It’s been a busy year for Luc Besson. On top of writing and producing “Brick Mansions” and “3 Days To Kill,” as well as producing the upcoming Tommy Lee Jones film, “The Homesman,” he also wrote and directed the visionary action-thriller called “Lucy,” starring Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman.
And this isn’t some pet project he made on a shoestring budget in his backyard. We’re talking a forty million dollar, effects-heavy, beautifully shot, globetrotting colossus of a movie. Perhaps best known as the brainchild behind the 90’s sci-fi extravaganza, “The Fifth Element,” and the box office smashing franchises, “Taken” and “The Transporter,” Besson is back with another summer crowdpleaser. With a deliriously catchy premise, a clever if outlandishly farfetched screenplay, eye- popping action sequences and larger-than-life performances from the main players, “Lucy” is one badass movie fit for the summer slate.
An action film with an intellectual bent, “Lucy” explores the following question: What if, instead of humans only being able to access ten percent of their brain capacity, they could access all of it?
It’s an interesting question with far-reaching implications, and Besson channels his curiosity into a story about the title character (Scarlett Johansson), a superficial coed living in Taiwan. When Lucy’s sleazy boyfriend tricks her into delivering a briefcase to his business associate, the dastardly Mr. Jang (Choi Min Sik), she becomes wrapped up in a crazy drug deal involving four priceless pouches of a synthetic drug called CPH4. Before Lucy can make heads or tails of what she’s involved in, Jang and his thugs surgically embed the pouches in the stomachs of her and three other unfortunate souls in order to smuggle the drug across Europe. But when Lucy’s pouch leaks and her body absorbs what would normally be a fatal amount of the drug, something miraculous happens: it increases her brain capacity to previously uncharted degrees.
With her cerebral capacity steadily increasing, providing her with superhuman powers like telepathy and telekinesis, Lucy sets out to avenge the baddies that put her in this predicament. Along the way, she enlists the help of world-renowned Professor Samuel Norman (Morgan Freeman), whose research on the brain Lucy uses to better understand her powers. Realizing that she’ll need the other three pouches of CPH4 in order to unlock all hundred percent of her brain capacity, Lucy conspires with a French police captain (Amr Waked) to apprehend the other traffickers before the drug hits the market. The downside of the drug, of course, is that it has decreased her life expectancy to a single day, and so Lucy must evade Jang while also finding a way to pass along her infinite knowledge to future generations.
Some may criticize Besson’s hypothetical premise as pseudo-intellectual, and that he merely gussies up a thought-provoking idea by blowing things up and showing off some cool superpowers. And while there is some credence to this argument, it’s hard to fault Besson – a maestro of high-octane action thrillers – for favoring the idea’s cinematic potential, especially when the results are this enjoyable. After all, this is a film geared toward the laid-back summer crowd; and with action sequences of this caliber, including a breathtaking car chase through Paris that has Lucy playing chicken with five lanes of oncoming traffic on the Rue de Rivoli, it’s best to just go along for the ride.
Besson has been creating indelible, headstrong female characters for the better part of his career, most notably the title role in “La Femme Nikita” and Leeloo in “The Fifth Element.” But now with “Lucy,” Scarlett Johansson’s name rockets right to the top of this list. In the past few years alone, Johansson has showed off her superhuman side as Black Widow in “The Avengers” and Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” as a Siri-like computer in “Her,” and as an otherworldly seductress in “Under The Skin.” But from the moment she transforms from the ditzy coed to the superhuman Lucy, it’s clear that her screen presence is at its most powerful. It may not be the most multifaceted character she’s ever portrayed, but she absolutely owns the role and does a good job charting her character’s grasp on her newfound powers.
Adding gravitas to the role of the all-knowing Professor Norman is Morgan Freeman, who could pull off this kind of scholarly role in his sleep but puts in fine work nonetheless. And if you want to know what the face of evil looks like, I present to you Choi Min Sik as Mr. Jang, who himself knows a thing or two about buttkicking from his work as the revenge-seeking “Oldboy” in the original South Korean version.
If you’re looking for a thriller that will give your brain a workout, you’ll probably be better off with “A Most Wanted Man;” but if a rollicking action spectacle is what you’re after, and you don’t mind staring at one of the most beautiful women on earth for ninety minutes, “Lucy” is definitely the way to go.
By Lucas Mirabella
Rated R for strong violence, disturbing images, and sexuality