27 August 2014
It’s been a while since Luc Besson really excited me. I’m going to say 1994, with the sublime Léon. His most recent outings as writer (3 Days to Kill) and director (The Family) have been dull thuds that threatened to overshadow the resounding successes of his hitman triumph and the likes of Subway and The Big Blue. Twenty years is a long time to wait for something worth celebrating, but finally we have Lucy to admire.
Let’s not get too excited, though. Lucy is a curio, an enjoyable return to form from the French auteur (a contentious mantle and one worthy of debate another time), but is a long way from being a classic, despite a solid, central performance from Scarlett Johansson in the title role.
When Lucy is forced to deliver a briefcase to the violent criminal kingpin Mr. Jang (Min-sik Choi), she winds up with a bag full of a new synthetic drug sewn into her belly. Before she can complete the delivery, the bag bursts and the drug infects her, unlocking the unused 90% of her brain and transforming her into an acutely aware, brilliant superhuman with warrior-like powers and a drastically reduced shelf life on this earth.
At this juncture we should perhaps take a momentary step back into reality. Lucy is a whimsy built on a fallacy. We don’t use a mere 10% of our brain. We use all of it (although a look at some people around here does bring that accepted ‘fact’ into question) but understand perhaps 10% of the brain’s workings. And while we’re at it, if you cut a worm in half, you don’t get two worms, you end up with a dead worm in two parts. Deal with it!
However, facts can get in the way of a good story and so Besson dispenses with them from the outset, not that I have any particular issues with that. For the most part, Lucy is exciting and a thoroughly enjoyable romp. There are plot holes aplenty but Besson bats them away with aplomb, and concentrates on the thrills and the race against time. This is Limitless meets Transcendence with a serious armoury thrown in for good measure. There is much to enjoy as we watch Lucy evolving physically, mentally and emotionally before us, becoming ever more resourceful and violent as she seeks out Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman), the authority on the mind and brain function, for help and to impart her knowledge to him.
Morgan Freeman, though a comforting presence, is unremarkable, playing essentially the same role as he did in Transcendence. His Professor Norman is virtually indistinguishable from his Joseph Tagger and the impression he gives is of a man coasting in his dotage. His performance doesn’t in any way detract from Lucy, it just doesn’t enhance it.
The presence of the hominid Lucy is awful, however. Didn’t Besson think about looking at the make up and CGI created for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes or even the Lord of the Rings trilogy? Awful, just awful. And the confusion of travelling through space first and then time is clumsy and implies he is uncertain of his historical chronology and geography.
The principal failing of Lucy is its culmination, which of is largely unsatisfying though hardly surprising. Lucy sets out with high ideals of uniqueness, boldness and enlightenment but is unable to be truly original and has to settle for a rearrangement of old ideas. That isn’t entirely the fault of Luc Besson as we must shoulder some of the responsibility. We are creatures of limited comprehension, we cannot truly fathom the infinity of the universe (something has to contain it, surely…) and this, Lucy, is no different. We have a need to box things up to understand them and by doing so Besson immediately limits it.
‘It’, the expansiveness of intelligence and our potential, becomes something tangible for us to scrutinize. Professor Norman states early on that he doesn’t know what would happen if we ever harnessed the entirety of our brain capacity. He can only hypothesize; the rest is a mystery. Besson, however, attempts to explain and portray it for us. The bolder move would have been stop short of an explanation, to perhaps watch Lucy’s brainpower percentage rise and to fill the screen and auditorium with white noise until the credits cut in, leaving us puzzled, confused, befuddled, just as Professor Norman is, but I suspect Besson feared the cries of outrage from audiences and critics and instead he gives us a convenient, comprehensible resolution.
Lucy needed a visionary at the helm. Whilst Besson is imaginative and delivers a rollicking good ride (on a good day), he lacks the courage to create something truly unique and astounding.
Another film review from The Squiss.
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