Lucy was sold as a Scarlett Johansson action vehicle. Going by the trailers, it looked like a superhero origin story with a dash of Akira-style mayhem, as one human being ascends to the next level of evolution with bloody and unpredictable results. As it happens so often, the trailers were not representative of the film as a whole.
No, this film wasn’t trying to be the next superhero franchise. It was trying to be the next 2001: A Space Odyssey. Not even joking.
The film opens with the very first cell dividing, then cuts to the first female Neanderthal. Then we hear Scarlett Johansson, asking in voice-over what we’ve done in the billion years of life on this planet. We then see exactly what we’ve done, as the movie flashes through a billion years of evolution and industry until we arrive at Lucy (Johansson) in the modern day.
The rest of the movie (though mostly the first half) is loaded with non sequitur cuts to wildlife, drawing hammer-blunt parallels to what’s going on with Lucy. The proceedings also treat us to a great load of talk about the purpose of life, the laws that govern creation, and other such deep conundrums. From the tiniest biochemical reactions to the furthest supernovae, from the Big Bang to the dinosaurs to modern humans and everything in between, absolutely nothing is off-limits to this movie. Writer/director Luc Besson set out to craft a movie that blended international action thrills with ruminations about the infinite size and wonder of the universe.
I have to admire a film of such overwhelming ambition. The goal of making a satisfying action film with brains is always a noble one, and the action is none too shabby. In particular, there’s a car chase at the hour mark that’s really quite impressive. Gratuitous, sure, but impressive. Also, the visuals are extraordinary from top to bottom (especially during the really trippy climax), and Scarlett Johansson anchors the film very well, even if the rest of the cast is only so-so. Morgan Freeman sleepwalks his way through yet another mentor role, I’m sorry to say.
But that isn’t where the film goes wrong. No, the film is undone by its own premise.
See, the story begins when Lucy is shanghaied into working as a drug mule for a brand new narcotic. Unfortunately, the bag sewn into her intestines is ruptured, leaking its contents into her system. And what does this drug do? Well, it’s apparently the same stuff that Bradley Cooper got addicted to in Limitless, because both drugs unlock dormant parts of the brain, allowing for superhuman intellect and other incredible powers. The logic goes that if we’ve done so much with only ten percent of our brain capacity, just imagine what we could do with all the trillions and trillions of neurons we have if we could use every one of them.
Yes, the film goes there. The film doesn’t even present the “ten percent” thing as a fiction based on truth, it’s just treated as a flat irrefutable fact. Even if I wasn’t a student of bioscience with a Bachelor’s in Bioinformatics and nearly a decade of college education, I could figure out that head wounds would be considerably less fatal if 90 percent of our brain matter was useless. DUH!
This drug is the centerpiece of the premise, and everything about it — what it does, how it works, where it comes from, everything — stinks of fecal matter to high heaven. So how, I ask you, can I take a film seriously as an intellectual work of cinematic art when its premise is based on an old wives’ tale? How can a film this smart be so incredibly stupid?!
It honestly breaks my heart. Between the bizarre editing, the idiotic premise, and the scope that’s so huge as to be unwieldy, the film completely fails to make any kind of point that’s coherent or valid. If this project had been handed off to the Wachowkis or maybe Duncan Jones, all of this potential could have amounted to something. But this is Luc Besson, whose most recent work — The Family — was a confused mess with one of the most insultingly stupid sequences in recent memory. This movie never had a prayer.
If Lucy had just been the brainless ScarJo action vehicle that was advertised, it would have been fine. If it dispensed with the absurd premise and tried to be a deep work of philosophical cinema, I’m sure it would have been fascinating. As it is, the film is a ten-story tower of creativity and ambition built on a slippery foundation of runny pigshit. I have so much respect for what the filmmakers were trying to do, but Besson simply was not equal to the task. He was in so far over his head, as evidenced by all the effort he put into looking smart only to come out looking stupid.
It breaks my heart, but there’s no way I can recommend it. Unless you’re watching it at home over some weed. Then I’m sure it’ll look like a masterpiece.