Lucy

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UK Release Date 22nd August 2014
Director Luc Besson
Starring Scarlett Johansson
Runtime 89 Minutes
Certificate 15
Reviewer Si
Reviewed 24th August 2014

Remember Luc Besson? He of The Big Blue, Nikita, Leon and The Fifth Element? No? Us neither to be honest. It’s been a long time since we’ve considered Mr Besson. A decade or two of writing what seemed to be mostly Transporter sequels and other throwaway nonsense such as Taken and <sigh> Taken 2, it seems like we have completely lost the man who brought us Natalie Portman as a 13 year old hit woman in the making. During that time Besson’s directing credits have been somewhat patchy to say the least. Well, he’s back. But is he Back?

I had pretty limited expectations heading into Besson’s latest, Lucy. Check out the trailer below, looks pretty much like any other woman on a mission movie (not that we get many of those to be fair) doesn’t it. Well, I have to say, it entertained me a lot more than I expected.

Scarlett Johansson is the eponymous Lucy. First seem arguing with what we presume is her boyfriend (it transpires they’ve only been dating a week) outside a hotel. He insists that she help him out by transporting a briefcase into the hotel to hand over to Mr. Jang. Less than impressed by Richard’s cagey behaviour, Lucy wisely refuses, only for Richard to snap cuffs on her and the briefcase. Asserting that only Mr. Jang has the keys, Lucy has no option but to head inside with the case.

Things of course rapidly go south and soon Lucy finds herself with an unknown package of drugs sewed into her stomach and when she takes a kicking at the hands of some over zealous guards, the package starts leaking into he body. Interspersed with this we have Morgan Freeman’s Professor Norman, lecturing to a raptured crowd on his research into the capacity of the human brain and what would happen if we were able to access more than the current ten percent currently utilised. As the drug seeps into Lucy’s system, she finds herself suddenly able to access parts of her brain that were otherwise inaccessible. This leads to some interesting powers….

We’ve been in similar territory relatively recently with Neil Burger’s Limitless. Besson’s is a more vague, tense affair but neither really convinces as what you might call thoughtful. For two thirds of its running time, Besson’s does serve as an enthralling, tense thriller. The setup is particularly good. Johansson convinces easily as both versions of Lucy. When we first meet her, she is vulnerable, insecure and vomits at the twitching bodies stashed in Jang’s hotel bathroom. Terrified almost beyond speech as Jang orders her, via a translator to open the briefcase she’s arrived with (he and his men retreat to a safe distance, expecting a detonation), Besson spends some time investing us with a sense of familiarity with what could easily have been a cardboard character.

From here, we follow Lucy’s attempts to both deal with her changing body and her quick realisation that in order to survive this ordeal, she is going to have to not only remove the leaking package from her body, but also track down the remaining packages.

Besson doesn’t skimp on the violence or the gore, adding to a wonderfully tense set up. Lucy’s encounters with her captors are impressively brief and brutal and the phone call to her mother whilst a terrified surgeon attempts to remove the package (Lucy having executed what she deemed as an un-saveable patient on his table) is quite touching as, during the call, she realises the horrible predicament she is in.

Freeman’s character is less well fleshed out, essentially delivering exposition during the setup then forming the conduit for Lucy’s attempts to download her knowledge before she disappears into the ether. Beyond that, we don’t really have much in the way of characters, noticeable from the cast list only having seven named characters. Julian Rhind-Tutt pops up as the shady surgeon responsible for the initial transportation strategy, Min-sik Choi fills out the non-English speaking bad guy and Amr Waked is the token everyman in the form of the police captain who happens to take Lucy’s call when she reaches out for assistance in finding the missing packages.

Indeed, Lucy’s advancing mental state means she quickly leaves behind the need for human companions, taking Captain Del Rio along only to remind her of her vanishing humanity. It’s not an area the movie particularly excels in. Although we get some pretty visceral reminders of Lucy’s flight from her humanity, the movie doesn’t really break stride to dwell on the consequences of this, beyond Lucy’s one call to her mother. It’s a shame but it by no means disastrous for the movie. Likewise is the movie’s eventual and probably inevitable slide into visual trickery in place of any reasoned speculation. The closer the onscreen count gets to 100%, the less sense the movie makes. As if Besson’s ideas dried up in line with his main character’s advancing intelligence. Once we get past the interesting shift from 10% up to 40%, any further increments become pointless, Lucy is already superhuman and beyond her own humanity, what we’re left with is just pretty pictures.

Which isn’t to say I disliked Lucy, it is actually a decent thriller for the most part. The setup is solid and Besson largely avoids the excesses of other superhuman movies. No buildings are levelled, there is no planet level extinction and the pointless gun fights are restricted to only one stand off towards the end. A neat car chase aside, this is a relatively low key effort and it benefits from the tight structure for the first two thirds. By that point though, all bets are off and we’re solidly into Transcendence or The Lawnmower Man territory. It's possible that Besson had higher aspirations for this movie to actually say something about how mankind uses the intelligence gifted to it and how this might change through evolution. None of these aspirations are particularly troubled here though. At a brisk 89 minutes, you’re probably not going to begrudge the time you spent with this; tense, dark and with a great performance from Johansson, Lucy is just about worth your money. 

Check out the trailer here.

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