Lucy

I'm colonizing my own brain.
★★★
☆☆☆
Released: 
2014
Director: 
Luc Besson
Starring: 
Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-Sik Choi, Amr Waked
The Setup: 
Woman gains power over matter and time due to drug.
Discussion: 

Well, it has an unusual premise, and is an unusual movie. Unusual in that it bills itself as a revenge action pic, but there is precious little action and no revenge. Our heroine ingests a bunch of drug that opens up her mind, making her invincible from 30 minutes in, while also removing any tension or suspense. She merely grows more powerful throughout the film, having lost all interest in revenge, which makes for a somewhat uninvolving, if unusual, film.

I was curious about this because it looked pretty wild, and Luc Besson almost always spells trashy fun, and some of the reviews said it was pretty batshit crazy. Unfortunately, it's not really any of these things, and it's not really that great of an action film in general, although I have to admit that the way it follows through on its premise is... kind of interesting. In a distant way.

We open in prehistoric times with an early hominid we later come to understand is Lucy, the famous scientifically-important skeleton. We seque to a quick sequence of Taiwan, to show us where humankind has come in the meantime, i.e. nowhere good. We then join our Lucy, in the form of Scarlett Johansson, a party girl with a scum boyfriend who wants her to take a briefcase into a Taiwan office. When she refuses, he handcuffs it to her arm, at which point she should have used it to bash his brains out with, but she's still demure. She goes into the building, and from now until she is transformed the movie takes a lot of time to show her pain and terror, the better to get us behind her kicking ass once she gets her powers. Or so you would think. I thought it was doing this because it was setting itself up as a female revenge exploitation picture, in the vein of Foxy Brown or I Spit On Your Grave, but not really.

So a bunch of scary guys come out and escort her upstairs, where she meets Mr. Jang, played by Min-Sik Choi of Oldboy, who is spattered in blood and standing over a dead body. It doesn't look good for Lucy, and she's terrified. This whole sequence is intercut with footage of a cheetah stalking antelope, to underline and draw yellow highlight and bold face the victimhood of Lucy's character, although now that I've seen the entire film, I suspect it was also there to pad out the already-slim running time. This section has amusingly cruel/funny touches like Lucy having to translate through a speakerphone, and having to open the briefcase while everyone else protects themselves with riot gear. Inside is an experiemental drug, and soon enough Lucy and three other people have it stitched up inside them, and are being sent off to four international locations. Mr. Jang seems to take somewhat of a perverted shine to Lucy, and gives her a drug. Next thing you know, she's in a local prison cell.

Now, why did Jang give her special treatment? And why was she thrown in a prison cell, rather than sent out to deliver the drug? Well, we'll never know, because all of it goes nowhere. One of the low-level goons kicks her in the stomach after she refuses an advance, and the drug gets released into her system. Why would this guy kick her in the stomach if she's carrying this drug that is precious to them? Same reason she's in the prison, I guess: no reason. We have earlier seen a guy go into convulsions from just a crystal of the drug, but somehow Lucy survives, and is now using 20% of her brain capacity.

What does that mean? Helpfully, we have Morgan Freeman on hand to explain. Going off the [scientifically-disproven] idea that humans only use 10% of their brains, he spells out what what could do with 20%, 30%, and so on. Lucy escapes, shooting a cab driver when he says he doesn't speak English [we later have a subtitle of him saying "My leg!" offscreen, although she clearly shot him in the head], and goes to see Mr. Jang. She does a mind-meld and gets the destinations of the other couriers. She contacts the police and Freeman, as she is now able to communicate via any electronic media at her will. She wants to meet Freeman to access his information about the brain [she read his complete work in about an hour], and she wants the police to help her get the other packets of the drug. Meanwhile, Jang and his thugs are after the rest of the drug as well. It's a race against time for Lucy to get the rest of the drug and get revenge on her evildoers!

SPOILERS > > >
Only, not really. For one, we never know why she wants the rest of the drug. Also, the whole revenge angle is forgotten, leaving the whole rest of the movie oddly listless and meandering. Another thing is that when your heroine can control matter, guys with guns aren't really all that threatening. There is precious little action from now on, as Lucy just wipes all comers aside with a wave of her hand, and she's also evolved beyond revenge, so she pretty much forgets about trying to get back at Jang or his cronies. I thought the movie was going to fill itself out with her traveling the globe to find each of the other mules, but no, they're all caught instantly. You know that part in the trailer where she's seeing all the lines of information coming out of everyone's phones? Comes to nothing. She just looks at them, doesn't even extract any information from them, then goes on a pointless car drive [not even a chase] in which many innocent drivers are presumably injured or killed. Other than that, almost no action to be had here, folks.

There is one good part, where her body starts freaking out and essentially turning to dust, including a nice insert of her trying to lock an airplane bathroom while her fingers are turning to dust. She huffs the rest of the drug she has, and her body explodes! That was cool, but it kind of goes nowhere. We have been having titles at every 10% she increases in brain capacity, but at a certain point, it stops being interesting or comprehensible. It all comes down to a showdown in Freeman's office, where Lucy sucks down all four packets of the drug, as Jang's men are trying to break in. Her body expands and eats up all Freeman's computers [although she could have taken out all their information through the Internet?], and she presents him with a USB drive we can only guess contains some pretty advanced scientific work and amazing cat photos. There is a sequence where she gains control over time, and takes a trip back to the time of the dinosaurs, sees the history of Times Square, and meets Lucy the early hominid, giving her the touch of knowledge in a specific allusion to God and Adam on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. When she hits 100% her body vanishes, she has become one with the universe, and that's it folks, hope you enjoyed it!
< < < SPOILERS END

So, while I appreciate that the movie is unusual and doesn't follow any standard form, I just wish it was more fun. Lucy is invincible immediately after she takes the drug, so there's no threat to her from that point onward. She loses interest in revenge quickly, so there's no hunting-down-the-bad-guys fun. She also speaks in a monotone with a blank look on her face for the last two-thirds, so we can't even get interest from watching Johansson and what she does with the part. There's really no plot, no goals, nothing to accomplish, so the movie just meanders until it's done. The specifics of the drug are murky [or contradictory], so there's no interest in seeing Lucy obtain the other doses. The movie doesn't stay at the human level, so there's little for us humans to get a charge out of, and it doesn't go the route of throwing crazy Matrix-esque wild matter-bending visuals, so we just watch Lucy get up to 100%--having pretty much lost track of her abilities at 30, making it impossible to want to cheer her on--and that's about it.

I guess it would have been too outwardly sadistic to see her use her powers to toy with her tormentors, although that would have supplied us with some exploitation film fun. But in the absence of anything else--and I can't believe I'm going to suggest this--maybe she could fight crime? Something that would keep things interesting to us humans? Maybe even some actual action? Even if the film had gone the way of Earth having to suddenly deal with a God among us--and that God being a female, former party girl--that would have been interesting. It ends up just being little more than an oddity, but not an interesting one.