I recently discovered that one of my guest writers – the talented Link Hall – loved the Luc Besson movie ‘Lucy’.
I didn’t. I really, really didn’t.
So, for your perusal, I present Link’s calm, measured analysis of Scarlett Johansson’s starring role – and my brutal dissection of a steaming pile of disappointment.
‘Lucy’ review – Link Hall
As I paid for my Ben & Jerry’s, the multiplex popcorn guy asked what I was going to see, and baulked when I told him ‘Lucy’. He confessed he hadn’t seen it, but dismissed it as a clone of Limitless, in which Bradley Cooper stars as a struggling writer whose life reboots after he ingests a brain-altering drug.
Bit of a brainless assumption, I thought. After all, there are plenty of films exploring cerebral enhancement – including Gerald Di Pego’s Phenomenon and Stephen King’s The Lawnmower Man – which have little in common aside from the theme of transformation.
The suggested overlap between Lucy and Limitless indeed proved unfair. True, Scarlett Johansson’s eponymous heroine starts out ¬with forehead stamped ‘FAILURE’ – a massive onscreen ‘1%’ indicates the percentage of brainpower she currently enjoys, and wildlife footage of a cheetah-fleeing gazelle underscores her vulnerability and myopia. And yes, her metamorphosis comes about through a chance encounter with a ‘street drug’. But while Limitless’s protagonist pursues self-advancement in the world of business and politics, Lucy’s scope is not nearly so …. well, limited. In her, we see en entity detaching from the human concerns of society and ego, and becoming increasingly engaged with pure knowledge, experience and possibility. We’re also treated to some arresting physical mutations, evocative of Greg Bear’s sci-fi classic ‘Blood Music’, as purpose is rewritten at a cellular level.
As Keanu Reeves illustrates relentlessly, cartoon-pretty faces often strain to project convincing depth or range. But Scarlett Johansson shifts seamlessly from obtuse to otherworldly, touching on the disconnection of her Scotland-roaming alien in Under the Skin. Meanwhile, in his second role this year as a quasi-TED Talks commentator on accelerated intelligence – the first being ‘Transcendence’ – snowy Morgan Freeman guides the audience with speculation on what to expect as the percentages rise. The volume of this exposition is questionable — it’s generally clear enough what’s taking place – as is its scientific grounding. But set against Johansson’s inevitable progressive emotional flatness and fragmenting personal boundaries, Freeman provides an elegant counterpoint: emotionally connected without veering into mawkish celebrations of human frailty, and cautious without descending into Michael Crichton-esque fear-mongering on the dangers of brave new worlds.
Which is what turned me on about this film. So much science fiction scrapes the well-worn groove of ‘change = bad’. There were murmurs of it in the aforementioned Transcendence – though thankfully, the message was subverted. But a thick streak of this stick-with-what-ya-know sentiment runs implicitly through the genre, even in the classics. A particularly nauseating example of this homeostasis worship appears in the dismal coda of H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds, where the martians were said to be ‘slain, after all man’s devices had failed, by the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth’. Yep, the incalculable terror, pain and death generated across the globe by viruses was apparently a masterstroke of philanthropy in disguise. But this clunky transubstantiation of self-interested predator into blessing sits unselfconsciously alongside other works lauding our imperfections and defending our irrationality.
With Lucy, we leave behind these parochial cultural affirmations and injunctions. With its various depictions of human pursuits – ranging from the petty to the profound – its frequent allusions to other species, and, eventually, sequences that span the extremities of time and space, Lucy invites its viewers to reassess their own position on every scale. While there’s nothing wrong with the passive roller-coaster pleasure of a decent action flick, one that stimulates broader reflection is a welcome delight.
‘Lucy’ review – Andy Hemphill
Lucy suckered me in. If you watch the trailer below, you would be forgiven for thinking the movie was something along the lines of the Bourne trilogy – an intelligent thriller with an interesting premise and its tongue lodged firmly in its cheek.
However, this trailer is a lie.
Luc Besson’s Lucy is little more than an arthouse movie masquerading as a mainstream title, which is so self-indulgent it practically disappeared up its own arse after thirty minutes, and remained so for the rest of its short 90-minute runtime.
That said, if I’d of had to sit through any more of the pointless drivel Besson was throwing at me, I may well have had to go next door to watch Guardians of the Galaxy instead. I honestly felt I’d been cheated out of my £9 ticket by the end of the rip-roaring and utterly confusing adventure.
Lucy – a ditzy, innocent party girl (Scarlett Johansson) – gets herself caught up in some seriously bad stuff. She quickly finds herself acting as an unwilling drug mule for a gang of ruthless, hilariously generic Asian gangsters (Tarantino would be proud), with a bag of blue gunk in her guts.
It’s a brutal, scene-setting opening, and while I could look past the generically evil antics of the drug lord initially, when Besson rolled out the astonishingly stereotypical English right-hand-man, I admit I started to scoff. En route to the airport, the bag in Lucy’s guts splits open, and she finds that as opposed to the 1% of her brain she was using before (a fact reinforced by breaking the flow with massive numbers blasted on to the screen, and intermittent shots of animals hunting in Africa… because Besson loves making an obvious point in an obvious manner), she can now use more and more of her brain’s true potential – and her freakishly unspecific powers. And the percentage is rising fast.
It’s at this point that Besson decides to throw his toys out of the pram and just go nuts. Lucy’s undefined powers quickly have her learning everything humanity has ever known, then beating the snot out of everyone in some stupidly choreographed fight scenes that seemed more a tribute to badly dubbed Manga than any serious movie.
Morgan Freeman wanders in now and then to try and explain what the hell is going on, but despite the (really very long) exposition scenes, Besson doesn’t define the true extent of Lucy’s powers – and therefore when she starts doing some of the really crazy stuff, the audience has simply gone dead to it all. There’s a French cop too (Amr Waked), but he’s mostly there to get himself and his fellow officers shot to ribbons by the generic Asian gangsters – after driving past about 40 of them, who were all loading weapons, bold as brass, in the middle of the street.
I would usually stop here because of spoilers – consider yourself warned – but the final act of the movie was so ridiculous that it’s worth sharing in full.
Now at almost 100% of her brain’s capacity, Lucy can do practically anything. She’s left searching for purpose as a being of immense energy, and some genuinely intriguing questions are raised. Of course, you don’t have time to think of that because of the badly edited firefight going on outside the room she’s in, giving the movie a strange, unsettling duality which ruins what promise it once had.
By the end of the short movie – thank goodness – Lucy can apparently manipulate space and time, and she Dr Whos it around the screen, jumping about like Sam Beckett from Quantum Leap – and leaving me utterly incredulous.
She then turns into an amorphous blob.
Perhaps, unlike my learned friend Link above, I missed the point of Lucy. Perhaps my mind is too narrow to truly understand what Besson was trying to tell me. Perhaps I wasn’t looking hard enough.
All I know is, Lucy left me cold, angry, out of pocket and disappointed at the waste of a good story sadly squashed by arthouse tropes, bad writing, awful continuity errors, nonsensical fight scenes, wandering documentary rushes and a plot so far up its own behind it’s giving every audience member a colonoscopy.
What did you think of Lucy? Leave a comment.