Harsh Texture


Lucy is a pretty good actioner that gives Scarlett Johansson ample room to flex her star power. Director Luc Besson spends almost as much energy on propping up the films' ridiculous conceit with psycho-babble, even drafting Morgan Freeman to make it more palatable.

I wonder how exactly scientific terminology winds up in spoken in schlock sci fi. For instance, will the screenwriters bring in an expert in the field and tell them “I have an action movie based on using 100% of the human brain instead of our current 20%”. Would that expert immediately scoff at the task of helping to justify such a premise? Or perhaps the screenwriters themselves have been collecting the scientific terminology for years. Maybe they’ve accumulated a series of articles from which they patched together various authentic words and phrases.

In any event, Lucy works spectacularly hard to pass off its ridiculous concept as plausible. Not content to just fancy up its pseudo-science with jargon and half theories, it brings in Morgan Freeman to speak them. His monologues are often paired with resplendent nature footage as if to further bolster claims of credibility.

Hard as Lucy may try its concept and its logic never come off as anything other than dumb. This is a movie where scientists wear lab coats even on the weekends. Where using twenty percent of the human brain allows its protagonist the ability to subvert the laws of physics and gravity. You wait for the production to laugh at itself, for any of the actors to give an exasperated grunt or crack the fourth wall with a wink, but it never happens. Luc Besson keeps his actors fully invested in this world and wedded to the full concept.

In a film where the protagonist reaches near omnipotence after a scant thirty minutes or so, the stakes aren’t particularly perilous. When that same protagonist could send any would-be assailant to dance on the ceiling with a flick of her wrist, it's hard to imagine any suitable physical threat. So Lucy detours instead into a Kubrick-ish exploration on the meaning of humanity and life punctuated by shootouts at strategic points throughout the narrative. Its a credit to Besson’s skill that at the end his film is fairly successful.

Lucy arrives in the middle of two booms: superhero films and female-led actioners. In 2014 superhero movies were still wary of utilizing female actors as leads. Operating under the firm belief that female characters don’t sell well on the toy aisle their roles are stripped to the bare minimum. Scarlett Johansson’s full time job involved being the sole female lead for many of the Marvel features. This meant playing a second fiddle in a variety of blockbuster movies, ultimately as a fill-in love interest for whichever male character fits the bill. To Marvel the successes of Hunger Games, Divergent and the rest are more of an annoyance than a call to reassess their model. There is no plan to spin Johansson’s Black Widow into a solo feature. That’s a shame as Lucy proves that among the Marvel leads she is one of the few capable of leading her own franchise.

Published: June 23, 2019, 10:55 a.m.
Updated: June 23, 2019, 10:55 a.m.