Review: Lucy (2014)

lucy

Well, I guess I should be grateful that it was all in focus and the film itself was mercifully short. Aside from that, LUCY, Luc Besson’s latest attempt to return to his 1990s form fails in spectacular fashion.

Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is traveling the world. She’s a free spirit, but is entirely too trusting of seemingly like-minded individuals. While in Taipei she is tricked into taking a locked briefcase to a hotel suite where she is taken prisoner and the suitcase’s contents of experimental narcotics forcibly implanted in her stomach. Whilst in holding awaiting her lethal cargo’s transportation, she is brutally beaten and the drugs enter her bloodstream. As the chemicals cause her to transcend the laws of nature and physics, Lucy seeks revenge on those responsible for her abuse and particularly their leader (Choi Min-sik) and sets out to meet the only man who has any comprehension about what is happening to her (Morgan Freeman).

Lucy uses a well-worn fallacy of a concept as its starting point. Humans, we are so often told, only ever use 10% of our mental capacity. Only we don’t. We use about that much at any given moment, but it depends on how strenuous the task being undertaken, the person, what’s going on in your environment and many other factors. Basically it’s a lie, and the film builds on this fundamental misunderstanding of the brain to create something completely and utterly nonsensical.

I don’t hate stupid movies. A dumb, or undemanding film can provide a bit of light relief, some incredibly enjoyable escapism from the dreariness of your day-to-day. What I do object very strongly to is an unintelligent film masquerading as something clever, trying to sell itself as something intellectual. If the themes of survival, natural selection, mutation and so on were in the background, in the film’s subtext, fine. But Besson for some reason thought it was a bright idea to cut to stock footage of animals hunting their prey as Lucy is taken against her will to bludgeon his point into our skulls.

I object to the fact that Lucy isn’t a character, but a plot device, and she doesn’t even seem to realise it. She’s a victim first, then an instrument of revenge and a facilitator of action when she gains her powers. I’m sick to death of the threat of sexual violation being used as an excuse for spectacle. Yes, Lucy should fight back against her captors, no we should not be cheering for how being kidnapped, beaten and turned into a human smuggling receptacle inadvertently turns her into a superhero. Scarlett Johansson makes the best she can of such weak material, but she is better than this. Choi Min-sik is certainly better than this, but is clearly pining to break through in West. I’d say Morgan Freeman was better than this material too, but he’s not really anymore. He hasn’t been for years. Now he just turns up in things to read the story aloud to viewers who aren’t paying attention.

Luc Besson’s screenplays have rarely portrayed other cultures, or even his own, in a positive light. By writing films that cling to stereotypes for the sake of plot – Albanian human traffickers in TAKEN/TAKEN 2, Pakistani terrorists in FROM PARIS WITH LOVE Italian-American gangsters and rural French idiots in THE FAMILY and now Taiwanese drug smugglers in Lucy – he just come across as a xenophobic, self-hating Frenchman. While you might it’s all in good fun, or not meant to be taken all that seriously, it’s alarming how often Besson plays these representations completely straight-faced. Even if they are used in jest, a filmmaker employing stereotypes in their stories does still convey a meaning, it still has an impact on the viewer and their perception of the world.

Even the action isn’t all that good. There’s a bombastic car chase towards the end, but most of the time Lucy just uses telekinesis to throw her opponents around because no one could be bothered with fight choreography. As Lucy’s powers become more godlike, the visuals only become more music video-y. Super slow motion and playing around with light refraction was executed much more beautifully (and considerably cheaper) two years ago in DREDD. Plus, in Dredd, by painstakingly developing the relevant technology in the real world, they didn’t have to do all the hard work in post-production by slapping lurid special effects over everything caught in-camera. The effects-driven finale of the film is probably trying to say something, but I’ll be damned if I know what.

Of all the films released in 2014, Lucy didn’t make me quite as angry as THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2, but it determinedly continues the formally very talented Monsieur Besson’s downward spiral. Lucy might have worked better as an all-out trash fest and ditched its woefully misplaced intellectual aspirations. SSP

About Sam Sewell-Peterson

I'm not paid to write about film - I do it because I love it. Favourites include Sam Mendes, Guillermo del Toro, Bong Joon-ho, Steven Spielberg, Danny Boyle, Spike Jonze, Rian Johnson and the Coen Brothers. All reviews and articles are original works owned by me. They represent one man's opinion, and I'm more than happy to engage in civilised debate if you disagree.
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