially skeptical French police officer Del Rio (Egyptian actor Amr Waked, from Syriana, etc). All the while Lucy is pursued across Paris by a ruthless Triad whose assassins don’t seem to care who they kill along the way.
Lucy is indeed a gloriously silly exercise in genre filmmaking, but it marks something of a return to form for French filmmaker Luc Besson, who embraces the Hollywood style of filmmaking with enthusiasm. Besson’s early career was marked by such great action films as La Femme Nikita and Leon (aka The Professional), and his direction was robust and masculine, before his films became bloated and increasingly ludicrous and special effects heavy (The Messenger: Joan Of Arc, The Fifth Element, etc). Besson is quite prolific though, and has also written and produced films like The Transporter and Taken, which transformed Liam Neeson into the premier action hero of the 21st century.
Lucy is derivative filmmaking, drawing upon the tropes of science fiction films and Asian crime films. The central premise of a drug that enables its user to tap into the full potential of the human brain seems borrowed from the recent drama Limitless. Lucy though lacks subtlety, and is full of action, pyrotechnics, bloody mayhem, car chases, wanton destruction, casual violence, and a high body count. The action has been slickly shot by Besson’s regular cinematographer Thierry Arbogast, and frantically edited to bring a sense of energy and urgency to the material.
There are also some visual flourishes as Besson takes audiences on a journey inside the workings of the human brain and also to the beginning of creation itself in an existential sequence that seems inspired by Terrence Malick’s Tree Of Life. There is a great premise somewhere in here, but the film is let down a little by its preposterous ending, which is way over the top as Lucy morphs into a giant, oozy black artificial intelligence.
Morgan Freeman brings his usual sense of gravitas and intelligence to his role as Professor Norman, an evolutionary biologist who has spent two decades researching the potential of the human brain and he has written numerous papers on the topic. But all of his theories have been mere speculation and hypothesis until he meets Lucy, and she subverts his expectations. It is a familiar role for Freeman, who played a similar role in Transcendence, which was nowhere near as enjoyable as Lucy.
The film is based on a scientific conceit that humans supposedly only use 10% of their brain capacity, which has proven to be erroneous. But what happens when Lucy evolves and reaches 100% capacity is a little silly, and this sequence involves some clever state of the art CGI effects from ILM. But it is still over the top and nonsensical, and lets down this otherwise efficient and enjoyable action thriller.