Hyperactive Philosophy: A Review of Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’

Lucy

I had very mixed feelings when it came to my desire to watch Luc Besson’s latest movie, an action-thriller with science fiction elements starring Scarlett Johansson. I didn’t care for the trailer, and the fact that the movie’s premise was based on the scientific myth that says humans only use 10% of their brains only helped to make me more irritated by the idea of watching the movie. But then, reviews of the movie started to come out, and while they weren’t all positive (I’d say the critics’ reaction has been pretty mixed), a lot of them certainly made it look like at least an interesting movie to watch. What’s more, after watching Under the Skin again this week for Hit Me With Your Best Shot, and coming off the gigantic success of Captain America: The Winter SoldierI was starting to believe that 2014 was shaping up to be the year of Scarlett Johansson.

So, as far as my actual reaction to the movie is concerned, let me begin by stating that I definitely do not regret having watched Lucy. Meanwhile, how good of a movie it is, or if it is a good movie at all, is a much harder question to answer. I’ll say this: 2014 is definitely the year of Scarlett Johansson. She has grown leaps and bounds as an actress and as a movie star. The days in which she was the clunkiest part of The Prestige are long gone, she now tends to be the best thing about the movies she is in (as is the case with Captain America). I would go as far as to say she is the best female movie star we have right now, and the first fifteen minutes of Lucy are a testament to her star power. In these moments, Johansson balances tension, horror, desperation, and hilarious comedy in a way that most actors could only dream of.

In fact, I would say the opening third is Lucy’s strongest passage. It’s also where the movie is at its most conventional, which doesn’t mean that it is, strictly speaking, conventional. These are the events that lead Lucy to be captured by a Taiwanese drug cartel that cuts her up and puts a bag of a new synthetic drug in her belly. What these gangsters weren’t counting on, though, was that the bag they put the drugs in would break, and that Johansson’s body would absorb this incredibly strong substance, allowing her to be able to use her brain at full capacity. If this sounds like an incredibly stupid premise, it’s because that’s exactly what it is. The supernatural abilities that Lucy gains as her brain evolves are even more ridiculous. Watching Lucy actually reminded me of a similarly themed movie that came earlier this year: Wally Pfister’s Transcendencewhich I despised. Lucy and Transcendence might be equally dumb when it comes to the pseudo-science of their screenplays, but the difference is that Lucy is an incredibly fun movie to watch.

Not only is it pretty funny, it is filled with moments that are better described as “kick-ass.” Some of the movie’s detractors have complaint about its failed attempt at making some kind of pretentiously philosophical statement on par with 2001: A Space Odyssey, or The Tree of Life. While I can’t deny that Besson might have been inspired by those movies (in the case of 2001, he actually went as far as to attach a note on the first page of the screenplay saying so), I don’t find pretension in his filmmaking as much as I find unbridled enthusiasm. For example, he seems to have no interest whatsoever in the morality of the character. The movie isn’t concerned whether what Lucy is doing is good or bad, it is too excited just with the fact these things are happening at all.

As for the “big themes” of the movie, he only explores them superficially (if it all). This is hyperactive filmmaking, hardly as concerned with any of its themes as it is with finding the next cool scene. It is also pretty bonkers. Besson made the movie with independently of any big Hollywood studio, which granted him the advantage of being able to make whatever he wanted, and that is exactly what this is. It’s a filmmaker playing in the sandbox of his own id. But you’ll know this the second the movie starts, since the first shot reveals that the reason behind the titular character’s name is that it is the name of the “first human being”, or more accurately, one of the oldest found fossils of Australopithecus afarensis. This is all to say that the movie opens with the prehistoric Lucy drinking water from a lake. From then on, the movie indulges in all sorts of crazy visuals -most of them tongue-in-cheek, as the cutting to documentary footage of different animals in the middle of different scenes. Lucy might be stupid and immature, but it is also a surprisingly engrossing piece of filmmaking.

Grade: 7 out of 10

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