Film review: Lucy

The decision for Scarlett Johansson to play the titular Lucy like she's some kind of robot puts her at arm's length from the audience.
The decision for Scarlett Johansson to play the titular Lucy like she's some kind of robot puts her at arm's length from the audience.


(MA15+) ***

Director: Luc Besson.

Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Choi Min-sik, Amr Waked.

LET'S get the obvious out of the way first - the idea that humans use only 10 per cent of their brains is a myth.

And while it might be untrue, it certainly makes for an interesting plot device, as seen already in Neil Burger's 2011 film Limitless.

In Lucy, French writer-director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, Leon aka The Professional) takes the same idea and goes totally nuts with it - whereas Bradley Cooper's character in Limitless used his increased mental capacity to write a novel, clean his apartment, and get rich on the stock market, Scarlett Johansson's Lucy uses it to develop telekinesis and telepathy and inevitably explore the very furthest reaches of time and space.

As a result, despite sharing a plot springboard, Lucy is far more extreme than Limitless. While Limitless was a murder-mystery, Lucy is essentially an action movie with some pseudo-science and a psychobabble thrown in, mostly via the gravitas-adding voice of Morgan Freeman, who plays a scientist who specialises in mental capacity.

These sci-fi touches make this Besson's answer to The Matrix. He uses the 10 per cent myth as a launch pad for examining life, the universe and everything in between a thrilling car chase, some John Woo-style slow-mo shoot-outs, and some impressive CG effects.

The deeper themes are a mix of the profound and the bonkers, and make up part of the reason why Lucy is destined for cult classic status.

It certainly has all the ingredients for becoming an underground fanboy favourite - the big ideas, the cool action sequences, some innovative moments we've never seen before (in particular a non-fight with a hallway full of goons and a climactic mental journey through space and time), and a certain wonkiness that stops it being truly excellent.

Those imperfections include a few weird and nonsensical moments such as the unnecessary editing of stock footage into the first act, a near-total lack of character development, and the decision for Johansson to play the titular Lucy like she's some kind of robot, which puts her at arm's length from the audience.

This portrayal, while it makes total sense in the context of the film, is pretty weird (which again helps with the cult classic thing) and leaves the film with the emotional depth of a broken iPhone. Admittedly it's a good performance from Johansson but a strange one nonetheless.

But then again Lucy is a strange film. It's certainly the best thing Besson's directed since The Fifth Element and has far more intellectual edge and intrigue to it than most of the stuff he's been writing and producing over the past decade, but ultimately Lucy feels a bit like a cheap thrill masquerading as a philosophical discussion. 

PS. I feel obliged to point out there are a few gory surgical-type moments which made the woman in front of me hide her eyes a couple of times, so consider yourself warned if you have a weak constitution.


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