3 out of 5 stars
Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is a university student in Taiwan. Through the party lifestyle, she meets Richard who convinces her to deliver a special package. The simple delivery is the link to the terrifying gangland underworld and an international narcotics ring. Through the experience of the abduction and being forced to be a drug mule, she becomes infected with the new synthetic drug, CPH4. Instantly, Lucy finds she has the abilities to access uncharted parts of her brain. Between the action of escaping the drug kingpin and coming to grips with her new self-awareness, she contacts the leading neurologist, Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman). It becomes a race against time as she must communicate all she has learnt before the gangsters can capture her.
Director Luc Besson (The Family, The Fifth Element) combines action, philosophy and science to make this movie experience intriguing. As an action film, the pacing and vicious depiction of the gang leader Mr. Jang (Min-sik Choi) works well and keeps the film moving forward. The work of the gangsters and the support cast is makes for an exciting experience even through the various language interpretations. Amr Waked as Detective Del Rio gives the film the needed action muscle to keep the European story line the strength it needs. The unfortunate issue is the two lead characters do not have enough time to develop the needed layers for character depth.
Johansson is given a role that seems to have her in a catatonic state throughout the film and Morgan Freeman seems to have mailed in his performance. The perception is that both characters needed more time to develop more dimensions to their characters. Due to the lack of density in the story line and the 24 hour timeline, it is understandable why the roles seem one dimensional. Time immerses as precious commodity and Besson does not seem to waste it on unnecessary dialogue. He seems to understand the value of time and unlike many film makers today, does not waste it in this film. Due to these considerations, the film moves along and ends quickly.
As a philosophical film, one has to wonder how serious to take Besson's story. Behind the gangster-led action is a desire to unpack some of the bigger questions of life. What is it to be human, what would it mean for humanity to be able to unleash our full potential and is there something more to this world? Besson seems to be reliant on a scientific worldview to find the answer, but in this film, science does not have satisfactory solutions. Similar to World War Z, the use of biology documentary footage as a means of answering these questions do not serve the story well. The evolutionary underpinnings are cringe worthy and become unintentionally comical instead of profound. In the end, the film is science-fiction/action and should not meant to be taken too seriously. Besson does show that he can direct a good action films and Johansson proves she can carry an action film, even if her character seems quite robotic. If it is trying to be a philosophical film, Lucy would fail, but ironically it does work as a fun, turn-your-brain-off action film.
Lucy is science-fiction, but it incorporates an international gangster element which translates to excessive violence and drug usage. It does not glorify these components, but it does show the darker side of this world. The film is given the appropriate rating and is for the over 16 crowd. Some may object to the philosophical undertones of the film. The challenges would be to not dismiss the film for its position, but to take the time to discuss how you would answer the questions of what is it to be human, what would it mean for humanity to be able to unleash our full potential and is there something more to this world?
Leaving the cinema...
Talking with friends afterwards, someone thought this film could be considered 'the thinking man's action film.' I would not go that far. If Lucy makes you think about some of the bigger ideas in life, good. Then engage with the questions and discuss them with others. Realistically, I think this film will be acknowledged for it's action sequences more than it's philosophical value. Besson has 'evolved' as an action film director, but still seems to be a neanderthal in philosophy and human origins. You will see Lucy transform as she gains more access to her brain, but this film will not stress too many brain cells.
Reel Dialogue: What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film?
1. What is it to be human? (Genesis 2:5-25, Colossians 1:21-23)
2. What does it mean to unleash humanities full potential? (Matthew 7:13-14, 1 Peter 2:9-10)
3. is there something more to this world? (John 3:16, Revelation 21-22,)