Like Limitless before it and even Transcendence to an extent, Lucy is all about a regular human being who’s granted access to more than the 10% of the brain capacity most people utilize. But while Bradley Cooper’s Eddie Morra chose to use the NTZ-48 to expand his mind and Johnny Depp’s Will Caster chose to upload his mind to a computer, Scarlett Johansson’s main character is a victim of circumstance and, well, bad taste in men: when her boyfriend forces her to deliver a suitcase to a Mr. Jang, Lucy is kidnapped and used as a mule for synthetic drug CPH4, only to become quite unique when the package ruptures inside her. When the blue powder gets in her system, Lucy is rapidly granted access to more and more of her brain capacity, with which come the interesting powers she needs to stay alive.
Interestingly Lucy‘s Korean gangsters don’t pose much as threat to the film’s main character, it’s her body that does. Because of the CPH4 Lucy realizes early on that her cells will give out sooner than later, which makes her journey a very compelling one: Lucy is about the mind’s ultimate victory over the body, about the act of passing on knowledge in a world where everyone’s lifespan is limited. Because of this struggle, Luc Besson’s latest directorial effort really sets itself apart as a film that has some very big and compelling ideas, even when the execution of these ideas is still very much built around shoot-outs, car chases and some very visually stunning special effects work and cinematography. But even despite its action film staples, Besson has added gorgeous and meaningful wildlife footage to the picture, which, on an emotional and symbolic level, really adds to the movie’s ideas of evolution and the notion of the triviality of a single life in the grand scheme of things. It’s this dimension of Lucy that is hugely impactful and, at times, simply breathtaking, and that’s why Lucy‘s ideas will stick with you long after you’ve seen the film.
Another element of the movie that will stick with you is Lucy herself. Scarlett Johansson makes you feel for a character that’s at first naive, vulnerable and scared, but evolves into an entire different person. With the expansion of her mind, Lucy becomes less human as time goes by and she starts thinking on a whole other level and scale than her old self did and most people do. But even despite her change of character, Lucy remains a relatable and mesmerizing character, because Johansson also imbues her with a sense of wonder. While she grows colder with her growing cerebral attitude, the actress still conveys both the excitement that goes along with the exploration of what’s in many ways a new world, and the overwhelmingness of all the universe’s secrets she’s suddenly able to uncover. In one of the film’s most gripping scenes Lucy calls her mother, because she needs to tell someone about what is happening to her, about all that she’s now able to remember, understand and sense. It’s a heart-wrenching scene that perfectly captures everything that makes us human, and all that makes Lucy’s character arc such a moving one. Johansson’s acting here is simply stellar and Besson’s writing for this new addition to his pantheon of strong female characters hauntingly effective.
Besson’s direction additionally always keeps the film moving at a rapid pace, but he also knows when to dial it back to let the more emotional scenes of Lucy breathe. Apart from the film’s central ideas and its main characters, the movie isn’t all that successful though when it comes to its story and characters. The plot about the men chasing Lucy is absolutely functional, but it fails to keep you on the edge of your seat because Lucy’s struggle with her own body is much more interesting and compelling. The final few shoot-outs also fail to be thrilling or inspired, and are more of a distraction from Lucy’s arc than an addition to it. The most glaring mistake though, is the film’s ending: after a film that was all about the titular character, the final shot focuses on an insignificant secondary character before the screen suddenly cuts to black and the credits roll. It’s a shot that carries no weight, has no significance, isn’t powerful, and it leaves you sitting in your seat unfulfilled.
Lucy is a gorgeous film with some very big ideas and a powerful central performance by Scarlett Johansson. Not everything about Lucy works, but what does works beautifully. 8/10