Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is an unwilling drug mule who becomes infected with the cargo (known as CPH4) that she is meant to be transporting, thus enabling her to use more than the ten percent of the brain that humans are typically capable of using. Of course, the idea that humans only use ten percent of their brains is a myth. That misconception is not necessarily a problem with a Luc Besson movie, as it is not striving for realism. But a legitimate idea can be used for absurd ends, and Lucy does not make it clear if it believes that the ten percent myth is illegitimate and is just rendering it unrealistic or if the lack of realism is meant to expose how foolish the ten percent perception is.
The reason why that remains unclear is because, weirdly, Lucy is not as crazy as it could be. Sure, there are plenty of idiosyncratic touches – the initial kidnapping of Lucy is intercut with a leopard hunting a gazelle, there are 2001-style appearances by prehistoric man (hence the title) – but Lucy’s increased brain powers come off as a little mundane in a cinematic age saturated by superheroes. The plot stakes are lowered considerably as she becomes more powerful – it is fairly clear that she cannot be defeated, except perhaps by an overload of CPH4, but with her cranial capacity increasing, one could assume that she is smart enough to know when to stop in that regard anyway. But her essential invincibility is used as an excuse to have her just show off for the sake of set pieces, such as one moment when she leaves a crew of Korean gangsters stuck writhing in mid-air.
Despite all these problematic elements, Lucy is right up my alley: it takes a bunch of disparate parts and re-fashions them together for a new context and improves upon those that didn’t work in their original iteration. Lucy is a combination of just about every one of Scarlett Johansson’s roles from the past year: the drive to understand all human knowledge (and beyond), like operating system Samantha from Her; the droning, quizzical outsider’s perspective like the alien from Under the Skin (Lucy also shares the inky black against white visuals of Skin); and the swaggering, action-star bravado of Black Widow from The Avengers and Captain America. As for non-Scarlett Johansson influences, Lucy also works as the more insane, and therefore more successful, version of Transcendence, regarding uploading humanity onto computers. Then there are the dawn of man sequences, which set themselves apart from 2001 by being shot in the sleek style favored by the entirety of Lucy.
Lucy avoids failure by being all over the place with its philosophical mumbo jumbo, but it cannot quite reach transcendence because it is too caught up in that mumbo jumo.
LUCY Movie Review Rating: B+
Jeff Malone is a voracious entertainment consumer and entertainment creator. He currently resides in New York City, where he is working on a Master’s in Media Studies at The New School. In addition to his pieces on TMRzoo.com, you can check out his blog (jmunney.wordpress.com), where he provides regular coverage of Community and Saturday Night Live, as well as other television, film, music, and the rest of pop culture.