July 27, 2014

Movie Review: Lucy (2014)

I recall the first time I saw the trailer for Lucy, I was immediately interested. It looked like a fun/weird mash up of action and science fiction. Then I learned it was from writer/director/producer Luc Besson and I was fully on board. Sure, he is pretty far removed from his artistic heights of Leon, La Femme Nikita, and The Fifth Element, but there is still something about his productions, his blending of high concept and everyday action that I have always liked. Sure, The Family left something to be desired, but then again, everyone has their off time, right? Back to the movie at hand, Lucy looked like a winner from the get go to this guy.

So, now that I have seen it, the big question is whether or not it remains to seem like a winner. The answer is a simple yes. I enjoyed this movie a lot. Is it perfect? No way, far from it. What it does do is take a high concept idea, offer up some interesting content, and delivering it in a fashion that can be appealing to a mainstream audience. This is one of the things Besson does so well, is to make this concept movies and make them fun.

As I left the theater, the thought that lept running through my head was “this is what Transcendence should have been.” They travel similar roads but take two distinctly different directions. While The Depp starring Transcendence lost its way and ultimately did not amount to anything, Lucy remains tight, quick, and focused, using the talents of its stars to get the audience invested on an emotional level and then carrying it through to its perplexing conclusion.

I think the first thing most of us will notice right up front is a fallacy in the science the whole thing is based on. The idea that we only use about 10 percent of our brain has been debunked time and again, so I will not go into that (not that I am so smart as to be able to explain it, I just know it isn't true), just think about the devastating effect that a small amount of brain damage can have. Anyway, it may be better to think about this as the idea of human potential and what we could potentially achieve if we were able to. Not unlike the Bradley Cooper flick Limitless.

Scarlet Johansson stars as the titular Lucy, a young woman working on studies abroad in Taiwan. It is clear early on that she has had issues in the past and this was a move in an effort to focus (perhaps to achieve that much more of her potential?). We find her in the presence of a rather grimy fellow who purports to be her boyfriend. The guy is involved in some shady deals and underhandedly handcuffs a locked briefcase to her wrist and sends her in to meet the mysterious Mr. Jang (Choi Min-sik of Oldboy and I Saw the Devil).

Lucy is coerced to become a drug mule for Mr. Jang. After a tense moment opening up the briefcase, which put an nice spotlight in the fight/flight instinct, she is knocked unconscious and when she wakes up, she discovers she has been cut open and stitched back together. She has been implanted with a synthetic drug called CPH4 and is expected to mule it back home where the drug organization will reclaim it and sell it in clubs. Intercut with all of this are scenes with Morgan Freeman as a professor who has spent his career theorizing on the access beyond the 10 percent mark.

Well, what comes next is an assault on Lucy results in the drugs leaking into her system. The massive dose has the effect of unlocking her brain potential and before you know it, she is able to control electronics, gain knowledge at an exponential rate, and fight off bad guys with the flick of a finger. The entire thing is patently ridiculous, but it is also entertaining and it is also fun to think about the extent of human potential.

I think what I liked most about Lucy is the idea of how far can we go and still be ourselves. At some point you would think something would get in the way of what makes us, well, us. Think about Transcendence, that saw a consciousness downloaded into a computer where it expanded to something much different than itself, essentially obliterating the person. With Lucy, we watch as she begins to lose herself in the changes, highlighted by a call home to her mother, where she tries (ineffectually) to explain the changes she feels and how her mind has opened to all of her memories. The further in we get, the less human she seems, the knowledge and widening of brain capacity distances her from those around her, thereby alienating her and making somewhat less human. It is interesting to watch.

While the idea of self and the introduction of expanding potential is certainly interesting, we are never allowed to forget that this movie is essentially exploiting those ideas as fodder for an effects driven action film. It works well, everything just blending the action and the ideas together into one fun tapestry. Luc Besson does a nice job of keeping everything on track, keeping it interesting, and keeping the pace quick, while Morgan Freeman offers a nice level of legitimacy to the silliness, and Scarlet Johansson does a fine job of keeping it grounded and giving us an emotionally interesting character to keep us invested in the events.

Will everyone like this? No, not at all. It really can be silly, if that is how you want to read it. Fortunately, there is more to it, if you want there to be. There is no denying that it is ridiculous but it can also be seen as a high concept intended as a mainstream way to look at the ideas of potential and what makes us human. Or, it could just be a silly, entertaining action flick.

Highly Recommended.

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