The one thing that seems to be a motif in film throughout the years is if you can’t find a way to get past something in a script you just go a little weird. It’s the hallmark of plenty of bad to awful films over the years and Lucy joins Hollywood’s litany of films that have opted to get a whole lot weird with one of the year’s worst films (but not the worst film of the weekend).
Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is recruited as a drug mule in Asia for a new drug. It’s supposed to be a quick drop off job, so she could make an extra $500 after a long night partying, but it turns out far worse. Having the drugs surgically implanted into her, Lucy winds up having the drugs rupture inside her and instead of dying something profound happens. Her brain starts to work on a much higher level as the film functions on the debunked “Ten percent of brain” myth being real. This drug apparently gives her super powers as the utilization of her brain percentage goes up and she uses it for one purpose: to extract some revenge on the people who did it to her.
Utilizing a professor (Morgan Freeman) to help her understand what’s happening, as well as to pass on her knowledge once her body can’t handle it anymore, Lucy wants to be extract revenge on those who wronged her before she departs. And what has been marketed as a wild action film really isn’t the case as this is Luc Besson trying to do a contemplative science fiction film with action elements. He wants something grand about the nature of the human mind at play here; Besson is going beyond his usual “cast a character actor/actress who’s a 3rd lead in a blockbuster in a leading role” mode for a generic genre film like his usual productions.
It’s easy to see where he’s going with this; he wants his own version of The Matrix.
The problem is that the film has two main problems, besides the whole “10% of the brain” myth for which the film’s conceit is based on. He’s not playing towards intellectuals with an action film in the sci-fi genre, obviously, but he’s trying to allude to something grander with all of this. He intercuts nature scenes, among others, early and the film’s final 10 minutes is so goofy that it feels like it has delusions of intellectual grandeur. It’s just pretentious enough that armchair intellectuals will discuss the film’s profound nature and such in years to come, of course, when in reality Besson has just taken a novel concept and made it weird because he couldn’t make it good.
And it’s also weird because this is a film that uses its central conceit, that ScarJo has super powers manifesting, to solve every problem that comes up. Anytime a new problem comes up Lucy immediately has a new power to handle it. It becomes silly after a while as it makes anything potentially interesting about the film just become the embodiment of a throwaway line from Thank You For Smoking. If it’s convenient to the film, not the character, then it becomes reality. It’s easy to do, as it becomes convenient story-telling wise, but it’s the same as watching any other invincible superhero. There’s no sense of danger to any of the proceedings because she’s going to get some new power that’ll conveniently solve the next problem. It’s bad story-telling masquerading as science-fiction at a minimum.
It’s sad in many ways but most particularly for the fact that Johansson deserves better.
Johansson, always discussed as part of a Black Widow spinoff franchise in the Marvel Universe (but never seemingly close to getting one greenlit for her to star in), gets a big action film of her own and she carries it with a style. She’s basically copying Angelina Jolie’s tough girl style from the Tomb Raider films, which isn’t shocking because Lucy was written with her in mind and she was originally slated to star in it, but it’s obvious early that Johansson is capable of carrying an action film.
This isn’t anywhere near her great performances, or even her mediocre ones, but it’s perfectly capable genre work which is exactly what this film needs. If this is as close as we’ll get to a Black Widow film then Marvel will have passed on something that could easily be carried by Johansson. She carries what will most likely be a far inferior film to the superhero version she should be carrying; Lucy winds up being proof of her abilities as the lead hero in an action film but nothing more.
Writer/Director: Luc Besson
Notable Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi, Amr Wake