Science Fiction has a bad reputation. When the term is used it is often associated with variously coloured humanoids flying through space in the pursuit of an inconsequential MacGuffin. When Science Fiction is at its best it is not simply about the setting of the story but rather about what the story must contain and what it must do with it. A truly great Science Fiction story will take an idea and extrapolate it to its natural, or unnatural, conclusion. While you might criticise Lucy for being silly it takes the idea at its core and runs with it. It does this at breakneck speed and without hesitation.
The idea we are asked to consider with Lucy is a familiar one. If human beings were only using 10% of their brain capacity what would happen if a drug gave them access to the full 100%? The concept of us using only 10% of our brains is not remotely true but this is cinema so we must all suspend our disbelief and move on. Anyone with a memory lasting at least three years will remember that this subject was dealt with in the thoroughly mediocre Limitless in which Bradley Cooper uses his increased brain capacity to get a nice haircut and amass a large personal fortune. In Lucy the titular character, as played by Scarlett Johansson, is in the midst of smuggling a mind-expanding drug when the packet leaks and her body is infected. With her brain capacity ratcheting up to its maximum she must evade those who implanted her with the drug and decide what to do with the immense amount of knowledge she is rapidly digesting.
For Lucy the increased real estate in her cerebral cortex is not something that should be used for financial gain. Instead infinite knowledge leaves her numbed as her emotions dull and she seeks out a way to utilise her powers for the good of mankind. While Limitless was about personal gain Lucy knows that with knowledge comes enlightenment and the need to share. With such a similar premise it is impossible not to compare Lucy with Limitless but the former certainly comes out on top. There is a huge void between the two films and it is filled with a lot of excellent set pieces and a wide scope that spans not only the globe but the history of the universe.
When we first meet Lucy she is a spunky young woman hanging out with her new boyfriend (Pilou Asbæk – Borgen/lots of Danish films you probably haven’t heard of). He tricks her into delivering a mysterious package which leads to her taking on the unpleasant role of international drug smuggler with her innards as the cargo hold. When the ruthless Mr. Jang (Min-sik Choi – Oldboy) and his suave British spokesman (Julian Rhind-Tutt – Green Wing) explain that they are willing to kill every member of her family, no matter how remote, Lucy has no choice but to comply with their plans.
Thanks to misogynistic henchmen Lucy finds herself groped and beaten up. It is this act of violence that causes the drug to leak into Lucy’s system and gradually crank up her brain capacity. As the film progresses Lucy gains more and more abilities; learning to take full control of her body, then objects around her, and finally… Maybe you should see for yourself. In trying to abuse Lucy and treat her as an object rather than a human the men instead raise her to a level where no man can compete. Indeed an endless supply of both mobsters and police struggle to so much as slow her down.
Johansson puts in another fantastic performance to add to her recent array of intriguing acting choices. No longer is she the eye-candy in the Marvel line-up or taking the dubious position of muse to Woody Allen. Scarlett Johansson is frequently in the most talked about films and putting in high level work. Here we get to see her take on two roles; that of the chirpy young women and then the highly logical and emotionally blank (almost) superhuman she becomes. By the end of the film Lucy lacks the flaws that make us human. Her every action is graceful and considered and her face no longer shows happiness, fear, or any sign of effort. Johansson’s talent is showcased as she portrays the contrast between these distinct versions of her character and does so with nuance.
While Johansson is working hard to prove herself as this year’s hardest working actor Morgan Freeman simply plays Morgan Freeman. This version of Morgan Freeman is a scientist whose early lecture helps explain the concept to us in plain English and provides Lucy with some hope and a sense of purpose towards the end. His slow speech pattern is literally (literally) the only time you have to rest in the film as everything else is turned up to 11. If you need to take a toilet break wait for Freeman to open his mouth and hurry.
The film has a ridiculous premise but has a lot to say and it does so with confidence. It takes itself very seriously and feels no need for wry asides or comic relief. In fact it feels the need for no relief at all; the film is a tight 89 minutes and doesn’t hesitate for a moment. Writer and director Luc Besson has described the film as taking the form of Besson’s own Léon: The Professional then Inception and finally 2001: A Space Odyssey. It wears the influences of each on its sleeve along with dozens of other genre classics.
More than anything Lucy is supremely entertaining. I found myself with a racing pulse and decimated nails come the final curtain as my body physically responded to the experience. You might want to dismiss Lucy as being idiotic but you’ll be missing out on one hell of a fun film.
Whether it will stand up to closer scrutiny I cannot yet say but coming out of the screening Lucy was most definitely a five-star film.
Lucy is on wide release in the UK from 22nd August 2014.