Lucy is a movie that uses only 10% of its cinematic capacity, and I've graded it accordingly.
Written and directed by Luc Besson
With Scarlett Johansson (Lucy), Min-Sik Choi (Chiang), Amr Waked (Pierre Del Rio), and Morgan Freeman (Prof. Morgan Freeman)
Spoiler alert: mild
Is Lucy a joke?
Because it could be: an asinine experiment, largely played for laughs, the laugh being on us. Lucy was nominally written and directed by Luc Besson, a professional filmmaker; Lucy is, however, the exact movie a 13 year old could fantasize about making himself, were he given the resources to do it. The 13 year old is a boy. Obviously.
That 13 year old would cast his favorite actress, and he'd hire the lead actor from his favorite movie, and he'd fill the script with the profound thoughts he's been having lately, that have never been thought by anyone ever before, pausing only to punch it up with some truly legit action. "Legit" is something the kids say these days.
At least according to the 23 year old I dated. No, the other one. As they say about other historical tragedies: never again. But then it does.
Except, just like a punk wouldn't, this kid has no idea that this experiment was already conducted years ago, much to civilization's satisfaction, and the results were about as good as they were ever going to get. The irony, of course, is that it was indeed Luc Besson who directed both of these movies—and The Fifth Element really was written by a silly teenager.
Now Besson's self-dumbing impression of the kid he used to be has resulted in the year's, and perhaps our new century's, very stupidest film. Sadly, it has very little of the genuine energy that the far younger man brought to his gonzo science fantasy masterpiece. In fact, all verve runs out by the thirty minute mark.
It can't be easily overstated how idiotic Lucy is. It is a film about a woman who unlocks the unused 90% of her brain. We shall not dwell on too many specifics, but merely begin and end at the top: we do use 100% of our brain—that's why it's there—but there is a medical name for using all 100% of it at once. It's called a fucking seizure.
I thought this trope had been left to rot decades ago. (Besson is far from its inventor, of course; and that is of a piece with Lucy, in which he has created literally nothing new at all, just 2001 and The Matrix and Scanners and Watchmen and maybe even The Tree of Life, with the good parts filed off. I expect even Limitless was a better version of this story. And, obviously, I don't even want to mention Altered States in a sentence that refers to this excruciating knockoff.)
But, whatever adults may think of the matter, Besson, Age 13, thought using 100% of your brain sounded very cool, and we are witness to cutaway scenes with Morgan Freeman, Ph.D, reviving the dead horse with terrible authority. In one of cinema's worst Bad Science Slideshows, he explicates the concept at a length that would be stultifying even if it weren't fake. (Could Besson take a lesson from Noriaki Yuasa? You're Goddamned right he could.)
Of course, I'd spot any piece of entertainment a dumb premise, were it, in fact, entertaining. Flash Gordon is not The Greatest Movie of All Time because it's smart, after all.
But Lucy is very far from entertaining. True, the first third of Lucy generates an effective thriller's momentum—as it would very well almost have to. Our titular Lucy is kidnapped, drugged, subjected to surgery and implanted with what seems to be four kilograms of blue powder by an evil cabal of Euro-Taiwanese gangsters—represented most forcefully by everyone's favorite Evergreen old boy, Min-Sik Choi, whose character is meaningless after these opening scenes, but by Jove he's in the movie till the end, hardly speaking a single interesting word. Thus conscripted into the drug mule business, Lucy must find her way out. Complicating matters is that, following an attempted sexual assault by one of her captors (yay), one of the packets is compromised, and slowly the vile chemical leaks into her bloodstream.
I pause here simply to remark that Lucy is possessed of a great set-up, full of amazing possibilities for tension and action and all else you could ever want from a thriller. So it's a pity that the drug is actually a synthetic human hormone that grants young Lucy an ever-increasing array of superpowers, permitting her to instantly destroy all her enemies, instead. (Making matters less interesting is that these superpowers are so vaguely defined that the average Silver Age Action Comics tale possesses more inherent suspense and coherence.)
