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Besson Brings Style, but Lucy is Philosophically Problematic

  • Christian Hamaker Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2014 7 Jul
  • COMMENTS
Besson Brings Style, but <i>Lucy</i> is Philosophically Problematic

Release Date: July 25, 2014
Rating: R for strong violence, disturbing images, and sexuality
Genre: Action
Run Time: 90 min.
Director: Luc Besson
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Amr Waked, Min-sik Choi

This summer's first fun action movie has arrived—a breath of fresh air amid the industry trend toward grim, dark blockbusters that never miss a chance to be ponderous when they might instead be playful. 

Luc Besson’s Lucy is a fast, furious 90 minutes of dumb summer fun—a cinematic surge that returns the French filmmaker to the form of his best known, best-liked films such as La Femme Nikita (1990), Leon: The Professional (1994) and The Fifth Element (1997).

You read those dates correctly: It’s been two decades since Besson gave us his best work, although he’s kept busy in the interim with, among others, a failed kids movie (Arthur and the Invisibles, 2006) and, most recently, the horrid comedy The Family—one of the worst movies of 2013. Lucy, ostensibly an action film, is a rarity among summer blockbusters: it allows its audience to laugh at its premise and enjoy the unfolding story, rather than dragging them through another super-serious proclamation about the fate of humanity.

That's not to say the film is free of objectionable content. It's ultra-violent, though heavily stylized, and its storyline blurs the Creator/creature distinction. But the realization of those ideas is so scattershot and seemingly secondary to the driving elements of the film—its action, editing and physical lead performance from Scarlett Johansson—that viewers can appreciate the film on levels other than the plot.

Lucy (Johansson, Don Jon) is studying in Taiwan when a friend forces her to deliver a mysterious package to a crime lord, Mr. Jang (Min-sik Choi). Jang turns Lucy into a drug mule, surgically inserting a package containing a new chemical into Lucy and sending her to the airport to deliver the goods. When the substance starts leaking into Lucy's system, she finds she can use previously untapped brain capacity.

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Lucy tracks down Professor Samuel Norman (Morgan Freeman, Now You See Me), who specializes in human brain potential, and finds a friend in Capt. Pierre Del Rio (Amr Waked, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen), who protects Lucy as she comes to terms with the new powers the drugs have unleashed—telepathy, telekinesis and mad keyboarding skills. Jang's men try to reclaim their package from Lucy, but they prove no match for our heroine, who can climb walls effortlessly and control the bodily movement of others.

“I feel anything—space, the air,” says Lucy in describing the effects the drug is having as it leaks into her system. That sounds sensitive, but it’s really just a way of noting her increasing desperation and fear of the drug's effect on her. She wants the package to be removed, and she's willing to shoot and kill to get to a hospital and get a surgeon to operate on her.

Besson's interesting visual choices range from extremely simple (insertion title cards every several minutes tip the audience to the increasing percentage of brain power Lucy can access) to unusually complex (the special effects are sometimes startling). Besson also employs some unique, if thematically obvious, editing choices, inserting images of wild animals hunting and killing their prey during an early sequence in which Lucy realizes events are beyond her control.

If Besson's attempts at pathos don't quite pan out—a phone call from Lucy to her mom is supposed to generate tears for the audience but does so only for Lucy—it's because we're waiting for the next wild action sequence. Lucy excels in those moments. Where it fails, or simply slows to a crawl, are in the sequences with professor Norman talking about the limits of the human condition and a vague hope of evolutionary change. The film even goes so far as to recreate the image from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but with Lucy and a hominid in the place of God and Adam. Rather than a cautionary tale about humans aspiring to have god-like knowledge and power (Gen. 3:22-24), Lucy appears to long for that outcome. This is a serious philosophical problem with the film, but again, the movie's themes come across as almost an afterthought to the film's strong stylistic elements.

So, Lucy is far from problem-free. But it's so full of verve that it stands apart from its peers the multiplex. Whether that's enough to justify seeing the film is up to each viewer to decide.

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):

  • Language/Profanity: Lord’s name taken in vain; “s-it”; “a-s”
  • Drinking/Smoking/Drugs: Smoking; man is forced to ingest mysterious substance and has a bad reaction to it; a champagne toast
  • Sex/Nudity: Lucy shown in a bra; a montage shows two humans having sex in a car; a man reaches down Lucy’s shirt; Lucy spreads her legs at a guard; a woman reminisces about a time when she made love all night
  • Violence/Crime: Animals are shown chasing and killing prey; a man is shot, and blood sprays a window; blood-splattered hands and face; guns pointed at Lucy; a man is shot at point-blank range, and blood splatters Lucy; vomiting; Lucy is struck in the face, and she’s punched and kicked; people’s family members are threatened by criminals; Lucy subdues a guard, shoots men in an effort to get to the hospital; she shoots a patient whom she declares was beyond hope; a man is stabbed in the hand; gunfire and killings; reckless driving; drugs are inserted into the abdomen and removed by reaching into wound area
  • Religion/Morals/MarriageDarwinian evolutionary worldview; a woman cries, “Please, God, help me!”; discussion of life’s meaning and purpose is boiled down to the cellular level, without mention of God; a woman is described as a witch; a twist on the roof-of-the-Sistine Chapel painting

Publication date: July 25, 2014