John Villarose VI
Each genre comes with its own set of standards to judge films by. For instance, action films are judged by the thrill and intensity of their inevitable chases and shootouts, while science fiction films are judged by the inventiveness, as well as the believability, of its science. “Lucy” doesn’t necessarily fulfill all the requirements of either genre; instead, it gives the viewer something more.
Scarlett Johansson stars as the titular character Lucy, an average woman who, after unwillingly taking an experimental drug, CPH4, begins to develop superhuman intelligence to the point that allow her to perform extraordinary feats. This leads to her being chased by the Korean mob, who wants both the drug and revenge against Lucy. Does this sound familiar? It might, because the concept almost exactly replicates Neil Burger’s 2011 thriller “Limitless”, to the point where some elements all but seem directly borrowed. Fortunately, despite not having an entirely original concept, “Lucy” takes the idea to new, bizarre heights.
One of the biggest issues going into “Lucy” is the very idea it’s founded on. The entire film is based upon the idea that humans use 10 percent of their brain capacity, implying that unbelievable things might be possible if 100 percent was possible. However, anyone versed in science knows that this idea is a myth, proven incorrect time and time again. One might wonder how a science fiction film based entirely around a false concept could still excite the mind. This is a difficult question to answer. While viewers may find it near-impossible to go along with the ridiculous ideas presented, “Lucy” is not the first pseudo-science film, and it certainly won’t be the last. Viewers are likely to find that the fluent way the ideas are explored may overshadow any initial hesitation at the science.
“Lucy” is written and directed by French director Luc Besson, acclaimed for 90’s cult classics The Fifth Element and Léon: The Professional. More recently, he’s been notable for his work producing and screenwriting the Taken series. Besson has experience and talent in both genres, and is seen as something of an expert of action film. This is apparent in Lucy, which, after an appropriately slow start, builds pace and holds it consistently throughout the film.
Still, one might question why the action of this film is necessary. The idea of one’s mind expanding beyond metaphysical limits is an intriguing one, so the fact that it comes from something as simple as a drug is unfitting by the end. As the film progresses, the mob-based action will ultimately become unimportant in comparison to Lucy’s surreal abilities.
As the centerpiece of the film, Lucy herself is something of a spectacle. This is largely due to the masterful portrayal by lead actress Scarlett Johansson, known largely for her recent critically acclaimed independent films “Under the Skin” and “Don Jon”, as well as her portrayal of fan favorite character Black Widow in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What she does here is almost difficult to comprehend. While her character Lucy is, at first, nothing particularly special or interesting, it’s incredible how quickly Johansson’s portrayal changes upon intake of the CPH4. Whereas the old Lucy was relatable as a typical woman and student, the new Lucy feels alien. She becomes almost emotionless, much to her own distress, which leads to some surprisingly touching moments as she attempts to maintain her humanity. This is reflected in her motivations, which at first are simple but quickly become unclear. She seems to have a desire to help those who lack her intelligence, while at the same time, she has no issue with disposing of many, many lives while trying to achieve her own goals. The result is a character the audience can’t decide whether or not to have empathy for. This makes for an enthralling protagonist, and Johansson handles it beautifully.
Setting the story aside for a moment, it’s important to note what an achievement “Lucy” is from a strictly observational standpoint. The film is nearly guaranteed to get at least a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects this year. It’s a visual masterpiece which shows more than most what feats the film industry has become capable of. Like “Life of Pi” and “Gravity” before it, the CGI in “Lucy” is so startlingly well done that viewers typically can’t distinguish it from reality. These incredible visuals are matched with an equally incredible score from composer Éric Serra, who worked with Lesson on both “The Fifth Element” and “Léon”. While Serra’s scores are always great, “Lucy” very well may be his best work.
“Lucy” is founded on fairly significant flaws. The very ideas it’s based upon are farces, which may make it difficult for some to take the film seriously. It clings to a mob-based storyline that simply doesn’t fit with the philosophical ideas presented. Yet the overall experience of “Lucy” (and yes, this film can only be described as an experience), is one so enthralling and enjoyable that it seems impossible not to recommend.