Abandon all logic ye who enter here, because we are about to start talking Lucy. You might want to leave reason and science by the door while you’re at it, you won’t have much call to use either of those for the next 90 minutes or so. French action auteur Luc Besson has made his version of 2001, or at least his Tree of Life, and it is a wild, wild time. People are going to walk into what they think is a Scarlett Johansson-fronted action movie and have their minds broken. This is very much not the movie you were led to expect, but goddamn if it isn’t a total freaking blast. There will be those who laud this as the most fun movie of the summer, while others will condemn it as complete and utter nonsense, and somehow they’ll both be right.
Right away, you learn that Lucy is like a roller coaster. When that big metal restraint clanks down over your shoulders to hold you in place, you’re like, fuck it, I’m here, and all you can do is throw your hands in the air and scream weeeeeeee as the propulsive momentum whips your head back and forth and pummels your common sense. This is like the meth-addicted sibling of Transcendence, it’s strange and funny—sometimes deliberately, other times unintentionally so—but it’s always exciting and unpredictable. You can never be sure what crazy shit is about to come around the corner, but after the main character starts disintegrating in an airplane bathroom, everything is up for grabs.
Much has been made of this film being based on the we-only-use-10%-of-our-brains myth, which as you probably know is total bullshit, but if you can look past a radioactive spider bite causing super powers, or gamma radiation turning an angry man big and green, you can get past this. Besides, you have way, way bigger hurdles to get over. Lucy (Johansson) is a student in Taipei. Through a series of events that are like a bad urban legend cautionary tale, she winds up with an unwanted parcel of a new drug stitched into her belly. When it invariably ruptures, pumping magic purple dust into her blood stream, she gains access to as yet unexplored regions of her brain, unlocking all kinds of cool powers, like being able to control every cell in her body. Every once in a while the film flashes a little card that counts down how much of her brain she’s using, like at 60% she turns a Chinese gangster into an inadvertent mime.
While all of this is going on, Besson cuts in stock nature footage intended to illustrate the predator/prey dynamic, natural selection at work, and all kinds of animals humping all over the place, often with a jaunty tune superimposed over the images. It’s bizarre. Depending on your perspective, the editing is either brilliant or insane, juxtaposing footage of natural disasters and chaos with the calming, dulcet tones of Morgan Freeman’s Professor Norman, an expert in this non-science.
There’s no real goal or narrative thrust, or point. Lucy is little more than a build up to 100%, where action scenes, like an crazy-ass car chase through the streets of Paris, happen for no solid reason—in this case her only explanation is, “We’re late.” Ostensibly, Lucy is after the rest of the drugs, while over-the-top crime boss Mr. Jang (Oldboy’s Choi Min-sik) chases her every step of the way, that’s about it. You’re never entirely sure what she is trying to accomplish, but watching her go about her business is damn entertaining.
Lucy tries to be scientific, it isn’t; it tries to be philosophical, and fails in miserable fashion; and it wants to be smart so damn bad, but it just isn’t in any way. What the movie is, however, is totally audacious and nuts, the work of either a genius or a lunatic, or both. Full of action movie tropes that Besson helped create, like a character clutching two guns, walking in slow motion as classical music plays—in my book Besson is every bit as responsible for overexposing this kind of flair as John Woo—or my personal favorite, a camera, background, and character all spinning at spinning at the same time, but at different speeds.
Outside of the first act, where there is some sharp dialogue, and snappy negotiations, Johansson doesn’t do much acting wise aside from channel Keanu Reeves flat delivery from The Matrix. But after that, watching her kick ass and fling people around like she’s a Jedi Knight using the Force, is way more fun than it reasonably should be. Freeman is there to sound soothing, like he knows what he’s talking about, and to add an air of class to the proceedings, which he doesn’t. Everyone else is just a plaything for Lucy’s whims, a canvas to show off her newly acquired skills and abilities, like making stock bad guys levitate and flail around like turtles stuck on their backs.
Every summer there is one movie that flies under my radar, one that I know is coming but I’m not super invested in, but winds up surprising the hell out of me and being totally awesome. This year that movie is Lucy. Delirious and gleeful, Besson has created something bizarre and outlandish, that is totally ludicrous in the best possible way. By the time Lucy is blasting back through history to the very origins of the human race, everything is so chaotic and insane that you can’t help but wear a huge, shit-eating grin. This is a hard movie to recommend, because while I loved it, many people will absolutely despise every frame. If you’re looking for something bat-shit crazy, and more than a little mindboggling, Lucy may be just what you’re looking for.