IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 89 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Lucy is a young woman both studying and partying in Taiwan. Her boyfriend handcuffs a suitcase to her so she has to deliver it to his boss, a drug lord named Mr. Jang, where she is kidnapped and wakes up to find that a bag of a highly valuable synthetic drug called CPH4 has been sewn into her abdomen. She and three other drug mules have to transport the drug for sales in Europe. When one of her captors kicks her in the stomach, he breaks the bag and releases a large quantity of the drug into her system. As a result, she suddenly acquires increasingly powerful and enhanced physical and mental capabilities…..
With middling fare like The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adele Blanc-Sec and The Family, Luc Besson has gone seriously downhill since the glory days of films like Leon and La Femme Nikita, and seems to spend more time churning out scripts for many of the films [i.e. the Taken and Transporter franchises] emitting from Europa-Corp, the company he had a hand in setting up, and whose existence really irritated many French film critics with its unashamedly commercial intentions. Lucy is a considerable box office success, proving that ‘R’ rated action movies can still sometimes do well [Sylvester Stallone must be kicking himself now, realising I’m sure that making The Expendables 3 a ‘PG-13’ has actually hurt its box office performance] and it’s good to see a film from someone who used to be one of my favourite French filmmakers up there again making money. So is it a true return to form or a load of rubbish which again makes me act all ‘superior’ and question the sanity of the film-going public? The reviews have generally been quite poor.
Well, perhaps true to form, I’m going to admit I really enjoyed Lucy. The extremely silly science-fiction/action film, which you could almost call a combination of Salt and Limitless, is undoubtedly ridiculous, and gets more and more ridiculous as it goes on, but nobody ever seems to criticise the latest Marvel extravaganza for being unbelievable and silly and full of bad science, even though it always is. I suppose Lucy’s supposed stupidity is partly because it’s based on, and claims is fact, a scientific theory which many have said is actually false, but did you know that Besson himself has actually admitted that the idea that human beings only use 10% of their brain could be nonsense but is a good basis for a movie? I deliberately mentioned Marvel in relation to Lucy because in some ways Besson’s film is a superhero origin tale [perhaps one reason for its commercial success], just a rather crazy one that gets more and more fantastical as it goes on. The title character even reminded me greatly of Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen. It’s a wild, often inventive romp that also, if you’re so inclined, offers some food for thought.
The first shots after the titles are of a prehistoric ape-man and speeded up footage of Taiwan in what is quite a disorientating opening. In fact, Lucy is a little disorientating for quite a while as it throws us into its story immediately and then decides to cut in the occasional shots of animals to parallel the main action. We haven’t really got to know Lucy at all before she’s forcibly turned into a drug mule in some scenes which have a welcome nasty edge to them [one guy is shot infront of Lucy and she gets covered in his blood], but the film has a really fast pace right from the offset even when it starts to cut from the main story to….well it’s Morgan Freeman playing Morgan Freeman, so I’ll just call him Morgan rather than then his character name….Morgan as a lecturer talking about all this brain nonsense as we are fed loads of footage of stuff including lots of animals humping. Besson sure puts a lot of stock footage into his film, but I suppose it’s all just about relevant to the Big Themes which his film touches upon. The CGI fireworks begin when Lucy assimilates CPH4 and we see it flooding through her body as she’s literally climbing the walls. Her new powers include telepathy, telekinesis, super strength and an inability to feel pain, but whereas initially she’s using 20% of her brain [as opposed to 10], she’s soon using 30% and gaining more and more amazing abilities as well as starting to lose control.
There are a few action scenes as she takes out various gangsters, plus one great scene of comic absurdity with just the right amounts of black humour and pathos added where she walks into where some doctors are doing an operation, demands they remove the drug bag from inside her, shoots the patient but then says she was going to die anyway, then talks to her mum on the phone while she’s being operated on with no anaesthetic. Then the proceedings get rather ‘out there’ as Besson seems to be channelling The Tree Of Life [and maybe 2001: A Space Odyssey and Altered States] when Lucy finds she can time-travel. It’s proved far too ‘out there’ for many, but I praise Besson for going much further with his premise than most filmmakers would do [just think how, well, limited Limitless was in this respect]. What he’s trying to say about things like our place in the universe, or what our humanity implies, wasn’t entirely clear to this critic, and he likes to be fed some philosophical stuff in movies sometimes, but the film may be suggesting that, maybe, our humanity is what is holding us back from true progress, and not many films dare to say something like that. I’m not saying that Lucy is a really intellectual piece, but it can certainly make you think about certain things even if it’s still best taken as a ‘way out’ fantasy as well as, perhaps, an odd sort of prequel to a certain film released much earlier this year!
Action-wise the best scene is a thrilling car chase through Paris which is full of practical stunts and is superbly shot with lots of great angles [why don’t more scenes like this film from the driver’s point of view or from the back of the vehicle?] without resorting to the incoherent one-second edit/shakycam crap that is plaguing modern action cinema [The Expendables 3 being a good current example], and we even get to see some police cars come to a sticky end, something not much seen any more on the big screen. Lucy both benefits and suffers from its brief running time. It’s a really tight film with no fat, and yet we never really feel we know Lucy, nor get emotionally involved in her plight. There are a few brief moments which are touching, but the film could have done with a few more of them. Scarlett Johansson is often left to her own devices to show some vulnerability and she does sometimes succeed in doing this in a really fine performance even if it’s almost drowned in the pyrotechnics. The film does perhaps increasingly rely too much on CGI,but there are still some visually striking moments and one quite horrific one on a plane where it seems like Lucy is turning into some strange being.
The pulsating, often techno-ish score by Besson’s old collaborator Eric Serra helps drives the film along as well as saying that you’re not meant to take it too seriously. I have a feeling that more people would be more receptive to Lucy’s creativity and deeper aspects if the whole thing was slow and serious and not actually that entertaining. Then again, Besson doesn’t really succeed in juggling the disparate elements of his film, which could possibly have done with a bit of work on the writing side. It’s still a surprisingly fresh and bold exercise to find doing well in our multiplexes. Besson is back, just about. And it’s both far more entertaining and, yes, more thought-provoking, than the other recent movie where Scarlett Johansson kills lots and lots of men.