I’ve come to expect the fantastical when it comes to Luc Besson. He’s made a career out of writing and directing films with a keen eye for aesthetics and action while almost always exploring the theme of a protagonist struggling to balance their outlandish abilities against a deep sense of emotional vulnerability. He also tends to place women in the central role, eschewing the Y-chromosome dominated market for such films, and I don’t know that he gets enough credit for that (though it’s sad that one would think such a concept merits needs rewarding). Another reason I love his work so much is that you can enjoy them purely for their surface value or spend time deciphering any hidden depths but he doesn’t necessarily make you choose; it’s up to the viewer.
Case in point is his latest effort, Lucy. On the surface, it’s about an average woman (that looks like Scarlett Johansson) who finds herself forced to mule drugs for an enterprising Asian kingpin. She overdoses on the experimental product and instead of outright killing her, the drugs unlock the sections of the brain that have eluded mankind thus far. In doing so, and in short, she becomes all of the X-Men wrapped up in one person. She reaches out to an academic (that looks like God if you’ve watched any of the “Insert Name” Almighty movies) in a search to discover what she should do with all this newfound power. Action, pain, beauty, and a thumping electronic score ensue.
Underneath all of this is Besson examining what it is that makes us human, what separates us from the animal kingdom … and what it is that we could become (utilizing some gorgeous and well-integrated wildlife footage along the way). Rather than await the slow crawl of evolution, the film jumpstarts the heroine through the process (if you find the pun it was semi-intentional). As Lucy’s abilities develop, she can do more and more amazing things and the film blends its science fiction in with the action rather seamlessly. Whether you want to chew on what Besson is saying about humanity or ruminate on the subject yourself once the film ends is entirely up to you … as it should be.
For me, I fall into both camps. The film hooks the audience into the story right from the start and with an extremely lean 90-minute runtime, Besson didn’t waste time on needless exposition. Lucy (the film and the character) is both literally and figuratively all about movement. Move or die. Adapt or die. Evolve or … well, you’ll just need to watch and find out.
Choosing Johansson as the main character wasn’t what interested me when I heard about the movie. I showed up because it’s Luc Besson, and if nothing else, his films are interesting. Even his bad ones have moments of cinematic insanity and flair worth seeing. However, it became apparent early on that Johansson was the perfect choice for the role. I don’t particularly mean this to sound so harsh but she’s a rather bland actress. Her best roles involve silent introspection, acting in an almost cold, callous manner, and looking pretty. Here, once the drugs kick in, the need to be clinical and rational outweighs the tendency to be emotional and irrational. This plays into Johansson’s wheelhouse and helped me forget she’s been playing Black Widow in the Marvel movies (though I blame many, many people for how that character has played out on screen thus far).
Considering how short the movie is, that’s really all I’m going to put out there about Lucy. While I’m sure many will disagree with me, if I had to pick a sci-fi action film this year, this would be it. I was completely engrossed in the concept and knowing that Besson was at the helm, the movie had limitless potential and went to further extremes than a safe Hollywood affair would go (i.e. the film actually titled Limitless). Fans of his work will certainly want to check this out and if you’ve somehow avoided his canon thus far, maybe this will be the impetus to discover a diverse and fascinating catalog of movies. Either way, this is finally a summer popcorn film I can get behind this year. Sadly it’s late July already, but better late than never I suppose.
Lucy is rated R for strong violence, disturbing images, and sexuality.
– Reviewed by Ian Forbes
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