This first act is still not great in execution—I surmise even that puny 10% cerebral capacity of yours can imagine quite well what all that incessant cutting to Freeman must do to it. (It's sad that Luc Besson, master of at best 2, couldn't.) But once it's over, the movie gets worse, and worse, and worse, till finally the guy next to me walked out two minutes before the end.
That's the true mark of a terrible movie. Anyone can walk out of your bad movie for wasting their time, but when someone has invested 88 minutes in your film and faced each one of them down with a steely resolve to reach the end, only to bail the very instant the climax presents itself, have you not failed—and failed utterly?
It's a rhetorical question, but the answer is "yes."
Lucy can be pretty on occasion—some of the imagery of Lucy's metamorphosis is faintly memorable. More often, though, it's ruined by risible CGI and lazy, even ugly design; Lucy's final apotheosis is a case study in this cool/not-cool dichotomy. Yet what marks Lucy as true trash is that it is at once meaningless and boring. Its philosophical riff on stoner profundities wouldn't impress a stoned stoner stoning themselves for the full 90 minutes, and it surely did not impress me. "Humans are concerned more with having than being"? I guess this is Besson's way of telling me I can't have a good movie.
As a character study of a woman ascending to godhood—which seems like it would be the most favorable light in which to view Lucy—it is even worse than that. Johansson is one of our great actors—I had my doubts once, which were totally dispelled last year—and in those first thirty minutes, she proves it again. Then, as if a switch were flipped upon her acting circuits, she proceeds to generate surely one of the most dumbfounding performances of the year. Presumably at Besson's behest, Johansson equates her evolved human with a monotone pedant, if not an actual parody of a robot. Each sentence that comes out of her mouth seems to have been composed without the rudiments of puncuation or a single stray emotion. For about five minutes this has the capacity to amuse, but she never, ever stops. All of the ridiculous sophistry that could have been hilarious is now instead crushed into oblivion beneath Johansson's affectless anti-acting.
I pointedly mentioned that our notional 13 year old is male, but that's perhaps unfair; at the least, it's misleading. It's bound to give the impression that Johansson, widely hailed as ultra-hot, is made an object of prurient desire in Lucy. And if I must praise Besson in any fashion, he does seem to have grown out of his penchant for putting attractive women in costumes made of bandages, for nothing of the sort happens here, other than a single shot that cuts in perhaps a little early than it would need to, and is framed back a bit farther than it must be, so we can get a decent look at Johansson's unavoidable breasts.
However, insofar as that rape attempt I mentioned is entirely plot mechanical, and a brief kiss is thoroughly pointless, this is as sexless a film as you could conceive. But of course it must be, for objectification would be something. There's theoretical value to a movie that generally avoids the sexualization of a female action star—something already done better this year anyway—but in any event, "theory" gives many justifications for Lucy's existence, with none of them borne out in practice.
And do I feel like a tool that I couldn't avoid hating the two big movies actually headlined by women this summer? You bet I do.
But c'est la Lucy: an action movie with hardly any fights worth having, a thriller that abandons its tension, a science fiction movie that has never read a book, a superhero story with no real character, and a prospective film of ornamentation that is barely ever worth looking at whatsoever.
There was one really ballsy move that could've saved Lucy at the end—or rendered it adequate, or in any way worthwhile, which is as much salvation as this film could hope for, anyway. I wondered briefly if, in her final, godlike form, Lucy would stand up from that chair, walk off the set and briefly chat with Besson himself, before exiting the studio entirely. But relax, thou spoiler-weary: nothing nearly as interestingly Grant Morrisonesque happens. What happens is just what you'd expect from the first 88 minutes, and it is every bit as dull as every other damned thing Lucy offers.
This experiment is, as far as I'm concerned, complete. My conclusion is that Luc Besson should stop conducting experiments, and if this wasn't an experiment, but something he earnestly felt was good and cool and right, he should stop making movies period. At the very least, he needs to take a long, hard look at what he's been doing the last couple of years. At this point, the best choice for his career might well be to quit. The best choice for me would be to quit extending him credit for a movie he did almost twenty years ago, no matter how good it was.