Lucy (dir. Luc Besson, 2014) – Implicated in a drug deal, Lucy meets with an accident that turns her into a highly intelligent and formidable opponent against her captors.
In a world starved of originality, ambitious ideas shouldn’t be a bad thing. But built upon a ludicrous premise, Lucy fails to be immersive in its hollow execution.
Over the years, science fiction has never ceased exploring possibilities of exceeding human or artificial intelligence. Premises as such hold potential for human philosophy, but most recent attempts see commentaries surface as an afterthought. Remember Limitless or Transcendence?
Like said movies, Lucy builds upon the idea of what enhanced intelligence could mean and ends up a mere excuse for cheap action thrills. The sheer escapism should not bug as much as it did, but the introductory homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey had made it felt like the worst betrayal since Quintus in Gladiator. (Yes, I’m still bitter about it.)
We then meet Scarlett Johansson’s single-name heroine. She comes into contact with a powerful, synthetic drug that unlocks her hidden potential in knowledge, memory and strength. Her initial reluctance quickly transforms into an unquenchable thirst for evolution.
Changes in her attitudes and cerebration attempt to rouse intriguing conversations on human nature and our species’ pursuit of advancement. But there is little subtlety. Poor execution fails to find the balance of wit and fun as it tips towards the latter.
The science fiction genre has a significant latitude when it comes to suspension of disbelief. After all, most of us have had no qualms entering the worlds of Fifth Element or Total Recall, and enjoying every bit of the writers’ over-the-top imagination. Yet with too much emphasis on pseudoscience, even the best concept begins to fall apart.
Heavily reliant on the much disproved 10% of brain myth to guide the narrative, Lucy goes to the extent of using specific numbers on title cards that informs the audience of the titular character’s current brain capacity.
It all feels silly, even more so when Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) – the leading scientist on the human mind – repeatedly tries to explain this flimsy theory. The more Morgan Freeman explicates, the less convinced we become (which is by the way, a very strange sentence to type).
The movie only truly entertains when it momentarily abandons the urban legend for agility. As Lucy’s abilities grow with her intelligence, director Luc Besson’s speciality finally comes into play. His action sequences push the envelope, launching into impressive gravity-defying stunts. While absurd and amusing in parts, they are nevertheless memorable.
Of course, having a great lead actress helps. From the unwitting victim to the convincingly dominant heroine, Scarlett Johansson’s transformative performance impresses. Her superhuman moves also reminds us of that Black Widow movie we really need. (Come on, Marvel.)
A good villain is too, essential. Min-sik Choi is a massive presence. Not given very much to work with besides speaking angrily in Korean, Lucy’s pursuer Mr Jang is written to be no more than a faceless drug lord. (Someone, please put an end to this ‘speak-no-English’ evil foreigners trope.) But Choi amplifies claustrophobic tension in the room with unblinking ruthlessness that makes us dread every second of his absence.
As the vengeance chase comes to a close, the final act slows from pure adrenaline-pumping action into a bizarre conclusion that bears puzzling visual echoes to 2001 once again. Setting itself up for comparisons to the Kubrick masterpiece is a risk that should not have been taken. The gaps in logic are simply far too jarring at this point, and Lucy ends up so much less provocative than it wishes to be.