While watching Lucy, I found it appropriate to juxtapose next it to Under the Skin, the year’s other sci-fi Scarlett Johansson vehicle. While Lucy, a hastily paced thriller with gunfights and car chases, is tonally the opposite of Under the Skin, a psychological horror with an emphasis on stillness, both movies feature a protagonist detached from the norms of the modern day world. In Lucy, director Luc Besson explores the endless stream of knowledge and power humans could possibly obtain. Besson’s never going to be mistaken as the next Martin Scorsese, but to his credit his movies are smarter and more intelligent than those of Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich. The grand ambition of Lucy is proof of that statement, but while Lucy is entertaining throughout its duration, it seems like Besson chewed more than he could swallow.
The eponymous heroine of Lucy (Johansson) is a clear-eyed young American living in Taiwan who unknowingly stumbles into a drug operation run by a group of Korean gangsters. The mob’s leader, Mr. Jang (Choi Min-sik), kidnaps Lucy and uses her, as well as several other tourists, as drug mules to distribute a new synthetic hormone across the world. But after she accidently ingests the material, Lucy’s intelligence increases to the point where her brain capacity expands past 10%. All the sudden, Lucy has abilities that include but are not limited to telekinesis, control of all technology, the capability to neglect pain or emotion, and access to see and examine every natural process. With her new power, Lucy escapes her imprisonment and with the help of the scientist Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) and well as the French police captain Pierre Del Rio (Amr Waked) display her knowledge to the world while she seeks revenge on her captors.
Besson’s screenplay is certainly not going to win any awards for scientific realism, but I found it difficult not to appreciate what Besson was going for in Lucy. His picture shares much in common with his Léon: The Professional as well as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris in respects to the evolution of humankind and technology, with hints of The Tree of Life for its frequent use of constructed metaphors between natural and constructed worlds. Lucy’s plot is too ridiculous to compare to the high standards of Kubrick, Tarkovsky, or Malick, lacking the subtly or grace of those filmmakers, but the influences certainly help differentiate Lucy from the typical run-of-the-mill action piece.
But Lucy loses its way often and doesn’t ponder on the psychological or physical evolution of Johansson’s protagonist, often leading the way for overlong and unnecessary action scenes, such as a car chase that feels out of the blue with the rest of the picture. Besson doesn’t allow the audience to think of some of the consequences of human evolution: Are we meant to obtain greater brain capacity? Do we lose our humanity with such power? Is Lucy a goddess among men? If Besson gave Lucy an extra thirty minutes or so, the film would be a more concrete examination of the limits of mankind’s power.
Nevertheless, Johansson shines throughout the duration of Lucy, preventing the movie from entering full self-parody. Much like the extra terrestrial she played in Under the Skin, Lucy is a cold yet powerful being, albeit one who rises up to dominate those around her instead of falling to social anxiety. While much of Lucy bounces around in quality, Johansson never loses her way.
Though it may be the silliest film about human evolution, Lucy is thoroughly enjoyable and I found it difficult to resist the movie’s thrills and suspense.