“It is estimated most human beings only use 10% of the brain’s capacity,” lectures Morgan Freeman in the trailer for Luc Besson’s Lucy. Two cells divide. My brain sort of phased out the rest of the trailer when I heard this for the first time. An antelope is born. Surely a movie wouldn’t be built off such a popular scientific misconception? It’s ridiculous people actually believe this sort of thing, right? A cheetah chases an antelope. I assured myself it was, that this was just a sales pitch, and that the man behind The Fifth Element knew what he was doing. He’s an accomplished filmmaker. The antelope is dead.
I’m done with the italics interludes now because I can’t bring myself to write another; I assume you can’t bring yourself to read another. You see what they do to the flow of the narrative, how they chop it into piecemeal fragments you’d expect to see littered on a high school English teacher’s to-be-graded pile. For some reason (likely orbiting profound intellectualism), Besson decided to burden the plotting with his cinematic equivalent for the first half hour or so. Shots of animals birthing, killing each other, people moving, building, all intercut with the main action before they’re quietly abandoned. Apparently Besson didn’t feel the story of Lucy was engrossing enough on its own.
Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is tricked by her boyfriend into delivering a briefcase to the crime lord Mr. Jang (Min-sik Choi). The simple delivery is complicated when Mr. Jang has Lucy open the briefcase, revealing blue crystalized drugs Jang intends to sell to buyers in Europe. He decides to use Lucy as one of four drug mules: he gives her a ticket and sends her off. Some of Jang’s men want to have their way with her while she’s waiting for her flight and in fighting them off, Lucy is injured. The drugs leak into her body giving her immense power, escalating her brain output from a paltry 10% all the way to 100%. But in order to achieve full power and to keep herself alive, Lucy must hunt down the remaining three drug mules and take their drugs for herself. Morgan Freeman is in the mix too as a famed professor, but he doesn’t really do a whole lot in the story, even though we’re made to think he does.
If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen this and the rest of the plot. I don’t blame the film when a trailer reveals too much; I bring up the trailer because it so elegantly shows how disappointingly simple the movie is. I do blame the movie for masquerading as an unprecedented treatise on life. It’s like Besson saw the best shots from Koyaanisqatsi and 2001, stripped them of their subtlety, and tried to shove them in the increasingly formulaic Besson framework. Those elements don’t work in the movies he is good at making. And they really don’t work when the movie is riddled with non-sequiturs. Among these, you can look forward to a brain surgeon performing local anesthetic on the stomach, computers that gain processing power as Lucy gains brain power, a dinosaur, and a really special USB drive. Because Lucy never answered these small questions about itself; it had no hope of tackling the big questions of life.
If it wasn’t clear by now, I can’t find Lucy’s significant redeeming qualities. It had its moments, I’ll admit, but all films do. My entertainment was trying to keep the frustration and confusion and contempt I had while watching the film from upsetting the five rows in front of me. The thing is, I’m willing to bet for most audiences a sadomasochistic stroll through Besson’s newest action iteration isn’t high on the weekend fun list. Firing up The Fifth Element or Leon again is an all-around better choice.