27 August 2014

LUCY- Review

Scarlett Johansson is having an interesting year. Only within 12 months of appearing in Jonathan Glazer's headfuck Under The Skin and (not) appearing in Spike Jonze's unorthodox romance Her could her latest role, Luc Besson's Lucy, look like a relatively mainstream proposition and yet here we are.

At the start of the film, Lucy is a fun-loving American living in Taiwan, recovering from a typically massive hangover, when her shifty boyfriend embroils her in a drug-trafficking racket. When she's beaten in custody by the criminals, a deposit of a synthetic growth hormone bursts inside her stomach and changes her physiology. While it's said that humans only use 10% of their brain's potential, the substance allows Lucy to access up to 100% of that capacity, and over the course of 24 hours, she has to put that power to good use.

Following in the wake of Limitless and Transcendence, some of the negative buzz around this one has related to its giving truth to the lie that we only use 10% of our brain's capacity, as suggested by the marketing. In the film itself, it's more clear that they're referring to the potential of what our brains can achieve, and even then it's only as a metric for how much more powerful Lucy becomes as the film goes on. 20% just means twice as powerful as usual, 30% three times as powerful, etc. More than that, it's a film that uses its brainpower on loftier goals than Bradley Cooper's self-improvement or Johnny Depp's god complex.

In loose terms, it's a superhero origin story, and faster than either Superman or Spider-Man in their recent origin stories, our heroine quickly figures out that she should be using her abilities for good. At the same time, she moves down the same track as Watchmen's Dr. Manhattan, becoming disaffected by humanity as she goes on. As far as this goes, Johansson is always watchable, largely by virtue of reprising her alien affectation from Under The Skin, albeit in a film that is much more eager to spoon-feed the narrative to the audience.

Here, as in Transcendence, that comes courtesy of Morgan Freeman, who's on hand to either set up the brain's potential or provide ADR lines that explain the weird metaphysical changes that Lucy is undertaking. Unlike Transcendence, as mentioned, this is a singularity movie that considers the big picture, including more philosophical questions about whether life is actually anything like as normal as we perceive it. At its least elegant, this comes down to shonkily inserted stock footage of nature, but in at least trying for an ambitiously holisitic approach, its successes are larger and more memorable than its failures.

The closest that Besson really comes to subtlety is in having Amr Waked tag along as a French cop who is kept around so that Lucy has a reminder of the humanity she's losing. Not that the film is always consistent in Lucy's no-nonsense approach to antagonists- she shoots a taxi driver and murders a terminal cancer patient merely for being in her way, but doesn't immediately vaporise the trifling gangsters who want their product back, led by Choi Min-sik's satanic Mr. Jang. There doesn't seem to be any reason for this except for an inevitable stakes-raising siege in the third act, but you can't help but notice the inconsistency.

It has plenty of action, shootouts and car chases to boot, but if you look at the output of Besson's EuropaCorp over the last few years, it's as if they think audiences just want to see Americans go to Europe and kill stereotypical baddies. Audiences have seemed happy to back that up at the box office as far as the Taken and Transporter films go, although this year's 3 Days To Kill deservedly bombed. Even if this could broadly be classed in the same trend, it's undoubtedly more thoughtful than any of them have been for a long, long time.

Yes, Lucy may still be a big, dumb action movie at heart, but its considered daftness is slightly irresistible. There's no question that Johansson has had more interesting and even more metaphysical characters to portray this year, but Besson has delivered an enjoyable and ambitious film that slates ignorance and reaches out ambitiously. It's far from a subtle film or even a really intelligent one, but in terms of mainstream sci-fi action, this is up there with the more interesting entries of recent years.

Lucy is now showing at cinemas and IMAX screens nationwide.
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If you've seen Lucy, why not share your comments below? Fun fact- according to the script, Besson intended this to be equal parts Leon, Inception and 2001: A Space Odyssey- did anyone else detect a soupçon of The Matrix in there too?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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