"It’s a preposterous setup that gets more and more absurd as the film goes on"
Michael Bay’s latest iteration in the Transformers series clocked in at well over two-and-a-half hours, and Marvel’s superhero epics are showing no signs of getting shorter. It comes as a breath of fresh air then to see Lucy – an over the top, moderately big-budget blockbuster – squeezing itself into a paltry 89 minutes. However, director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, Léon), far from taking a minimalist route, has created a bombastic film whose scope and vision may come as some relief to blockbuster audiences who have grown weary of the long sweltering summer.
Scarlett Johansson plays the titular Lucy, a student living in Taiwan, whose foolishness and poor choice in men sees her roped into acting as a drug mule, transporting a vast quantity of mysterious blue powder in a plastic pouch sewn into her stomach. It’s not long before the inevitable happens and, following an act of violence, the pouch breaks, spilling its contents into her bloodstream. The film plays off the old myth that we only use 10% of our brains (or ‘cerebral capacity’ as Morgan Freeman’s neuroscientist Professor Samuel Norman puts it). Upon consuming the drug, Lucy sees her brain power steadily rise towards 100%, giving her the power to read minds, move matter, and generally bend the rules of the universe to her liking.
It’s a preposterous setup that gets more and more absurd as the film goes on, but Morgan Freeman is luckily there to hold our hand the whole way through. Scenes of Lucy wreaking havoc as she attempts to escape Taipei’s criminal underworld are interspersed with Professor Norman, conveniently guiding us through the “science” as he gives a lecture in Paris.
The film moves at a blistering pace, not offering its audience much in the way of thinking time. This is important as, if you stop to ask why any of this is happening, the entire premise falls apart. If she can bend space and time, why does she need to take a plane? Besson doesn’t appear to be offering any answers. Lucy’s running time is a godsend, any longer and it would be unbearable, crushed under the weight of its own silliness.
Earlier this year, Johansson was a revelation in Under the Skin. She turned in one of the year’s best performances as her cold, emotionless alien attempted to act and think like a human. Here she becomes just as phlegmatic as Lucy moves in the other direction, slowly losing her humanity. Johansson plays deadpan incredibly well and is a joy to watch, Freeman less so as the expositional scientist, although this was a largely uninteresting role to begin with.
Luc Besson hasn't made a good film in years, his last few being exceptional stinkers, but to call Lucy a return to form would be a little premature. It’s an ambitious, enjoyable watch, but only really serves to highlight Besson’s failings as a filmmaker. Some bizarre plot decisions and jarring cuts will leave audiences wondering whether Lucy might have turned out better in the hands of a more accomplished director.