There’s something to be said for a film that, in spite of all its obvious stupidities and leaps in logic, can still be a lot of damn fun. Luc Besson’s latest, Lucy, is one such film, an action-thriller that embraces its ridiculous nature and moves at a break neck pace so that you either don’t notice the chinks in the armour or are having too much of a good time to care.
Scarlett Johansson plays the eponymous Lucy, an ordinary woman who finds herself caught up in a dangerous deal, involving a new synthetic drug. Her captors, headed by a Korean gangster (played by Oldboy star Choi Min-sik), force an operation on her where they seal a bag of the mysterious substance inside of her abdomen. But during transport the bag bursts and the substance enters her bloodstream, exponentially increasing her brain’s capacity from the usual 10% which gives her ever-increasing abilities, providing her with the opportunity to get back at her captors.
Besson has, shall we say, not always been the most emotionally deep of directors, often choosing style over substance. This means most of his movies leave your mind the minute you’ve finished watching them. And while Lucy falls more into that category than it does Leon (easily Besson’s best and most mature work), there’s a verve and enjoyable tongue-in-cheek nature to it that makes it one of the director’s best films in ages.
The central concept here is not a unique one, the idea of the capacity for human intelligence and its clash – or rather, merge – with medical and technology advancement having been explored many times before, whether it’s the perils of inventive artificial intelligence in the likes of I, Robot, A.I. and 2001: A Space Odyssey or something more grounded in modern reality like Limitless. The tagline for Lucy – “the average person uses 10% of their brain capacity. Imagine what she could do with 100%,”- immediately calls to mind that Bradley Cooper thriller. Even as recently as this year, Christopher Nolan’s collaborative cinematographer Wally Pfister made his directorial debut with the ambitious, but hugely disappointing Transcendence, which saw Johnny Depp’s forward-thinking scientist have his subconscious uploaded to a computer.
Lucy is like the film that the po-faced Transcendence should have been, treating its ridiculous premise with the sort of over-the-top, throw everything at the wall and see what sticks approach it requires. It’s therefore messy and sometimes feels like a kid hopped up on sugar, as well as getting a little too caught up in its own information about the possibilities of human intelligence as relayed by Morgan Freeman’s professor character. But it’s held together by the inimitable Johansson, who proves herself a great action heroine outside playing Black Widow in the Marvel movies. She’s obviously having a lot of fun with the lead role, putting in a committed and charming performance always with a glint in her eye.
Part stylised assassin revenge flick, part flashy science lesson, Lucy is an enjoyably bonkers and visually arresting film. It’s ultimately nonsense-spouting mumbo-jumbo but, unlike many of Besson’s 21st century action flicks, you feel like there’s a wry smile behind the ludicrousness. Whether it turns into a new action franchise for Besson (ala Taken) or remains a single shot of energetic absurdity, there’s something pleasing about the fact that this sort of preposterous action film can be made and, hopefully, embraced. It’s not going to win any Oscars, for sure, but it’s one of the year’s most throw your hands up in the air, just go with it fun movie-going experiences.
This review was previously published on Scotcampus.