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Review: Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’ Starring Scarlet Johansson And Morgan Freeman

Review: Luc Besson's 'Lucy' Starring Scarlet Johansson And Morgan Freeman

There’s a moment in Luc Besson‘s “Lucy
when Scarlett Johansson‘s title character has cracked the code of
existence like a videogame cheat. She goes Rust Cohle on who are
appropriately the smartest minds of the world, explaining how numbers
are just one of many false constructs that humans use to bring sense
to a life of chaos. Which is amusing, since “Lucy” itself is all
math—one beautiful superstar (a game Johansson), one Morgan
Freeman (Morgan Freeman), a chase, some fights, superpowers, a brief
moment of transcendence, gorgeous colors, all wrapped up in an 80-minute bow. Merely the presence of these elements are a delight,
nevermind the inconsistently lyrical manner in which Besson combines
them. It’s basically the perfect summer movie, because it’s designed
to be.


Johansson begins “Lucy” as a grad
student party girl, forced to go on an errand for boyfriend Richard
(Pilou Asbaek of “A Hijacking”) that eventually finds her
unwillingly turned into a drug mule for a volatile new chemical that basically synthesizes the essence of life. The nature of this
drug trafficking, or why gang bosses like Mr. Jang (Choi Min-Sik)
rely on it, are obnoxiously vague, because the movie just needs Lucy
to accidentally overdose on this science-fiction concoction in order
to unlock the higher percentage of her cerebral cortex. If you hold
dearly to the idea that the “10% of our brains” concept is a
myth, this movie isn’t for you: not only is it cold hard science in
this film, but it also represents something of a ticking bomb in this
aspect. It’s like watching a videogame where as a character
progresses, their power bar increases rather than deflates.


On a most basic level, “Lucy” is at
the intersection of “Akira” and “Crank,” with Johansson’s
brainpower increasing her ability to control the people and places
around her, toying with physical matter as if she were fingerpainting
as she searches for more of this miracle drug. There’s relatively
zero tension in “Lucy” by design, as the thrill emerges from the
disappearance of limitation: in one amusing sequence, she’s
confronted by thugs and, with a wave of her hand, she floats them to
the ceiling as they wildly throw punches into the air. Say this for
“Lucy”: based on no previous material, it’s nonetheless a real
comic book fantasia in its depiction of Lucy’s increasing abilities.
Our legions of superhero films have dominated the culture in spite of
their mundane moments of characters becoming something more than
human, only for them to boringly take flight or trade fisticuffs with
equally powerful punching bags. “Lucy” certainly raises the bar
in that aspect, with a heroine who folds the world as if it were deli
bread, preferring to bend the rules of physics surrounding her.
There’s a massive shootout near the end, and Lucy’s inaction in this
moment feels like more of a show of contempt. You dumb humans and
your popguns.


Johansson, unsurprisingly, is a
delight. Following “Under The Skin,” this is the second movie of
2014 that finds the world’s most beautiful woman utterly perplexed by
the rest of humanity. She treats Lucy’s new-found and slowly building
skills as a form of functioning autism. She loses any and all
patience with people still figuring anything out in the world, and it’s
meant to be the steady resolve of a woman slowly being bombarded by
all the information one could imagine and trying to maintain her
composure. As such, she’s testy and distant. Her final real moment of
humanity happens early on, when she sits on an operating table and
slowly learns of her ability to remember anything while on the phone
with her perplexed mother. Besson, prankster that he is, could have
played this moment for laughs, but instead it’s touching and
metaphysically fascinating: here she is with her creator, developing
the awareness that she’s surpassing her in every single way. It’s one
of cinema’s most clever illustrations of godhood.

“Lucy” is really something of a
stunt, an excuse for a character to develop a higher power for genre
purposes. Any time a character has to address the philosophical ideas
in the plot, the picture stalls: Besson is clearly more at home with
his visual wit, like a strikingly realistic car chase that defies
every law of safety. Lucy’s brain capacity keeps popping up onscreen
in big numbers—20%, 40%—building to that climax. And when it
arrives, it’s complete Looney Tunes, a whirling fantasia of effects
and images that begins to bend the fabric of space and time as even
Morgan Freeman looks on, flummoxed. It’s almost as if Lucy herself is
trying to escape her own movie. It’s as if Besson himself knows that he,
like other filmmakers, are better than this, better than the CGI
orgy, better than the endless brawls, better than the tacky
genre-defining one-on-one confrontations. You dumb humans and your
popguns. [B+]

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