Lucy (2014), sci-fi action. Starring Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Choi Min-sik (Oldboy). Written and directed by Luc Besson.
Holy shit, right? Besson is directing something with an action woman that looks cool for the first time since, what, The Fifth Element? And the premise is slick, too: a woman who unlocks psychic powers after being forced to take to some kind of crazy drug, and them embarks on a mission to do something... important. Does she have to get the drugs out? Not die? Rain revenge all over someone? The commercials weren't all that clear, but hey, this is Besson! Léon! Nikita!
Sounds just a little too good to be true.
The movie begins promisingly enough. The eponymous Lucy (Johansson) finds herself chained to a strange briefcase and carried away by silent, surly Korean mobsters, led by Mr. Jang (Choi). Turns out she was a drug mule, and a bag of this weird blue powder ("CPH4") has now been sown into her gut. She's supposed to carry it into Europe, right up until one of her captors kicks her in the stomach and the bag begins leaking. This footage is spliced together with shots of Professor Norman (Freeman) giving a hokey neurobiology lecture, pontificating on his magnum opus, a theory about what might happen if we were able to use more than 10% of our brain.
You can probably see where this is going, and after you resign yourself to the blatant pseudoscience, you strap yourself in for some action-packed action and shit. And you aren't disappointed. Lucy kicks ass and takes names, with the calm, collected badassery of someone on a higher plane. First it's heightened physical capabilities and mental acuity. Then she's translating languages, bantering with surgeons, watching the life force flow through trees, and controlling electric fields with a disinterested, spaced-out look in her eye. Besson's 2014 action girl is stacking up nicely. (Gonna spoil the ending over the course of the next two paragraphs, by the way.)
But then the second act of the movie gives Lucy cryptic motives and some increasingly unsatisfying action scenes. Yeah, okay, the telepathy, telekinesis and mind control were pretty cool, but as the brain counter ticks up to 60%, it starts to get a bit bland. By the time we get to the car chase, Lucy is an unrelatable superwoman on a super mission to get the rest of the superdrug out of the hands of the now super-angry mob boss and presumably into her super-bloodstream. We also get a little preachy about the purpose of life and the nature of the universe and it's making the pseudoscience we dug out of the early 20th century really start to reek.
Then the climax rolls around. Professor Norman rounds up the world's top neuroscientists for an audience with Lucy, who proceeds to enlighten them about the universe, before dosing with the rest of the CPH4 and metamorphosing into a pulsating red and black computer, in what Besson himself has described as "basically 2001: A Space Odyssey." (I'm paraphrasing a bit.) Meanwhile, the French police are duking it out with the Korean gangsters, trying to hold them off as Lucy starts (mentally? physically? spiritually?) skipping backwards through time, stopping to say hi to early 1900s Times Square, a dinosaur, and Lucy the CG Australopithecus afarensis. Finally, she hits 100% and exits her chrysalis as a space-coloured USB drive, her superhuman knowledge passed on to humanity. Credits roll.
My mother spent the car ride home from the theatre complaining about how she was expecting another Fifth Element, a little more humour and a little less obvious bullshit than what we just saw. Dad expressed his concerns that maybe old age wasn't treating Besson so well.
Luc Besson has said this a very visual movie that's supposed to feel like it's Léon: The Professional becomes Inception becomes 2001. It felt more to me like a Limitless that kept hogging the blunt, before getting kicked out towards the middle and going on its own damn adventure, with blackjack and hookers. I say it's taking itself too seriously, but that much was obvious 20 minutes into the film. This is beyond that.
I won't lie, I found the visual effects appealing, and the choices that Lucy made on her quest for omnipotence really got me thinking about how I'd've written a character like that. So I guess I liked the movie in the sense that it dazzled and inspired me. But was it good per se? Any answer in the affirmative would be driven mostly by the stunning visuals, because everything else started out good and took a bit of a dive partway through. (Except for the acting, especially Johansson and Choi.)
I'm inclined to think it all sounded better in Besson's head.
How well did everyone else receive Lucy? Rotten Tomatoes critics gave the movie a 66%. The audience reviews average 48%. The trailers were praised when they came out, but deemed not very representative of the movie when it came out. It grossed $270M at the box office, on a budget of $40M.