04 September 2014
Allow me to explain my title, briefly. The best way I can describe Lucy is to compare it to the movie her, because they happen to have a lot in common. In both films, Scarlett Johansson portrays a being that is on the cusp of transcending the physical world. The difference being that, where her played off that premise subtly and more convincingly, Lucy is in your face and filled with half-baked pseudo-science. It also has to carry the load of a tacked on action film that has little to do with the central premise, which leaves the picture feeling a little divided.
The film’s two halves are distinctly divided. First, Lucy’s expanding brain capacity allows her to gain more superhuman abilities, with all expositional “logic” conveyed through a professor played by Morgan Freeman. Thanks to a magical drug, she gains the ability to utilize more than the standard 10% of her brain, and fights to reach 100% before her body gives out on her. For her to be the first to gain these abilities from the wonder drug involves several coincidences (that she would just happen to be kicked in the stomach by the same men who are supposed to be protecting her and the drugs she is carrying are in her stomach) and several leaps of faith from the audience (that the developers of the drug never had any subjects try enough of the drug to discover the same side-effects as Lucy and that they had no idea about its capabilities). Second, the drugs are being tracked by the same Korean gangsters that provided them. These lousy antagonists consistently attempt to provide some sort of tension in the film during Lucy’s race against the clock. Unfortunately, they are mere mortals and act only as cannon fodder for Lucy’s new abilities.
This movie is another misstep for action/comedy director Luc Besson. You may know him best as the guy who always finds a way to sneak distinctly French elements or characters into all his movies (this one is no exception). While not as bad as some prior films (last year’s The Family being by-far the worst I’ve seen from him), it is disappointing to see low quality products coming from a usually solid director.
However, there are a few golden moments to be found. While I have already mentioned that the antagonists are absolutely useless in this movie, they do provide some of the more entertaining moments. This is partially due to the over-the-top villain Mr. Jang (Chi Min-sik). His character’s introduction, where he forces his clueless girlfriend, Lucy, to become an unwilling drug mule is the perfect blend of villainy and silliness. Additionally, it is funny to watch the Korean mob boss remain angry and continue fighting in the face of what has proven to be an insurmountable foe. Several scenes leave Lucy surrounded by Jang’s lackeys, but with one swift motion they are incapacitated.
This is the second issue that arises: the pitting a bunch of thugs against what is essentially a goddess. To maintain them as an element in the film, Lucy consistently has to leave her enemies merely incapacitated. It could be argued that the reason she doesn’t kill when she repeatedly comes face to face with these killers is her innate sense of humanity. The problem is that she not only doesn’t kill them, but also frequently just hurts them enough to piss them off. This even happens directly to Jang in the movie, which is particularly frustrating because if Lucy is really so smart, she should know that, by only pissing off Jang and walking away, she is risking not only her life but that of other innocents as well.
Once again, it’s not that I didn’t want them to stay in the movie. A climactic scene near the end, where Jang and his goons “storm the castle”, has a perfect blend of visuals, music, and melodrama that harkens back to Besson’s early days and reminds me a lot of the climax in The Professional (which is even more fitting, seeing as Besson himself states that Jang is his best scripted villain since Gary Oldman’s character in The Professional). The problem is that the script wants to keep these villains in the movie, but its weak writing forces Lucy to look stupid and lazy on multiple occasions to keep them around.
Where the script is lazy when it comes to the action plot, it is even lazier when it comes to discussing science and philosophy. Freeman’s jargon-filled, dorm-room level rants on the human mind are often pure nonsense, and essentially boil down to the notion that having more brainpower equals having superpowers. There’s not even much of an attempt to explain why certain levels of brain utilization equal a particular achieved ability. The closest thing to a reasonable explanation come when the movie tells us that dolphins use a higher percentage of their brains and that they have gained a special ability because of it.
I’m not sure about the science behind the dolphin thing, but I do know that I have read more than one article discussing how the whole 10% brain utilization theory is actually a bit of a myth. If you’ll allow me to shittily paraphrase, humans only use, at maximum, 10% of the brain at any given time because certain areas of the brain have different functions. It’s not that there is only a tenth of the brain that functions and the rest is just lumpy grey matter that we can’t access. We use our whole brain, but at any given time, depending on what we are doing, we are only using the 10% we need to do that task.
So essentially, the idea that you would gain super abilities if you used 100% of your brain is false. What would happen is that you wouldn’t be able to function at all. Say right now, I am writing this article and I am using the parts of my brain that allow me to write, remember the movie, breathe, etc. If I was using 100% of my brain while I was trying to write, I’d also be using the parts of the brain that allow me to wash dishes, go for runs, go to the bathroom, show off my sweet rappin’ skills etc., all while remembering every memory I’ve ever stored in my brain at the exact same time. Doing all these things at once would be an interesting skill but it would likely get pretty messy.
Now that I’ve wasted a bunch of space talking about how the whole 10%-100% brain thing is a myth, I’ve also got to say that I’m not really opposed to the movie using the theory. Even though I knew ahead of time that the whole premise was scientifically false, I’m willing to suspend my disbelief if the movie can weave something interesting out of the idea. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen. What happens is that we spend half the movie watching Lucy use new powers one by one while the movie doesn’t really make any attempts to analyze the theory behind its entire premise.
I probably wouldn’t complain so much, but once again, a very similar idea was pulled off so much better in her. In that film, as Scarlett Johansson’s computer character Samantha gains intelligence, she attains certain otherworldly powers. Even though certain aspects are not overly explained due to the science behind it not existing yet, Samantha’s subtle shifts in achieved abilities seemed to make sense based on prior conversations and events within the film. Lucy essentially creates signposts: at 20% she can do this, at 50% she can do this, etc. Accept this bullshit and move along.
Still, following all this nit-picking and bitching, I could probably still swallow the whole silly premise if they managed to make it interesting or original. But, as I stated earlier, the antagonists are the only really interesting part of the movie. The other half of the film fills its time showing off Lucy’s new powers, while unconvincingly and uninterestingly blending philosophy and science. At the same time, the whole premise that Lucy relies on isn’t very original. Her managed to take the base idea and present it in new and intriguing ways. Lucy just presents the same idea with old clichés. In fact, the ending of this film is so similar to the ending of Lawnmower Man (another film about becoming God through the power of the mind) that it was hard for me to not believe that they were trying to directly reference it.
What it all boils down to is that Lucy is a fairly standard action movie, albeit with superpowers, that has a few high points and funny moments, but has a lot more lows; most of those lows coming from the movie being unable to make its premise very interesting or convincing. It’s not a terrible picture, but if you’re looking for a good sci-fi flick about the power of the human mind I’d avoid this one entirely; if you’re looking for a decent action flick, this movie may do the trick, but you’ll probably be more fulfilled if you watch one of Besson’s earlier pictures.