Benjamin has been reviewing films online since 2004 and has seen way more action movies than he should probably admit to!
What's the Big Deal?
Lucy is an action sci-fi thriller film released in 2014 and was both written and directed by veteran French director and producer Luc Besson. The film stars Scarlett Johansson as a young woman who develops extraordinary powers and seeks revenge against those who initially forced her to become a drug mule. The film also stars Morgan Freeman, Korean star Choi Min-sik and Amr Waked. The film was developed by Besson over a period of 10 years despite the science behind the premise being discredited. Nevertheless, the film was a huge success when it was released with global earnings in excess of $463 million. Critics were broadly positive but the film proved divisive - Johansson's performance and the visual effects were praised but the film's narrative was criticised for its reliance on the myth that humans only use 10% of their brain capacity.
What's It About?
Care-free student Lucy is living a party lifestyle in Taipei in Taiwan and has just started a relationship with the enigmatic Richard. Unfortunately, she is tricked by him into delivering a briefcase to South Korean gangster Mr Jang after she is handcuffed to the briefcase. Arriving at the hotel where Jang operates out of, she witnesses Richard being shot before being bundled into a lift by a group of goons. Arriving in Jang's penthouse, she discovers that the briefcase contains four packets of drugs - a mysterious blue powder that is obviously potent after it's tested by an unwitting subject. Before she can beg for her freedom, she is offered a job by Jang and knocked unconscious.
When she wakes up, she is alarmed to find that she is one of four people to have a bag of the drug surgically implanted into her stomach. Told by an associate of Jang to travel home where the drugs will be reclaimed by men loyal to him, things take a turn for the worst when Lucy is beaten by a group of thugs, rupturing the bag containing the drug which is a powerful synthetic drug capable of unlocking previously unused parts of the brain. As she begins to undergo an extreme transformation and develop mysterious powers, she decides to turn the tables on those who have already taken so much from her...
Professor Samuel Norman
Pierre Del Rio
Release Date (UK)
22nd August, 2014
Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller
What's to Like?
Oh, Lucy. I had such high hopes for you, especially considering the talents in front and behind the camera. It's not all bad - the film's best scenes are in the opening third which sees a genuinely terrified Johansson flung into a murky world of murder and international crime encapsulated in the chilling calm of Choi Min-sik's urbane crime lord. These scenes demonstrate why Johansson was called upon to helm the movie as she easily captivates and convinces as the unwitting drug mule. There's also a level of tension that is sorely absent from the rest of the film, giving the impression that the film could be a really good thriller. Sadly, the film comes off the rails in a manner akin to the climax of The Bridge On The River Kwai.
Once the film begins its journey into deep philosophical concepts, it suddenly becomes less of a standard Luc Besson picture (think of some underwhelming girl-with-guns movie like Colombiana or Anna) and something more. Granted, it may have a similar approach to deeper truths and the nature of humanity to The Matrix in that it's simple window-dressing to the special effects and gunfire. But I credit the film for trying to be different. Speaking of effects, Lucy has some pretty visuals and the latter stages adopt a very Matrix-style aesthetic with a distinct cyberpunk vibe. Personally, the bits I enjoyed the most were the otherworldly powers demonstrated by the increasingly powerful Lucy as she battles hopelessly inadequate goons. Seeing assassins clumsily drift up to the ceiling as Lucy calmly walks along a corridor felt indicative of what a live-action remake of Akira might look like, one we might actually see someday with any luck.
- The primate seen in the film is called Australopithecus afarensis, also known as Lucy, and represents the missing link between apes and humans. Approximately 3.2 million years old, "Lucy" was the earliest known example of a hominid walking on their hind legs. "Lucy" was discovered by Donald C. Johanson (no relation to Scarlett) in Ethiopia.
- Johansson and Asbæk were reunited on screen three years later for the 2017 live-action version of Ghost In The Shell where they spent a bit more time on screen together.
