Lucy Review: The Right Kind of Ridiculous

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Luc Besson’s latest sci-fi thriller is absolutely bonkers…and I mean that in the best way possible.

Scarlett Johansson is one of the most interesting actresses working today. Since joining Marvel’s colossal superhero franchise, her résumé has expanded to include roles all radically different from each other. Within the span of a few months, she’s kicked bad guy butt alongside Captain America in The Winter Soldier, tried to fix Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s porn addiction in Don Jon, voiced a sultry version of Siri in Her, and played a male-entrapping alien in Under the Skin.

Lucy appears to be Johansson’s next step in her fight against the tyranny of typecasting. Though it certainly contains elements of her previous works, this film is something all its own. Here she plays a merciless warrior, but she’s not a spy or an assassin or a superhero. Lucy, at least in the beginning, is a perfectly normal girl. She’s an American student living abroad in Taiwan. She worries about her exams, discusses boys with her roommate (Analeigh Tipton), and parties a little too hard. Unfortunately, her flavor-of-the-week boyfriend (Pilou Asbæk) turns out to be more than he lets on.

After reluctantly delivering a mysterious briefcase for him, Lucy is forced into a drug-smuggling operation run by the sinister Mr. Jang (Oldboy‘s Choi Min-sik). A pouch of a mysterious powder known as CPH4 is sewn into her stomach, then she’s sent off to a different location for extraction. Before this can happen, however, she takes a brutal beating from two of the guards, causing the pouch to rupture inside her. CPH4, as it turns out, allows humans to utilize a greater percentage of their brain’s capacity. Soon, Lucy becomes an unstoppable force of nature.

Besson feels right at home when directing a female action star. After all, his breakout hit was the stellar La Femme Nikita. The first half of the film features some exciting stylized violence and high-octane thrills. At one point, we witness a car chase through the streets of Paris that’s shot with such hyperkinetic energy, it’s practically impossible to look away.

As the film progresses, however, the story enters a realm of pseudoscience that is more reminiscent of Besson’s cult classic The Fifth Element. In a way, it almost feels like Lucy is making fun of that film’s wackiness. The idea that humans only have access to 10% of their brainpower is a well-worn—and totally inaccurate—sci-fi concept. Yet, Besson revels in the inherent hokiness of this premise, and amps up the insanity to rousing new heights.

Lucy eventually partners with a neurological expert named Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman), who helps her, and the audience, understand the film’s endgame. The more brainpower Lucy is able to access, the more otherworldly she becomes. This is when things really get interesting. She goes from being a Jason Bourne-esque action hero to becoming a sort of all-powerful deity; able to access single lines of communication from a cellular tower, and diagnose her roommates’ medical conditions by touching her skin. At one point, she travels through space and time to see a dinosaur. There’s even an homage to the final sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s more than a little hard to believe, but the film is so gleefully nonsensical that regular logic just goes out the window. It doesn’t take long for you to stop questioning everything and start enjoying the ride.

Lucy isn’t a character with any distinctive traits, which seems to be the point. She’s an everywoman who’s able to transcend the normal conventions of human existence. Besson makes this clear from the start, using animalistic framing devices to parallel the action onscreen. The scene in which Lucy nervously attempts to deliver the briefcase is intercut with shots of a gazelle being prayed on by cheetahs. She is simply one part of nature, and soon she is able to understand every part of it.

This lack of character depth could make for a stagnant performance, but Johansson rises to the challenge with ease. Her initial Lucy conveys expressive fear as she’s taken hostage, fueled only by her will to survive. Once the CPH4 enters her system, she transforms into something else entirely. One of the more interesting dynamics the film explores is the idea that Lucy loses her humanity as she gains ultimate power. Here, Johansson shifts into a captivatingly robotic delivery. Lucy is losing her soul, but she’s incredibly self-aware and never any less fascinating.

The one drawback of a film with this frenetic of a pace, is that it exhausts itself a little too quickly. With a runtime just under 90 minutes, the story pulls so many fast punches that you’ll likely miss something if you blink. On one hand, it provides quite the adrenaline rush. On the other, there’s nary a moment for the story to catch its breath and recuperate. The ending is as flashy as you’d expect, but it’s also a bit underwhelming. The buildup for the climactic final showdown is done so quickly that it’s as if it never happened at all.

Still, Lucy is not a movie that offers any semblance of realism. It’s pulp entertainment at its finest, putting a unique spin on the summer season’s usual action-heavy fare. If you’re looking for an authentic examination of the human brain, you should probably look elsewhere. If, however, you’re looking for an imaginative thrill ride with a mesmerizing lead performance, then you should definitely add this film to your list. I, for one, am most excited to see what Johansson does next. Like her titular heroine, it seems like there’s nothing she can’t do. Grade: B+

 

By Mike Papirmeister

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