What’s a ‘Re-View‘? For starters it is either a horrible pun or a horrible abbreviation. For us it means we’re watching old shows or films and reviewing them. We’re ‘re-viewing’ them, or viewing them for the first time and reviewing them. Or even ‘retroactively-viewing’ them if that’s better for your pun hating soul.
The Internet is home to many contemporary reviews for contemporary shows and films. However older properties have not been given this treatment as often as perhaps they deserve. I say perhaps because we’ll see exactly what they deserve in the process. Enjoy.
Luc Besson’s 2014 action Sci-Fi film Lucy, is a towering achievement in human bullshit.
It fails on a basic character level. It fails as an action film. And most infuriatingly of all, it actually nearly succeeds as a piece of speculative science fiction.
The plot is simple. Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is a fickle young woman living abroad in South Korea. Her new boyfriend forces her into making a suitcase hand off to a South Korean mafioso. Events conspire so that a new synthetic drug ends up in Lucy’s system. This drug is described as increasing how much of a percentage of our brains we use. Then Lucy proceeds to get more and more superpowers.
Anyone that was paying attention when this film came out (or Limitless) will remember that the ‘humans only use 10% of our brains’ thing is a myth. Or at least a misunderstanding of what that statement implies. Every part of our brain does something, however we only use about 10% of those functions at once, or that is how I understand it. To use 100% of our brains at once is impossible because it is impossible for the body to do everything it can do at once. Imagine if you were talking whilst gritting your teeth, shitting whilst holding it in, running whilst sleeping and so on and all at once: not possible. Now one could reason that Lucy is simply using a popular science myth to drive its plot for the sake of narrative economy and I suppose that is fine.
However Besson decides to intertwine the main Lucy story with moments of Morgan Freeman’s character delivering a lecture on his beliefs on the potential of the human brain at 100% efficiency. The film is literally lecturing you on its own bullshit over and over. This comes off as smug and an attempt at intellectualism masked by exposition. For this reason I won’t be forgiving the use of the myth for the use of narrative efficiency or audience familiarity, because the film is slowed down by the myth being repeated. Frankly this film could learn from the vaguely defined version of evolution present in the X-Men universe. The drug could just ‘evolve’ humans and Morgan Freeman’s speecifying could just be about that. I made a note of this early on and found it would make very little difference to his (mostly unnecessary) points when replacing the film’s dialogue with my imagined ‘evolution’ dialogue.
As Lucy’s powers grow she progresses from being an exceptional abductive reasoner (think The Doctor from Doctor Who if he actually was a god) to being in control of her body down to a cellular level, to being able to see through everything (thus being able to see how everything works) to being psychic, telekinetic and able to control radio waves and electrical waves. And so on.
Early on she uses these powers to decimate the South Korean mafia and effortlessly fights her way to the top of the ladder within minutes of getting the first of her power sets. At this point she interrogates the head honcho and then for some reason leaves him alive (despite summarily executing many others). This leads to him going after her in search of revenge. At every encounter his men are completely obliterated by her powers. Despite the soundtrack’s best attempts to create a sense of conflict, there isn’t any. This film doesn’t need to be an action film. It’s about a woman evolving with imaginative and fun Sci-Fi visuals. For action scenes to matter they have to be informed by a plot that is informed by character and none of them are. The only reason she doesn’t execute the head mafioso near the beginning is to allow Besson to draw out the ‘conflict’. This is made more infuriating in the final act.
Eventually Lucy meets up with Morgan Freeman and a few of his scientist bros at their university. She explains that the drug is killing her and she’d like to reach her ‘100%’ potential before that happens. However the South Koreans are also on their way after her. There is then a protracted (and dull) shoot out between the police and the mafia as Lucy needs the mafia delayed whilst she does her Sci-Fi shit that leaves her vulnerable. The problem is the film earlier established she had 24 hours(ish) to live and this is only 12 hours later (if anyone is going to point out to me she started melting on the plane, I’d point out she immediately healed herself with the drugs that are with her in the lab also, so she is safe under either interpretation). She could delay her experiment for about two minutes whilst she went outside to deal with the mafia and then no one would have to die. At first I went with this, I was predicting some sort of moment when she resurrects all the dead people and only let things progress this far to allow herself to experiment with death. But that didn’t happen. Now if you’re wondering why I would be so open to the character of Lucy being so heartless with her experiments, let’s now talk about character work.
Right off the bat from getting her powers Lucy is a changed person. She is cold, calculating and emotionally distant. She explains (without being too on the nose as well) that she is losing her emotions, humanity and purpose in living. That’s fine. We’re treated to a humorous moment in a hospital when she executes a patient because she’s calculated his death is unavoidable. Then we’re treated to an emotional exchange with Lucy and her mother where she can’t separate her new super rational mindset from her immediate access to every moment she’s ever lived.
That’s also fine, just a bit odd straight after she coldly executes someone, but Besson could be trying to say something there. On the other hand she then becomes cold and emotionless straight after this for more or less the duration of the film. Except for a weird moment when she kisses a dude just to feel something or remember feeling something. Had to be a kiss did it Besson? Hmmm. What I am trying to see here is that nothing is consistently motivated. Her moods may make sense in themselves, but they don’t make sense to propel her actions. Why does she want to evolve further? Just to survive? In which case why can’t she just find a way to heal herself? Which seems possible even before she hits 100%. What this then boils the film down to is a vague plot used to justify cool Sci-Fi weirdness that isn’t really about anything. The film even admits it doesn’t mean anything by Lucy implying that knowing everything means you know there is no meaning to anything in the universe, not even on a raw and instinctive emotional level either, due to her not having any emotions anymore. And none of this is helped when Lucy drives through Paris in such a way that cars flip over and crash constantly around her. If she doesn’t care for human safety (or lives) why does she care to have Morgan Freeman see and remember the results of her endeavours?
Lucy sometimes comes alive as a film in certain moments. When she first sees how a tree works from the inside. When she starts to crumble apart on an aeroplane due to her excess evolution. When she travels through time and space and sees how the world was made and will end. The CGI game in Lucy is on point, especially for a EuropaCorp film. Although the budget is clearly a little more than stretched before the end when we see a dinosaur that the original Jurassic Park would be embarrassed about. The problem is none of this means anything. And arguably that’s fine too…
The film is 89 minutes long. It’s designed to be a delivery system of a good actress (she breathes more life into this film than anything does) doing wacky Sci-Fi stuff. The problem is the film detracts from this with an eventually meaningless mafia plot and weird action sequences that don’t belong. There is a more fascinating film in here about the experience of a human woman going through such changes. Yes the film basically succeeds in having cool sci-fi stuff, but you might as well go muck about with animation software and you’ll get the same amount of profundity. It is simultaneously a film that is stupid and yet takes itself too seriously. It actually lectures you whilst saying absolutely nothing.
There is already a sequel in development. I wonder if the rushed and under baked nature of this first film is just to rush to the inevitably more interesting sequel. Even I am interested in where this can go from the ending we’re given here. However the journey to that ending could have been imaginative, informative and intriguing. But it wasn’t.