Lucy – 2014
Written and Directed by Luc Besson
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Amr Waked, Choi Min-sik, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Nicolas Phongpheth, Analeigh Tipton, Paul Chan
For all the activity Luc Besson has had in movies over the last decade as writer and producer for some interesting action fare (most notably in the Transporter and Taken series), he has not directed many live action movies. It’s a shame, too, because he is one of the most successful French crossover directors of fantasy and action. His Leon, The Professional (1994) is one of my all time favorites from which derives the best Natalie Portman performance to date. Ironically, it was her first performance and she’s never approached it since.
This time around, he’s working with Scarlett Johansson, some whose career has involved as many wooden performances as Portman. She’s given a few good ones too. As the title character, Johansson shows more vulnerability than any point since The Girl with the Pearl Earring. Granted, there’s not much room for vulnerability when one is playing Black Widow in every other film. It’s also a surprise to find her range, given her character here is the unwilling recipient of a super drug that will completely transform her at a cellular level.
Lucy starts out as a party girl living in Tawain who is conversing with her latest loser boyfriend. He is so desperate to avoid his latest “opportunity” as a drug mule, he literally cuffs her to the shipment and she is forced to make the shipment. At this point, she is given an example of the effects of the substance (called CPH4), albeit a terrifyingly brief one. Next thing she knows, she’s had the next shipment surgically implanted into her abdomen. For reasons unexplained she is then passed off to two thugs who begin to assault her, thereby kicking off a chain reaction of the CPH4. This pushes her brain functional capacity from 10% to 20%. The result is pretty amazing, but nothing compared to what will happen as that percentage increases.
Transformation fantasies are a mixed bag. A lot of it depends on one’s willingness to suspend disbelief. Having one foot in the scientific realm doesn’t hurt, either. The last one I saw, Transcendence with Johnny Depp, also starred Morgan Freeman. This film is better than that one, but there are problems with consistency here.
In most scenes, Lucy is in complete control of most of her environments, until it comes time for the third on the title card (Waked) to pitch in towards the climax. Then there is the Tawainese mafia whipping out their guns while French police whiz by with sirens blazing…towards some other part of Paris. These quibbles are few and do not detract from the enjoyment of those caught up in the possibilities of what’s going in.
Waked is enjoyable as the average guy who has to believe what he is experiencing first hand. He has a kind face and intense eyes. His is the kind of career that has been good for so long, it would not surprise anyone if he found himself as a leading man in a U.S. blockbuster, to match all those international hits he’s been in.
Min-sik’s Mr. Jang is reportedly Besson’s favorite villain since Norman Stansfield in Leon. Not sure he approaches Oldman’s level of insanity, but Min-sik’s rugged and dangerous countenance is a worthy adversary for someone of Johansson’s beauty. The most unsettling image for me is the metro-sexually evil grin of Phongpheth. I couldn’t wait for him to die, and I am still not completely sure he did.
As for Freeman, his role here is the touch point of understanding. His voice acts as our guide, giving us the rules of the game we are about to partake in. By the end, though, the possibilities have evolved beyond his (read: our) knowledge, and he is as much a spectator as the rest.
Lucy is a visual feast that relies less on animation than it does well placed shots of animals, nature, the universe. The humor fits neatly with the pace of the film. We have time for smirks, not guffaws. There are some intense moments (the airplane, the computer) that aren’t explicitly explained, but that gives the wonder of what we are seeing more grist.