Film Review: Lucy (2014)


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I both loved and hated Lucy. It has two really interesting, promising premises that fail one another in their indecisive execution.

From the beginning, as expected, Scarlett Johanssen steals the show. This is another chance for her to show off her unique, consistently watchable acting skills. The juxtaposition of before and after Lucy is excellent, with just enough of the film dedicated to grounding Normal-Lucy in her humanness before Extra-Lucy takes over. She is the most constant aspect of this film, attempting to hold the two warring halves together despite Luc Besson’s high-concept bungle. In fact, each of the actors did a great job–Choi Min-Sik in particular as the cool, calm, and collected (except when he isn’t) antagonist, brings a nice relentless animosity to the film, even though I think it’s misplaced as an element.

If this were simply a cerebral, Tree of Life-like exploration of what might happen if someone begins accessing the depths of their brain capacity, I could get behind it. That’s a fascinating premise to get us going. Even if the film remained nearly the same from the beginning until the arrival at the University, I’d be down with that. But the moment Besson decided to split our focus from the intellectual and move to the action, it went from science fiction that makes us think to a thriller that pushes the suspension of disbelief aside with each preposterous bullet that flies through the air.

If this had been simply a thriller with a crazy smart spy wiping out a drug ring, that would have been fine–and probable really exciting. But, the moment that, at 40% of her brain capacity, Lucy could stroll utterly unharmed through a hallway of villains, incapacitating them as she struts, the sense of danger from the Korean mob pursuing her at the university is cut off. Why the firefight? She allows the cops get blown to bits because she needs to focus, when it would take five seconds (not even leaving her office chair) to wipe everyone out. The tension is already there because she’s about to shred herself with the drug–we don’t need to cheapen that with a gunfight.

Finally, the question at the end that was supposed to answer that from the beginning? We were asked at the outset: “Life was given to us a billion years ago. What have we done with it?” A good question that teases us and makes us think.

At the end, we’re asked: “Life was given to us a billion years ago. Now you know what to do with it.” What?! Oh yes, take a lot of drugs so that it’ll increase your brain capacity. Really? Don’t paint a cerebral sci-fi film with hollow philosophical questions. It’s confusing and it exposes the film’s flaws all the more. We definitely have no more answers to that question at the end than we did at the beginning. Don’t pretend that we do. That’s insulting to your audience.

Lucy should have been awesome. I loved the style, the score, the intercuts with the mousetrap, the cheetah, and the others like them. It brought up interesting ideas about the mind and what we can do with it, but it fooled itself into thinking that it was answering life’s great questions. There are already comparisons made to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Limitless, and other films like it, but those were well focused to do themselves justice and to actually bring up excellent questions. Besson tried to jam two films into one (I suspect to boost the already lacking running time), and he did neither justice and leaves us with a bemused, underwhelmed taste in our mouths.

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