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Movie Review: Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’

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Ever since the first trailer for Luc Besson’s most recent creation, Lucy, was released, there’ s been a catchphrase floating around all the trailers and reviews of the movie: the idea that we only use ten percent of our cerebral capacity. This seems like a good place to start critiquing everything that’s wrong with Lucy (which is just about…everything), because it exemplifies most of what’s wrong with this movie, so let’s cut to the chase:

We don’t use ten percent of our cerebral capacity; we use almost all of it.

Nevertheless, the catchphrase that “we use only ten percent of our brain” has been all over the place, and it’s kind of easy to see why. Not only does it at a first, very cursory glance, seem intriguing, but it’s also where the premise of the movie comes from: Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) accidentally overdoses on a new drug which allows her to access more than ten percent of her cerebral capacity, which pretty much gives her superpowers and allows her to do lots of exciting things that probably made sense in Besson’s head.

It’s also complete nonsense. That is, it’s about as believable as the transporters in Star Trek – or, more concretely, about as likely as a transporter splitting a person into their good and evil halves. It’s pretty much a fairytale unicorns-and-rainbows kind of thing.

The distinction, though, between Lucy and something like “The Enemy Within” (in my opinion, one of Star Trek’s best episodes) is that, while Star Trek, for example, uses a scientifically inaccurate premise to set up a story that is, from then on, believable and a meaningful commentary on the human condition, Lucy starts with a scientifically inaccurate premise and then continues to pile up the scientific fallacies at a rate of about one per minute while attempting to rest any claims it makes about the human condition on these fallacies themselves.

That’s the whole problem with Lucy: it would’ve worked perfectly as a silly science fiction movie that doesn’t take itself seriously, beginning with a very unlikely premise and then going on a fun roller coaster ride: Scarlett Johansson stars in this action movie where, having undergone a transformation and acquired superpowers, she takes out the bad guys, gets her revenge, saves humanity, and gets the girl. Or something. In fact, that’s the movie I walked in expecting to see.

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Instead, we get a movie that takes itself way too seriously, attempting to tackle the question of the meaning of human existence in about an hour and a half. The aforementioned premise about human cerebral capacity (and the magic powers we’ll acquire if we access more of our brain) is expounded upon at length by Morgan Freeman’s character, whose presence Besson attempts to use in order to imbue his incorrect, inaccurate, New Age hocus pocus with believability. Freeman, who plays a scientist, spends much of the movie giving a speech about human cerebral capacity, evolutionary biology, and human potential, which is intercut with both Lucy’s journey from hard-partying exchange student to superwoman, and with documentary shots of wildlife, all presented in a stylized, special-effects-heavy style that is Besson’s trademark. The result, of course, is that this pile of unscientific claptrap is heavily and constantly interwoven with Lucy’s journey (and, arguably, evolution) and highlighted by Besson’s unique style – which means that it’s the unscientific hocus pocus that Besson grounds his story in and relies on to answer the big questions he poses.

And yes, the big question Besson tackles is actually, really, seriously, and completely unironically the meaning of Life, the Universe, and Everything. At the very beginning of the film, a voiceover by Johansson says “We were given life one billion years ago. What have we done with it?” The camera, which had been showing deer grazing in the pristine wilderness, then pans over the hill as Johansson poses the question to look down upon a busy, crowded city, its traffic sped up and its lights glaring. In a quick, stylized, and yet poignant shot, Besson manages to nail the idea of human progress, giving one just the tiny bit of hope that maybe this movie is going somewhere – that is, until one realizes that it hasn’t even been a minute and the scientific fallacies have started up already.

To nitpick, life emerged more than one billion years ago. The more pressing concern, though, is that we weren’t “given” life by some deity (and given that this movie at the very least accepts the existence of evolution, I’d expect a little more accuracy on that score, at least). Life, and then intelligence and sentience, emerged through a series of unlikely events coming together – that’s what raises the question of the meaning of our existence in the first place.

Still, one has to give Besson the credit (and this is about the only credit he gets in this movie) that he does ask a relevant and meaningful question: we have evolved into living, intelligent beings over millions of years – and what have we done with our capacity to know, to think, and to be? Our existence is essentially a miracle (and I mean that in a completely non-spiritual way), an unlikely accident – and given that fact, what is the point of it all?

Well, it’s a good question. Biologically speaking, the imperative of any living being is to survive and reproduce, and in doing so, to pass on its knowledge to its offspring. But what is the point of having that knowledge, and what value is there in both having it and passing it on and on? Knowledge is one of the few things that gives life meaning, but what is the point of it?

Clearly, Besson thinks he’s figured it out. After about an hour of shootouts (because clearly a more evolved human brain equates to a complete lack of respect for human life), really boring action scenes set to classical music, car chases through Paris whose body count I don’t even want to think about, and lots of evil Chinese people who don’t speak English, Lucy seems to have figured out what the point of it all is – which she downloads onto a USB. No, really, I’m not joking. The film then ends with another triumphant voiceover by Johansson, claiming “We were given life one billion years ago. Now you know what to do with it.”

Apparently, according to Besson, (intelligent) life developed over millennia so that we could spectacularly and epically fail to grasp any of the scientific facts that describe our existence, completely ignore what we know about reality, and instead make up piles of lies to justify a glorified action movie upholding a white, blonde woman as the pinnacle of our evolutionary journey. The irony being that Lucy is a movie that, while pretending to be so interested in knowledge and human intelligence, is so utterly stupid.

And really, I mean so stupid that it makes the whole of “intelligent life” look like a damn big hoax, because if we actually evolved into intelligent, sentient beings, then we can’t possibly be this stupid.

Alas, as Einstein so poignantly said, “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity – and I’m not sure about the former.” And that just about sums up this movie.

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About Anastasia Klimchynskaya

My mind rebels at stagnation. Find the rebellious thoughts of that constantly racing mind at my blog, Monitoring the Media.