As the writer behind the Taken franchise, I shouldn’t have doubted the level of absurdity French director Luc Besson was capable of. Luckily, modern screen siren Scarlett Johansson (The Girl with the Pearl Earring, The Avengers) spearheads this existential escapade as the titular Lucy, a woman accidentally transformed into a superhuman.
Whilst in Taiwan studying, Lucy hooks up with Richard (Pilou Asbæk of The Borgias), a dodgy character profiteering as a drug mule for the underground Chinese mafia. When Lucy is tricked into delivering one of the packages on his behalf, she finds herself deeply embroiled in a business far darker than she – or anyone – would have anticipated.
The always compelling but little-known British actor Julian Rhind-Tutt (Notting Hill and Channel 4’s Green Wing) cameos as The Limey, a British entrepreneur who explains the trafficking process to Lucy following her capture. A new powerful synthetic drug called CPH4 is being distributed throughout the world via unwilling accomplices, and Lucy is going to be the latest guinea pig. Unforeseen, however, is the brutal beating unleashed upon Lucy by sleazy tattooed crims before her departure, where the package inserted into her abdomen erupts and enters her system. Within minutes, her mental and physical abilities have multiplied as the CPH4 increases her mind’s potential, gradually, to its full, never-before reached 100% capacity over the film’s duration. In layman’s terms, Lucy has become a powerful and dangerous weapon in the war on drugs.
South Korean actor Choi Min-sik (Oldboy, I Saw the Devil) is effectively cold and calculated as Mr Jang, the ruthless and chilling mob boss and drug lord overseeing the whole operation. Rather too predictably and neatly, Mr Jang gets his just deserts (twice, in fact) in Taken-esque fashion. Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank Redemption, The Dark Knight) is once again typecast as the “wise old man” in his lack-lustre performance as Professor Samuel Norman, an extensive researcher (although hypothetically) into the very condition Lucy has so radically acquired.
On the other hand, Johansson is magnetic as the ever-evolving heroine. Not only are Lucy’s powers a lot of fun and good tools to seek revenge on her cruel captors, they are also a huge and ultimately fatal burden, and Johansson handles the balance well. Her sexy deadpan delivery is fitting as all that made her human is slowly – and painfully – being replaced. Johansson is mainly expressionless, but that gorgeous, photogenic face of hers lights up the screen in every close-up.
Visually, the thrills and spills are effective. The Hollywood style car chase is smartly shot as a dangerous drive through the bustling streets of Paris with boggled police officer Pierre Del Rio (Egyptian actor Amr Waked from Contagion and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) nervously strapped in beside her. The film’s surgical scenes and action violence were tamer than expected, which I welcomed.
The CGI scenes in the opening sequence created good visual indicators of the tone and pace of the film. The first-half of this film is shot beautifully. Juxtaposing David Attenborough-esque nature shots with the unfolding plot creates good and grounding suspense. Images of animals hunting, procreating and nurturing help to contextualise the science of Lucy. These segments echo the more abstract moments of movies such as The Tree Of Life, whilst the over-done dolphin studies reminds mostly of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Much of the tension experienced early in the film comes from slickly edited sequences intercut between Johansson and Freeman’s establishing scenes, although on the whole, their relevance to the film’s plot wanes pretty quickly.
The climax was predictably underwhelming, and when Lucy began her inevitable transformation from superhuman to supreme being, I zoned out a little from embarrassment. What a fantastical, pithy ending to what could have been such a punchy, thought-provoking exploration into the realms we humans have never entered – “to boldly go where no man has gone before,” to quote Star Trek. Instead, this semi-enjoyable roller-coaster ride is a fairly shallow investigation into life, the universe and everything, but ultimately, this is a Hollywood blockbuster. Scientific jargon aside, if high-octane entertainment is what you’re after, then Lucy delivers.
THE REEL SCORE: 6/10