Lucy is the latest film from French writer/director Luc Besson. Besson, who directed the incredible Leon: The Professional and sci-fi cult favourite The Fifth Element back in the mid 90’s, has been a more prolific screenwriter and producer in recent years. Mostly involved with mediocre action films. His last two directorial efforts were the critically reviled The Lady and The Family. But, with Lucy, he is back in exciting form, creating an absurdly ambitious and defiantly goofy action sci-fi, bringing high-concept universal and existential hypothesizing to the crime thriller genre. With a kick-ass heroine who evolves from hapless captive to skilled super-entity, Bresson’s colourful and inventive visual style and obscure sense of humour gives this a unique and bizarre tone. Think of it as a blend of Salt and The Tree of Life, with more than a few Limitless ingredients.
The aptly cast Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation, Under the Skin), whose roles this year are becoming more interesting by the film, stars as Lucy, a 25-year-old American woman living in Taipei. She is tricked by her dodgy boyfriend into becoming a drug mule, and is captured by the associates of a Korean drug kingpin named Mr Jang (Choi Min-sik, Oldboy). When she is brought before him she learns that she was carrying a highly valuable synthetic drug called CPH4, an advanced version of a toxin that assists the growth of a fetus in the womb. A bag of the drug is sewn into her abdomen and she is forced to transport it to Europe for sale. When she is held captive and beaten, the drugs are released into her system and she develops enhanced physical capabilities and powerful mental abilities. She can no longer feel pain, absorbs large volumes of information immediately and can perform telekinesis, just to begin with. She discovers that she will never survive without replenishment, so she sets about retrieving the other bags and makes contact with Prof. Samuel Norman (Morgan Freeman), whose research makes him a candidate to explain to her just what is going on.
Lucy, from the point she begins to use more than 20% of her brain’s capacity (the human limit is 10%) ceases to be human, and is no longer restricted by the boundaries of her body. Though emotionless, and immune to pain, she is physically and intellectually capable of anything. She finds herself in tune with every realm – she can feel the forces of gravity and is able to manipulate any technology. If speculation about all of existence is accessible nowadays, Lucy begins to accumulate actual knowledge having developed the ability to explore all spectrums of reality – including Earth’s entire history.
In an exhilarating sequence that makes Terrence Malick’s now-famous creation sequence in The Tree of Life seemsomewhat dull (it isn’t), we are privileged to some extraordinary visuals. It is hard to believe just how much – on multiple occasions we are taken into Lucy’s blood stream to be demonstrated how the drug is taking affect, and later we are taken into a interstellar portal that traverses all of time and space - has been squeezed into these crazy 89 minutes.
As Norman says, the human body is as intricate as the universe, but in the scheme of the universe, obviously incomprehensively tiny. What if one woman could gain the power to explore all of existence, and were to reveal that existence is proven through time. Few screen characters possess the power of Lucy.
Morgan Freeman’s lengthy Powerpoint-accompanied lecture about the capabilities of the human mind and speculating what would happen if someone were to burst through those boundaries is spliced into Lucy’s transformation. This is a convenient and coincidental method of explaining exactly what is happening to her, and will likely be one of the many elements that could potentially lose people. Bresson’s subtlety also leaves a lot to be desired, cutting in a cheetah taking down a gazelle as the Korean mobsters snatch Lucy. There are other silly things at work that stretch the logic, but dwelling on them isn’t much fun.
There is an insanely well-choreographed car ‘chase’ sequence, and a fight scene that features no violence, but with Lucy forcing her foes to the ceiling with her mind. I thought Eric Serra’s score worked perfectly, and Thierry Arbogast gave the film a vibrancy largely lost these day. Both have worked with Besson before.
Johansson made a welcome return as Black Widow in the second Captain America installment, but it is the other three roles this year that are fascinatingly linked. In Her Johansson never physically appeared, and yet her presence is essential. She provided solely her voice, giving an advanced operating system a convincing emotional complexity. A soul. In Under the Skin she plays an emotionally vacant cyborg sent to earth to lure men to their demise for her employers, eventually abandoning her mission to explore her sexuality and find out what it means to actually exist as a woman on earth.
In Lucy her arc is inverted; a regular woman who loses her human-ness and her connection to the world when her body is taken over by a drug. She becomes an indestructible entity that can transcend time and space. There is even a wonderful moment where her characters in Under the Skin, Lucy and Her align.
I don’t think this film would have worked as well for me if it weren’t for Johansson’s involvement, but credit to her for choosing yet another challenging role. While I acknowledge the film’s flaws I had so much fun watching it, and I admire its ideas and ambition so much, that it is easy to overlook any voids in logic. It is the sort of film that demands another viewing, and it is something I have been considering ever since I left the theatre.
[rating=3] and a half Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22