Review: Luc Besson's 'Lucy' Wastes Big Ideas on Blockbuster Action
by Jeremy Kirk
July 24, 2014
Whether suiting up as Black Widow or luring oafish, young men to their otherworldly demise in Under the Skin, or wrangling Joaquin Phoenix with her voice alone in Her, Scarlett Johansson appears to be the ideal choice to play the next-level woman, a female character made supernatural with all the powers she beholds. So thank goodness writer/director Luc Besson has her front and center in Lucy, his latest sci-fi, evolutionary actioner that promises to blow your mind as well as your entertainment meter. Without Johansson, the film would slip by as pretty thin on both excitement and existentialism. Thankfully, Lucy doesn't fail in either department, but the frustration that the whole, messy ordeal leaves behind is far too noticable. Not quite as noticable as someone as stunning and talented as Johansson, but it's there. Read on!
The stunning lead plays, you guessed it, Lucy, your typical 20-something trying to survive to party another night in Taiwan. But Lucy's YOLO days are at an end when she becomes the unlikely target of a psychotic drug mule kingpin (Choi Min-sik), who has a new drug to introduce to the market. The drug frees the human brain to utilize more than the 10% God felt we should be allotted. As chance would have it, and a few well-placed kicks, a bag of the drug begins to leak after it's implanted into Lucy. She quickly jumps to 20% and prompty begins stomping ass.
It's no secret Besson is a master at providing this in his films. Much ass was stomped before in his actions classics, Nikita and Léon: The Professional. Neither is Besson a newcomer to the world of sci-fi. Regardless what Gary Oldman has to say on the matter, The Fifth Element is an absolute marvel of sci-fi fantasy, and the styles Besson lends each of these films is as diverse as they are astonishing.
With Lucy, the style is equally palpable, resting just on the fringe of reality where such a stories deserves to be. It's one thing to question the science in a film like this, another to be unable to brush the inaccuracies aside for the sake of top-notch, action entertainment. Lucy has quite a bit of that, enough to keep the pace of the film, already brisk at 89 minutes, moving right along. There's even time for development throughout, and Besson never lets the action step on the toes of the story.
Quite the contrary. There's a frustration with Lucy in the way its action side and sci-fi side mingle, as if the individual moments are from separate movies. Each aspect to the film is handled beautifully, Besson's credibility in fine shape. It's the way they juxtapose that sends a jarring surge each time the film progresses to a new scene. It doesn't help that Besson peppers the early moments with animal stock footage, cheetahs stalking a gazzelle, as if the action in the film isn't getting the message across.
The stock footage isn't completely unjustified, Morgan Freeman as a Neurological Professor showing up shortly after to walk us through the whole "10% brain capacity" issue and what makes us different from the animals. Besson is clearly telling us there's more going on under the hood of his film than the Blockbuster surface implies. Therein lies the main problem with Lucy, it tells us rather than shows us, the smoothness of the style and action again heading down a bumpy road of aggravation.
But ScarJo, right? You have to give her credit where it's due, Scarlett Johansson's acting abilities continue to evolve, no pun intended. Rarely has she given less than her all, but it's not as rare to see her as a female, action lead or as a highly evolved superbeing walking amongst us. As Lucy, she transitions between the two better than actual film, her presence on screen quickly becoming its chief highpoint and not because of her natural beauty. Lucy is one of those films that gives you the impression that it simply wouldn't have worked as well as it does with anyone else in the part.
For all of its messiness, the same can be said for its maker. Luc Besson's films have always come with a little bit of mess. Léon aside, it's just accepted with the director. What makes Lucy such an exception to that acceptance is how close he comes to pulling off something truly remarkable. The potential, ultimately lost, that comes from its premise is another heartache with Lucy. It's loaded with gigantic ideas that are always a welcome element to first-rate action movies, but the presentation here is little more than a slideshow. Lucy had promise to get to 100%, but, as is, it'll have to settle for somewhere around 60%.
Jeremy's Rating: 6.5 out of 10
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