- Besson intended the film to be one part Leon: The Professional, one part Inception and one part 2001: A Space Odyssey. There are several moments in the film that reference these films such as the appearance of the prehistoric Lucy and the USB stick seen which resembles the famous black monolith from 2001.
- The film's producer, Besson's wife Virginie Besson-Silla, stated that the film's cast was intended to be as diverse as possible with the four principal characters being played by a Caucasian, an African-American, a Korean and an Egyptian.
What's Not to Like?
Even if we ignore the apparent nonsense about people only using 10% of their brains (I'm sure I've worked with some people like that over the years) which somewhat undermines the entire premise of the film, there is plenty of things that deserve a kicking in Lucy. Reducing an actor of Johansson's talents into an impassive, unflinching being is the same as hiring Sylvester Stallone to play Hamlet. It's a complete waste of her abilities that had shone through in the first part of the film. The tension for those opening scenes becomes reduced to nothing as Lucy becomes increasingly omnipotent and God-like because there's no real sense of any danger to her and we simply don't care about any other characters, unfortunately. The film doesn't deliver much in the way of action scenes compared to typical Besson productions - this is a long way behind more simplistic fare like The Transporter - and the more sci-fi flavoured side of things doesn't engage with viewers either.
As the runaway train of a narrative hurtles wildly towards the cliff face, the film mirrors that of 2001 a bit too closely by showering its audience with a mind-bending assortment of visuals, images and special effects. In fact, the film engages in quite a lot of pointless mansplaining from the off with shots of gazelles being hunted interspersed during the opening scenes to the obvious parallels between Lucy and prehistoric Lucy and the cheap imitating of Michaelangelo's The Creation Of Adam painting. It feels clumsy and beneath a film-maker like Besson to resort to cheap tricks such as these. Frankly, if it wasn't for Johansson's performance then I'd struggle to recommend the film at all - if only the film had trusted her a bit more instead of having her essentially play the world's most boring know-it-all.
Should I Watch It?
Lucy may have ideas way above its station but its clumsy execution, meaningless narrative and ham-fisted direction make the film a real chore to watch. Despite the appearance of Johansson, the film squanders the decent opening scenes and quickly descends into a pseudo-intellectual mess. It feels like an ugly casserole of other (and better) pictures blended into a flavourless smoothie, devoid of anything notable. It just isn't as enjoyable as a straight-forward shooter nor is it smart enough to engage the brain due to the stupid narrative. A massive waste of time for everyone involved.
Great For: Besson's bank balance, confusing audiences
Not So Great For: action fans, Johansson's leading lady status, neurologists, psychologists, any other kind of ...ologist
What Else Should I Watch?
For all the plaudits and attention his films have achieved over the years, Besson has had something of a chequered success rate over the course of his career. From influential thrillers like Nikita and Leon: The Professional to eccentric sci-fi operas like The Fifth Element, Besson's films have been everything from modern classics to forgettable genre efforts - especially of late. His more recent fare such as Anna and another sci-fi pet project Valerian And The City Of A Thousand Planets were middling pictures at best while frequent sequels and spin-offs are made of his earlier successes such as The Transporter and the long-running Taxi series, allowing Besson to simply count the pennies as they come in.
I didn't get the vibe from Lucy that it was a transhumanist picture - one that depicts the merging of human life with technology, although themes along these lines are present. The concept is explored in more detail in the aforementioned The Matrix as a way of explaining how and why humanity has been enslaved but you could go back even further. Matrix star Keanu Reeves even dabbled with cyberpunk back in 1995's Johnny Mnemonic although please don't take that as any sort of endorsement. Far more interesting pictures cover the subject such as the uncannily similar Limitless which sees Bradley Cooper's life improve dramatically after he is subjected to a powerful new drug, released a few years before Lucy. And if Besson is apparently considered a sequel or anime spin-off of this film, why not stick with something that is already anime? The original Akira might be a bit rough around the edges these days (and massively condenses the manga source material) but the recent live-action update of Alita: Battle Angel revived the anime's concept with cutting-edge effects and is a rare example of Hollywood getting an anime adaptation right.
© 2021 Benjamin Cox