The action-filled sci-fi thriller Lucy fills the cinema screen with amazing visuals and compelling concepts. It’s not surprising that Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita, The Professional, The Fifth Element) handles the action/sci-fi genre very well in this 90-minute film.
Besson fills the screen, as director, and the screenplay, as writer, with deep emotion in plot and character, though the lead heroine could have used more development. The fantastical plot places the mystery of the brain at center stage while a strong cast and crew realize Besson’s compelling vision.
Of course, inevitably differing views and opinions can vary the audience’s personal involvement in the plot, which has a mostly serious tone. Lucy begins with the unfortunate circumstances of an innocent young woman.
Scarlett Johansson owns the title role with her physical, mental and emotional skills. The opening scene initiates us into Lucy’s background through dialogue and flashbacks during her current encounter with a male “friend” outside a hotel. Besson inserts complementary video clips related to each action, which seem a bit strange and even comical at first.
These clips quickly enhance the drama and tension. The opening sequence displays Lucy’s excuses instead of her assertiveness and, more importantly, an increasingly physical coercion by her “friend” that centers on a basic evil: forcing people to do things against their will.
“Please God help me,” Lucy pleads as the inhumane drug lord Mr. Jang, played by Min-sik Choi (Oldboy, Namsless Gangster: Rules of the Time) and his Korean thugs prey upon her. Lucy eventually experiences a night-and-day transition in a holding cell inside a factory. Her traumatic contact with the synthetic drug CPH4 from a birth development hormone gradually expands her brain capacity.
Besson continues using clip-insertion as Lucy’s brain capacity increases to expand our thinking and prime us for increasingly abnormal scenarios as Jang and his thugs pursue her.
Analeigh Tipton (Warm Bodies, The Green Hornet, Crazy Stupid Love) plays Lucy’s roommate Caroline in one key sequence where Lucy contacts Professor Norman, well played by Morgan Freeman. Freeman easily conveys high concepts involving cerebral connections, human survival basics (live on or reproduce), human development, and, of course, brain capacity as the filmmakers use him for logical credibility and hope audiences go along for the ride (most will).
Do the filmmakers explain how that brain capacity percentage is determined? No. That is one of many supplemental details that audiences can look into for themselves after leaving the theater. Still, the explanations, presentations and concepts all represent hope for humanity – a welcome change from a glut of apocalyptic offerings in a sci-fi/action genre filled with depressing despair.
At this point, Besson channels the impressive yet occasionally illogical events through Lucy’s perspective using special effects shots (e.g. physical changes in her body, connections to her environment, etc.) accompanied by equally grandiose music like Mozart’s “Mass No. 19 In D Minor, K.626 Requiem: Introitus: Requiem Aeternam”.
Only Lucy knows the urgency of her situation, so she depends on others and convinces them of her special abilities, which gets easier as the plot progresses. Thankfully, other heroic characters like French investigator Pierre Del Rio, played by Amr Waked (Syrianna, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen), become dependable allies.
Lucy’s simple yet decisive and often dangerous actions impress. The unpredictability excites the story, but only exists because she feels no fear, desire or pain. Johansson’s physical expressions reflect her status well without reducing any impact or key emotions.
Lucy uses violence with her special abilities, but always explains her reasons to the other characters. She eventually avoids violence when her abilities allow, especially during a showdown sequence in a hospital hallway facing Jang’s thugs – another welcome change with respect to violence in films where normal characters acquire special powers and abilities (unlike the detestable Hollow Man).
The filmmakers’ most noticeable stumble comes in an interior plane sequence where the editing and transitions getting a struggling character off a plane could have been much better. A car chase sequence that seems to have no film speed manipulation and features the song “Single Barrel (Slinging the Deck) by The Crystal Method makes up for it.
Frequent Besson collaborators Thierry Arbogast (cinematography) and Eric Serra (music) provide extraordinary contributions. Along with the memorable score there is the song “Sister Rust” by Damon Albarn, which includes a sample from Serra’s score. Make the Girl Dance, Beck, Raury, and Guillaume Bouchateau also contribute songs.
Filmed in France and Taipei City, Taiwan, Lucy challenges the intellect during a wild action ride filled with great sound and special effects from the well-established Industrial Light & Magic (ILM).
I couldn’t avoid noticing echoes of similar films like The Matrix, Star Trek, and the recently released Transcendence (also co-starring Freeman), yet Lucy stands strong enough for a solid recommendation. There’s plenty of material for a possible sequel here too, though it seems more likely that Lucy will stand as a singular touchstone to further the genre.
Lucy is rated R for strong violence, disturbing images, and sexuality.