Lucy may well be Luc Besson’s career in microcosm. A loopy rush of kinetic energy and psychedelic CGI that reminds you of his best work by evoking the barmy sense of wonder of The Fifth Element and the ass-whupping joy of Taken, only for all the fun to be spoiled by an attempt to make sense of its screwball science with ultra-helpings of philosophical nonsense – a move which speaks of the French-director’s recent decline. If it weren’t for a mesmerising star turn from Scarlett Johansson there really wouldn’t be much point in watching Lucy at all.
His opening ruse holds a lot of promise, dispensing with a rigorous setup to quickly introduce Johansson’s Lucy, a hard-partying American student with no clue of what to do with her life, whose week-long squeeze coaxes her into delivering a briefcase to a sketchy Taiwanese businessman.
A few slick cuts later and Lucy is trapped in a Korean gangster’s cell with a bag of CPH4 – a new designer drug poised to invade the streets of Europe – involuntarily stuffed in her stomach. A swift kick does the rest, splitting the bag and sending the drug surging into Lucy’s bloodstream. Her 10% brain capacity instantly races to 20% and – boom – a new superhero is born.
With Lucy’s brain function exploding exponentially, Besson is able to step on the gas with a series of enjoyably bonkers shootouts and car chases. The movie takes on the style of a sci-fi caper meets lurid revenge thriller as Lucy takes vengeance against her wacko-captors. In-between an operatic takedown of a penthouse full of sneering goons and the visceral carnage of a car chase through Paris, this involves breaking into a hospital and forcing a surgeon to remove the remaining CPH4 without anaesthetic as Lucy bids a fond farewell to the last of her emotions with a stirring call home.
By the time Lucy’s capacity has surpassed 50% she has started to resemble a grown-up Hanna with actual superpowers, as the laws of physics become her personal playthings. Now able to defeat a clutch of tooled-up bad guys with the flick of her finger, Lucy focuses her considerable cognitive power on finding the remaining CPH4, which she apparently needs to ease the transition to complete brain function. (How does she know this? She’s using a larger percentage of her brain! She knows things!).
Yet Besson can’t help but spoil all the fun by weighing in with philosophical mumblings on the meaning of life and consciousness. Morgan Freeman’s respected professor, who may as well be called Doctor Exposition, regularly interjects the action and slows the pace to deliver pretentious sermons on the theoretical possibilities of increased brain function in a bid to make the knowingly-hokum premise seem somehow relevant to the real world.
At 80% Lucy jacks into a higher state of consciousness, streaming through space and time as the movie veers into Terrence Malick territory by flicking through the evolution of the universe, pausing only to gawk at an raging dinosaur and to re-enact ET with an early ancestor, as she finally reaches transcendence. (Wait – that’s a different movie! She just reaches the fabled 100% and somehow scatters her being throughout the ether.)
The only one to emerge from this with any credit is Scarlett Johansson, whose stimulating star turn somehow keeps us enthralled even as she is given less and less to do, her character’s rapidly increasing brain function turning her from an ingenuous, vulnerable student to a blank-faced super-computer with an icy stare. The early thrills of this absurd sci-fi mash-up may be spoiled by its own existential blather but Johansson’s performance will have you hooked from start to finish.
Running time: 89 mins; Genre: Action/Sci-fi; Released: 22 August 2014;
Director: Luc Besson; Screenwriter: Luc Besson;
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Choi Min-sik, Amr Waked.
Click here to watch a trailer for Lucy