“Lucy” didn’t last long before I began to re-evaluate my expectations.
“So this is a movie about a girl who uses 100% of her brain to get really smart? Is Luc Besson treating us like idiots with this banal flashback of a rat walking into a trap on purpose? Maybe he is trying to tell us how dumb we are right now… but later on the film will get really smart as Lucy (Scarlet Johansson) gets smart?”
Early on Professor Norman, played by Morgan Freeman, tells a class that humans use about 10% of their brain capacity, whilst animals use about 5%. I dare say that Besson chose to stick with that 5% during the production of “Lucy”. The aforementioned flashback is in reference to the first scene where Lucy’s shady boyfriend Richard (Pilou Asbæk) forces her to deliver a briefcase — supposedly filled with “paperwork” — to a group of shady Asian crime lords. They take her, they sedate her, they cut her open and put inside her a bag filled with blue goop.
This was what was in the briefcase, four bags filled with CPH4, an extremely potent drug with unknown effects. Lucy and three other unfortunates are the newest drug mules that will be taking the substance across Europe for bids to be made. Upon waking up in captivity, one of her captors brutally kicks her in the stomach, rupturing the bag and releasing the drug into her bloodstream.
This all occurs in the first half hour, and scenes detailing Lucy’s predicament are punctuated by scenes of Morgan Freeman giving a seminar on what might happen should we unlock the full potential of our brains. Dolphins, we are told, use 20% and have unlocked the ability to use sonar that is more efficient than anything humans have built. A student asks, “what would happen if someone reached 100%?”. Despite the fact that this all relies on the mythical idea that people only uses a small portion of their brains, I was behind it. I was interested to see exactly where the plot would go with these ideas.
The drug of course causes Lucy to begin to access more and more of her brain (we are told how far along she is via cards that pop up periodically). Seems cool to me, I’ve enjoyed it so far for what it is and I’m prepared to have some dumb fun with “Lucy” for the next hour. It is unfortunate then that the film gets dumber as Lucy gets smarter.
Take for example a scene mere minutes after the bag leaks and we see Lucy defy gravity much like Regan in “The Exorcist”. With her new found powers she decides to get to the hospital and force doctors to remove the bag from her abdomen (I was reminded of the alien foetus removal scene from “Prometheus”). On the way to the hospital she takes out entire rooms of scrabble playing guards with pinpoint accuracy, she diagnoses fatal brain tumours by merely glancing at an X-ray and she demonstrates her ability to control the processes of her own body by blocking out the pain of the surgery. We’re convinced she’s pretty smart Besson, so why do we have to listen to Lucy call her mother and wax lyrical about how she can “feel every kiss” and “remember the sound of her bones growing under her skin”.
It’s evidence that Besson doesn’t understand how to convey these sorts of things in a believable way. I can accept a stupid film, but this sort of exposition is tedious and overtly forced. It doesn’t help that Lucy herself claims to have died when the drug leaked into her system, as a not so subtle nod to how much it has changed her. The change is in the form of Johansson becoming a killing machine with little remorse and even less emotion. Bradley Cooper in “Limitless”, despite its flaws, kept his character interesting throughout the film. Scarlet Johansson as Lucy instantly becomes a hugely un-engaging character when she begins to unlock her brains full potential, which sucks all of the fun out of the concept.
Soon enough it becomes clear to Lucy that her cells will “choose immortality”, which Morgan Freeman claims is a result of the fact that she is no longer sufficiently stimulated by her environment. This immortality is a problem, because it causes Lucy to turn to dust unless she gets more blue goop. Now things get really, really dumb.
Did anyone making “Lucy” think for a moment about how exactly you create suspense out of a character who’s sole worry is immortality? She can kill entire rooms of soldiers just by lifting her hands and she’s only getting stronger and stronger! She is so overpowered that action sequences feel futile because there is no threat of failure. This isn’t helped by the lack of visual style either.
The last half hour of the film is mind bogglingly stupid. It feels completely cobbled together by the conceptual bricks Besson lays early in the film, and is pretty predictable too. I can think of so many reasons why what happens shouldn’t be able to happen, but it does because it can. Besson can change the rules of his movie as he sees fit and that’s fine, but I don’t have to like it. An effective thriller, “Lucy” is not.