Lucy (2014)

Based on my limited understanding of neuroscience, what she could do is 'have a massive stroke', that being the definition of all of your brain firing at once.
Based on my limited understanding of neuroscience, what she could do is ‘have a massive stroke’, that being the definition of all of your brain firing at once.

“The average person uses 10% of their brain capacity. Imagine what she could do with 100%.”

Directed by Luc Besson
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Choi Min-sik, Amr Waked

Lucy (Johansson), an American student in Taipei, falls foul of her loser boyfriend’s murderous contacts in the Korean mob and finds herself forced to act as a drug mule by Mr Jang (Min-sik). A packet of experimental nootropic drugs is sewn into her abdomen and ruptured when a particularly stupid mob soldier decides that hitting on the mule and then kicking her repeatedly in the stomach is a good plan. Seriously, for an all-powerful drug lord, Jang needs better help.

Flooded with the drug, Lucy’s brain becomes supercharged. She gains complete control over her own body, then the ability to control others and manipulate electromagnetic waves, but without more supplies of the drug to fuel her ‘evolution’, she realises she will fall to pieces. Thus she contacts evolutionary expositor Samuel Norman (Freeman) to explain things to the audience, and French policeman Pierre del Rio (Waked) to round up the other drug mules and keep her going. With Jang closing in on her, she pushes to complete her jump to transhumanism while she still can.

What’s wrong with it?

The film really wants you to understand that Lucy is just an ordinary thirty year old undergraduate student.
The film really wants you to understand that Lucy is just an ordinary thirty year old undergraduate student.

I don’t blame Luc Besson. We all did it back in the day. It was the 90s and the ‘10%’ myth was all the rage. This film was released in 2014, however, and there’s little excuse to still be trotting that shit out. There’s a difference between asking the audience to accept a science fiction conceit and blithely relying on a debunked myth.

Lucy begins the film as a likable everywoman – or as everywoman as you can be while looking like Scarlett Johansson – but the shift to emotionless transhuman is too swift for us to really connect with the character. In particular, her early execution of a terminally ill patient to make way for her own needs is alienating, especially as she has already shown herself more than capable of finding a surgeon who is not wrist deep in some poor bastard’s brains.

Given her willingness to kill an innocent on the basis that he’s past saving, and every mob enforcer who gets in her way, it’s kind of baffling that she doesn’t shoot Jang when she has the chance a third of the way through the movie, which puts the lives of dozens of Parisian police officers on her hands.

The film illustrates its evolutionary biological themes by interspersing shots of animals with the action, which is a bit on the nose really.

What’s right with it?

As you’d expect from Besson, the film is slick and stylish as hell, with lots of flashy gunplay and sassy dialogue.

The cast is self-consciously diverse, with a white female lead, African-American and Egyptian supporting characters and an Asian villain. The fact that they are pretty much the only actual characters in the film does kind of play out with a white (admittedly female) crystal dragon Jesus, magical negro and Korean devil in human form. The Egyptian (Waked) is just sort of hapless and well-meaning, but that’s better than a terrorist and at least they tried.

How bad is it really?

Lucy is a triumph of style over substance, and even a talented cast can’t quite invest the film with its missing heart. The result is visually arresting, but ultimately uninvolving.

Best bit (if such there is)?

As the police hold the mob at the doors of the lab – and how does the Korean mob summon more manpower in Paris than the Parisian gendarmes? – one of them makes a sliding charge to snag a thrown rocket launcher and bring down the doors. It’s just so utterly over the top.

What’s up with…?

Uh-huh.
Uh-huh.
  • Lucy’s animal eyes? When she wakes up after almost disintegrating in an airline toilet, her eyes flicker through those of various other animals. Why, when the film has gone to such lengths to establish humans as the evolutionarily dominant species?
  • Lucy’s black-oil-tentacles-of-doom penultimate evolutionary phase, which also sucks all of the colour out of a room to fuel her final transformation?
  • Time travel?
  • Luc Besson? Just the largest number of people think he’s the bee’s knees, but I don’t get it. I like some of his films, but he’s highly variable and a lot of his work relies too much on shock value and almost pantomime villainy. He tends to produce better when he’s directing, as opposed to films that he only writes, such as Kiss of the Dragon, but still…

Ratings

Production values – The film is pretty slick, although the dinosaur at the end is kind of poor and Fire-Making-Caveman looks like he belongs on the Planet of the Apes. 6
Dialogue and performances – The dialogue is snappy more than memorable, and a little hamstrung by that 10% thing. The actors are all good, and do a lot to keep the audience interested. 9
Plot and execution – While the basic trajectory of the plot is strong, Lucy’s first jump in attitude is sufficiently great to lose much of the audience involvement and her sudden superhuman ability makes her basically invulnerable and thus robs the story of tension. Struggle is the essence of story, and Lucy barely has to break a sweat. 12
Randomness – Norman’s introduction of the topic of intelligence is accompanied by a montage of human achievement accompanied by a weird comedy soundtrack and bookended with Fire-Making-Caveman looking like a bit of a chump. 8
Waste of potential – There are a lot of good ideas here, and better transhuman narratives out there. Given all the talent involved, this should have been stronger. 9

Overall 44%

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