[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=that film guy&asin=B00LDYOXHS][/pullquote] Luc Besson has had a difficult few years. His most recent film as director, The Family, was a critical and commercial dud, while the Taken franchise on which he’s a producer saw considerable diminished returns with its second instalment. Happily, with Lucy, he’s more or less back on form, even if that form is the gloriously insane Besson responsible for The Fifth Element.
The plot is, let’s be honest here, nonsense. It starts from the completely false premise that we only use 10% of our brain, and goes on to posit that unlocking the remaining 90% will essentially turn us into a cross between Neo and the Star Child from 2001. Scarlett Johansson is the titular character, who gets kidnapped in Taiwan and has a bag of drugs sewn into her stomach. Fairly stupidly, one of the traffickers then repeatedly kicks her in the stomach, causing the bag to split: the resulting overdose somehow doesn’t kill her, but rather kick-starts her ability to use all 100% of her brain.
If nothing else, Lucy will probably win the Bad Movie Science 2014 award. If it were content to just use the psychic brainpower stuff as an excuse for lots of cool action scenes, that would probably have worked better. Unfortunately, Besson devotes a lot of time to Morgan Freeman giving exposition about the “science” behind the process and what Lucy’s newfound powers mean for mankind. One shouldn’t criticise a science fiction film for being thoughtful and asking big questions, but Lucy does get bogged down in its philosophising at times.
In a way, it’s quite clever: it’s just smart enough to temporarily fool you into thinking it’s smarter than it actually is, but make no mistake, this is a pretty silly movie when you get down to it. Not that that’s a bad thing, mind you, but compared to this The Fifth Element – Ruby Rhod’s impossible haircut and all – looks sensible and restrained.
It must be stressed, though, that it’s when Lucy cuts loose and lets itself be as bonkers as it needs to be that it really works. When Lucy’s powers start manifesting and she becomes able to see and control radio waves, telekinetically manipulate other people and take out entire rooms of baddies without getting a scratch, it’s extremely imaginative and very, very fun.
A car chase through Paris, where Lucy drives into oncoming traffic using her powers to move other cars out of the way, is especially good and surprisingly tense, while the part at the end where she achieves (ahem) transcendence is pretty spectacular. There’s one particularly gorgeous image where a swarm of meteors against the backdrop of a galaxy turns seamlessly into thousands of sperm cells swimming towards an egg. What does it mean? Who knows. It looks great, though.
Besson continues his tradition of strong action movie heroines, and Johansson proves herself more than worthy of standing alongside Nikita and Leeloo. It’s actually rather less of an action movie than the trailers implied, which is a pity because the action is the best part, but Johansson plays her gradual ascension from humanity remarkably well. It’s a fairly logical progression from Her and Under The Skin, and it’s very impressive indeed how much emotion she’s able to convey despite speaking in a gradually increasing monotone for most of the film.
Lucy is not great science fiction, but it is, at long last, Luc Besson delivering something which is recognisably a Luc Besson film. Wildly flawed and uneven, it’s a highly entertaining ride which deserves recognition for the strength of the partnership between actress and director.