Scarlett Johansson escapes from the Marvel universe and gets to play her own superhero in “Lucy.” Unfortunately, the result is unintentionally cheesy and dumb.
Directed by Luc Besson, “Lucy” stars Johansson as a 25-year-old American in Taiwan. She isn’t given much of a description before her newfound boyfriend forces her to deliver a briefcase to the Taiwanese mob. She turns into an unwilling drug mule as the mob knocks her out and places a package of blue, synthetic chemical into her abdomen. The package ruptures, releasing the chemical into her body and transforming her into a superhero with limitless powers. She can control other people’s bodies, learn a compendium of erudite research articles and has the ability to access any electronics.
An intercut lecture by Morgan Freeman’s character about the untapped potential of the human brain explains the logic behind the transformation. Coincidentally, this new drug is unlocking Johansson’s mind from the supposed cap of 10% usage of the human brain. As the film progresses, it includes title cards showing the increase in Lucy’s brain power like power-ups in a video game.
Besson is known for writing strong female roles in his work, most notably “La Femme Nikita” and “The Fifth Element.” This is certainly true here as nearly every shot of the film centers around Johansson’s presence. She’s essentially the lone woman in this film fighting a bunch of men. There’s no shoe-horned romance either — she can handle herself.
However, this film constantly wavers in tone. At some points, the film asks to be taken seriously like when the science behind Johansson’s powers is explained (which happens many times as she keeps acquiring abilities) or when the protagonists are getting attacked. Other times, the film is tongue-in-cheek, as Besson includes sequences of animals fornicating as a visual gag, when Lucy transports herself in time for odd encounters with dinosaurs and other races, or when she exhibits her powers with some mildly goofy effects. This is frustrating and confusing as a viewer. Either be serious or cheesy, but as the film tries to straddle both it ultimately falls apart.
Furthermore, Lucy as a character is almost invincible once she gets her powers. She is instinctively able to predict where mobsters will be behind walls and midway through the film she gets the ability to cause the people around her to pass out. Because of this, there is zero tension during the final shootout that ends this film. It’s inconceivable that Lucy won’t make it out.
In an interview with the New York Times, Besson recalled that he crafted this film from the idea that when people get cancer, they “are dying by immortality, because the cells that get cancer are not dead,” so he wanted to make “an entertaining film with a philosophical point of view.” This idea is technically present in the film, but isn’t explored in a satisfying way. This is the basic problem with the film. There are some neat science fiction ideas here, but they are dropped entirely to keep up the fast pace.
These ideas do give way for hit or miss special effects. The most successful shows Johansson’s body ripping apart on an airplane, as her powers are getting too powerful for her mere mortal body to contain. On the other hand, there’s a sequence that ends the film with a black goo that looks seems like it was created by someone right of out college at home on his Mac.
The film ends with Johansson narrating that “Life was given to us a billion years ago; now you know what to do with it.” This felt like it came out of nowhere and as if it were from a different movie entirely. Johansson’s star power and acting ability are the sole reason the 90 minute runtime felt quick. If this film starred someone of lesser notoriety, this might have been a cool breakthrough role. Here, it feels like wasted talent. “Lucy” is a hodgepodge of half-baked philosophy and unimpressive action sequences.