Movie Review - Lucy
Updated: Mar 12, 2023
“I am Dune.”
“I am Dune.”
Yes, I know I’m writing a review for Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’…but hear me out. Toward the end of the documentary 'Jodorowsky’s Dune' (watch it…now!), we learn that the ending of the film would’ve been vastly different from the book. In Jodo’s version, Feyd Routha slices the throat of the young Paul. As he falls to the ground, dead, the gathered Fremen and Atreides begin to announce in a singular voice, Paul’s voice, “I am Paul.” Thus, according to Brontis Jodorowsky, the director’s son who was slated to play Paul Atreides, the demise of the movie is similar to the demise of its hero in that Dune was killed in preproduction, yet its crew and their ideas went on to influence cinema in ways that are still very visible today. And this is very evident in ‘Lucy’, in fact, I just gave away the ending. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.
At the core of ‘Lucy’ is one of the scientific “facts” that everyone seems to remember: that even the smartest human only uses approximately 10% of his or her brain. Now, I put fact in quotation marks there not to be some sort of smarmy internet jackass that’s not going to pass off some pseudoscience on you, but because even amongst the most elite neurologists and neuroscientists there’s a very heated debate about this so-called fact. There are some that stick with this 10-15% figure but use wording more akin to ’10-15% of the human brain’s computing/processing potential’ and others that argue that since we’ve identified the portions of the brain and what their functions are or what bodily processes they’re responsible for, humans do indeed use 100% of their brain. In the special features for the disc, how this argument can even exist is put very eloquently when it is said “It’s a testament to how little we know about the brain that this argument can still be taking place”.
Let’s face it though, the 100% argument doesn’t really lend itself well to entertainment purposes, so let’s take a look at the story of Lucy. The premise here is that our heroine is taken by force and is, shall we say…recruited…to serve as a drug mule. The drug in question is of the mind expansion sort and it’s never really explained whether or not this is more for resale for recreational purposes or if it’s shady ‘big-pharma’ sort of stuff. Given that I only thought of that while writing this review and not while I was watching the movie, I guess it’s not really necessary to know that in order to enjoy or hate the film. What is pertinent is that Lucy ends up being the only woman amongst the mules. Oh, yeah, and she’s Scarlett Johansson…so you know, aw, c’mon, do I have to spell it out? Sigh. Let’s just say she refuses the charming advances of her captors post-surgery and, because bad guy minions are idiots, the beating she receives also involves kicks to the stomach…you know, where the drugs are. Any guesses as to what happens? Yup, bag puncture and mind expanding drug gets into her system. Sure, the movie gives it some sort of name…but it’s a bunch of letters and I’m writing this review from memory and not prepared notes…so to continue our Dune analogy, let’s just call it Melange.
The story follows Lucy as she seeks to stay alive for as long as possible, as she becomes aware very early on that she will not survive for very long. One thing that will help is more Melange and thus either hunting down the other mules or getting hands on their cargo, which she’s able to do by enlisting the aid of French police. To use what’s happening to her as a benefit to mankind, she also touches base with a scientist played by Morgan Freeman who brings his Morgan Freeman-ness to the proceedings giving everything an air of kinda-sorta legitimacy. Lastly, of course, there’s taking down as many of the people who did this to her as she can in the time she has left. The movie, through brief flashes, keeps us informed as to what levels Lucy is reaching throughout the story as the more of her brain she uses, the less and less human she becomes. Now, there are critics out there of Scarlett Johansson’s acting (or some will say lack thereof), but regardless of that, the role works for her. Whether it’s her lack of talent or her skill in conveying Lucy’s growing detachment from the humanity around her, she’s very effective in the role. Or, maybe it’s simply the way the role was written…that’s a possibility too, because, hey, writer/director Luc Besson knows what he’s doing (La Femme Nikita, Leon the Professional and the Fifth Element all come to mind…okay, so I haven’t seen Nikita…but I did see the other two…and yes, I know he’s done more movies that just those 3…well, now 4 with this one). Anyway, through her friend whom she advises on health and diet at the beginning of her transformation to the French cop she chooses as a side-kick and Morgan Freeman, we see Lucy at least try to hang on to some vestiges of humanity (closure with the past, a reminder of what humans are/can be and a legacy for the future respectively). Action throughout the film is handled with Besson’s deft touch, although I will say that his ‘racing through Paris highways going against the traffic’ pales in comparison to similar stunt work done in John Frankenheimer’s 1998 film Ronin. I mean, it was exciting and served the story as the standard car chase for a movie like this…so this isn’t a slight to Besson, per se, but more of an ‘internet reviewer points to obscure movie from previous century and expects more than 7 other people to get the reference’ moment. At the time of release, it was speculated that Marvel Studios would be keeping an eye on how Lucy did at the box office in order to determine whether or not to do a solo Black Widow movie with Ms. Johansson. And if we truly use Lucy as the metric, I’d say sure, why not? Just make sure it’s well written and well directed and has a strong supporting cast…but, gasp, that’s the makings of any good movie, now isn’t it? Back to the film itself, the story culminates at 100% once Lucy ingests the remaining bags of Melange. What happens when Lucy advances that far? Well, I’ve already spoiled it in the opening to the review. As her consciousness outgrows her physical form, she kinda does a Tetsuo from Akira, but far more controlled and composed (but still…gooey). And after creating a computer/thumb drive with as much data as she could make accessible, she’s gone…with only a simple text remaining: “I am everywhere.”
The above really is just broad strokes. There are scenes of ‘time travel’…but is she really travelling in time or simply tracing back along her genetic history? After all, for the science nerd (okay, that and the fact that Besson is slightly heavy-handed with it), it is certainly no coincidence that the main character and the film share the same name as a certain female Australopithecus afarensis. Anyway, back on point, there’s more here that you may not think about during the film…but may percolate later, like, say when you’re writing an internet review (like i just did with the genetic history thing).
In an effort to keep this short (heck, call this the ‘anti-Interstellar’ review format!) the film is certainly nothing extraordinary and not overly original in terms of themes and such…but it is definitely entertaining and worth checking out if you’ve got a couple of hours to kill.