Friday 1 August 2014

Film Review: Lucy

Lucy is the latest mid-budget action movie from French director Luc Besson - it sees Scarlett Johansson play someone who develops the ability to unlock 100% of her cerebral capacity, thus pushing the boundaries of what is humanly possible. But, is she losing what makes her human in the process?

After being kidnapped by a Taiwanese drug smuggling ring, Lucy (Scarlett Johansson), an American student studying abroad, is forced to transport a bag of experimental drugs which has been inserted into the pit of her stomach.

When Lucy is cornered and beaten by a gang of thugs, the bag splits, pouring the new drug formula into her bloodstream, thus beginning a journey into the unknown. Fairly rapidly, Lucy begins to develop the ability to utilise more cerebral capacity, endowing her with superhuman abilities such as telekinesis, super hearing and more.

I'll begin by talking through some of the positives. Johansson is easily the best part about Lucy, even if her character is written poorly. The film launches straight into Lucy being conned into being kidnapped, meaning the audience is offered no idea of who she is normally. Is she a good person? Intelligent, funny, likeable - someone we can root for? She has a boyfriend, but he's a total dick. A mum, who is only heard via phone and a room-mate dropped into an otherwise innocuous scene. We aren't given much context other than that, which means that Johansson is reliant upon her own acting ability and charm to get us to side with her character.

For the most part, she does well enough with the thin writing to keep the film anchored. In the opening set-up, we sympathise with her character as she is suddenly thrown out of her depth. But once things begin to ramp up, this slips away. As soon as Lucy begins to gain superhuman powers, all perception of 'humanity' begins to drain from her. She's withdrawn, unfeeling and impassive. She develops the ability to block pain, thus eliminating any sense of danger from the majority of the film. Once your protagonist can walk into a corridor of bad guys and dispatch them with a bored expression and a flick of the wrist, things can only go up. Consequently, this means Lucy is fairly bereft of tension after only 30 minutes of plot.

It also means that we're left with a protagonist who is less animated than Kristen Stewart (no fault of Johansson, it's the poor writing). Besson attempts to slip other characters into the narrative to counteract this, but it doesn't work. The rest of the cast are weak at best.

Whilst I hate to say it, Morgan Freeman is utterly wasted here. He completely phones it in, much like he did earlier in the year with Transcendence. For all the techno-babble he spews, his character might as well still be called Lucius Fox. What's worse, is that he's lumbered with all the clunky exposition, literally standing in a lecture hall telling the audience how the plot is going to play out for the majority of his screen-time.

We're also introduced to Amr Waked's French police detective mid-way through as Lucy recruits him to help her fight drug baron Mr. Jang (Min-sik Choi). His character bears no relation to Lucy, and isn't developed whatsoever. He serves one purpose, which is to act as a reminder of what humanity means to Lucy - and the film makes no effort to disguise that, effectively spelling it out for the audience in one scene.

Narratively, the film leaves itself nowhere to go with the big crescendo being what happens when Lucy unlocks 100% cerebral capacity. And then...nothing. Very little falling action, something essential for a satisfying conclusion. It left me wondering how the film could have better framed the core concepts rather than marvelling at their 'ingenuity'. Not a good sign.

It bites off way more than it can chew, literally encompassing everything from the tiniest atom to the vast expanse of space. In his attempt to tie everything together with some profound statement on nature, Besson shows us numerous VFX shots of the human brain stacked against clips torn straight from a Discovery channel documentary on cheetahs, swamps and everything in between. We get it, it's some kind of metaphor for the human condition, a return to nature, evolution blah blah blah - can we see some more action please?

What this film really needed was for Besson to make the ridiculous seem...diculous plausible. If the audience can 'buy it', it doesn't matter how out there a film goes at times. Unfortunately for Lucy, there where simply too many moments that screamed "this is stupid" for me to buy into any of it. I mean, unlocking your brain means being able to travel in time? Whaaa?

At least the action kicks ass - Besson revels in the colourful Asian setting and drenches his film in flickering neon signs and flecks on bright red blood. Pretentiousness aside, Lucy isn't a half-bad action movie, with a car chase through the streets of Paris being a stand-out set piece. The guy play is eye-popping, the slick visuals washing away the stumbling narrative. Maybe this review is coming across as overly negative, because let's face it, there is a lot wrong with this film. It's nowhere near as good as it could of been. Did I enjoy it? Yes, but only sporadically. I doubt I'd ever want to watch it again though. Shame.

The Verdict: 5.5/10

Lucy strives to be a mix of 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Matrix for action-junkie millennials and falls woefully short. It's a wonderful concept which is executed poorly, but putting aside the lack of threat and poor characterisation, it at least looks flash. Johansson and the slick visuals are the biggest upsides.


  1. Yeah, I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about this one myself. The movie's really not as smart as it pretends to be, but I sorta expected that going in, given the concept of the movie. But even so, even though it borrows from a LOT of movies, what it all combines into is actually a pretty unique little package, and so I was sorta able to appreciate it for being something different if nothing else. An oddball movie, to say the least.

    1. I guess I just didn't expect the film to try and encompass as much as it did - I think it would have benefited from being a lot tighter and not overloading on half-baked philosophical stuff. Thanks for commenting Chris :)

  2. Good review. It was a nutty film, but it was one that I had fun with. More so than I probably have had with a Luc Besson movie in quite some time.

    1. I think I was just expecting something more...tight? If that makes sense...

      I didn't expect the film to encompass everything from birth to death, and as a result the scope was so overblown by the end. I had fun, but more of the eye-rolling kind ;) Thanks for commenting Dan!



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