Had it been made by anyone else, the movie Lucy would’ve been far more conventional, far more straight-forward. But writer/director Luc Besson (The Professional, The Fifth Element) takes a decidedly artsy and European approach to this sci-fi action flick, and while this ultimately makes it a glorious failure, it’s still entertaining enough to be worth seeing. Eventually.
In Lucy, Scarlett Johansson (The Avengers) plays a woman forced to be a mule for some drug dealers with very little regard for human life. But when the bag of drugs in her stomach breaks, and the drug seeps into her blood stream, Lucy gains super human abilities like she’s a cross between a superhero, a Jedi Knight, and Neo from The Matrix.
There’s a lot to love about Lucy. Not only does the movie move along at a nice clip, but it has some rather visually engaging scenes (though many of them were in the trailer). And Scarlett Johanson is perfect for this role, as she’s as adept at playing scared and vulnerable as she is playing someone with real (or unreal, as the case may be) power. Thankfully, she has some equally strong actors to play against, most notably Min-sik Choi (Oldboy), who viciously chews up every scene he’s in as the leader of the drug dealers.
No, the problem with Lucy lies entirely with Besson, both as writer and director. For starters, not a lot happens. Which is both good and bad. Had anyone else made this movie, Lucy would’ve used her powers to go on a bloody revenge trip, complete with over-the-top destruction, slo-mo gunplay, and spectacular explosions. But Besson, and thus Lucy, takes a different approach, which is interesting and unexpected…except that there’s not a lot to it. While you may not be able to guess where this is going from the general premise, once you’ve seen it, it doesn’t take more than a sentence or two to explain everything that happens.
In fact, Besson actually pads out the movie a bit by illustrating certain points with stock nature footage (though some of it does make more sense when you get to the end). Which causes the second problem: the movie’s pointlessly pretentious visual style. The film’s use of nature footage, along with some needless slo-mo, gives this movie an artsy feel, but it’s one it really doesn’t need. At least not to this degree.
Again, I appreciate Besson trying to do something different — had Lucy been a Michael Bay movie, it would’ve been two hours of slo-mo cleavage and fire balls — but it really doesn’t work for this story. It’s almost like Besson was trying to make a 2001 kind of movie, when he should’ve been trying to make The Matrix, and as a result he ended up with an artsy version of Commando.
But since this has an engaging story, and since Johansson and Choi are both magnetic in it, it’s hard to say that Lucy isn’t worth seeing. Maybe not full price at a theater, but certainly at a matinee or at home if you have a nice home theater set-up. Just make sure you suspend your disbelief before sitting down, because Lucy stretches credibility quite often. At the very least, try not to laugh too loud when the cops show up and don’t notice the drug kingpin and his henchmen fiddling with large guns nearby.
One last thing. I’m sure some critics will dismiss Lucy by saying it’s like a video game. But for once, they’re kind of right (well, about the game part, not the dismissive part). Lucy’s powers level up, and she gains new abilities as she reaches certain milestones. But these elements don’t weaken Lucy as a cinematic experience; if anything, if Lucy had gotten all of her powers all at once, this movie would be even shorter and have even less going on than it already does.
Besides, I’d like to play the Lucy game.
In the end, Lucy is a bit of a deeply flawed mess that had deep logic problems, but it’s also wildly exciting and never drags. Worth your money? Maybe not. Worth seeing? Absolutely.