Quite often, the act of giving a star rating to a film is made instantly redundant. For here is a film that I loved, yet have a sneaking suspicion that the majority of the people reading this will absolutely hate it. How can I give a bad review to something that I wholeheartedly enjoyed, in a sincere and not remotely ironic way, even if I imagine the people reading this will feel entirely differently? Isn’t it the job of a reviewer to highlight films their audience will love?
Lucy is the new film from Luc Besson, the one-time amazing director of Leon, who is now better known to modern cinema audiences as a producer on the “A-list celebrity goes to Europe to shoot people” films his company Eurocorp releases seemingly every other week. This is his directorial return to form, his best effort behind the camera since Leon and his silliest since The Fifth Element. It’s a film that has been advertised using the tagline “open your mind”, yet you will likely find it is best enjoyed with your brain switched off.
In a basic plot synopsis the reasons why I assume audiences may not particularly like the movie aren’t clear. We are introduced in Taiwan to Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) via a conversation with her boyfriend (Borgen star Pilou Asbæk) in which she is unwittingly forced into becoming a drug mule for him. Within a minute he’s killed and she’s kidnapped and knocked unconscious. She wakes up to find a bag containing a vast amount of the new drug has been forcibly sewn into her insides, and she has to travel across Europe to deliver it- because “the kids over there are going to go crazy for it”. When attacked whilst in captivity, the bag splits open- and it turns out that in large quantities, the new CPH4 drug can actively increase your brain power. This makes Lucy the deadliest being alive.
So far, so Limitless. This is the second film in the past few years to extensively focus on the myth that humans only use 10% of their brains- something that even a person as terrible as science as myself can happily inform you is bullshit. The reason it didn’t bother me here was because the film invented its own logic, and even when it repeatedly presented itself as the truth (early action scenes are frequently interrupted by Morgan Freeman giving a science seminar on “how the brain works”) it at least helps make the narrative to work, if not for it to make sense in the world of scientific truth we live in. The fact that this information is presented in a seminar form is worrying though- it does terrify me that lots of stupid people will hear Freeman discussing how the brain works and assume that it must be true.
Another reason people are likely to hate it is because of the narrative digressions. There are multiple montages in the early stretches of this film, that play out like a mash-up of a David Attenborough documentary and Madonna’s “Ray of Light” music video. One minute we’re watching Lucy in captivity, the next Morgan Freeman giving a science seminar, then a graphic montage of animals fucking and (yes) giving birth in close-up. It’s a directorial decision that may infuriate some people- yet the fact that a major blockbuster has the tenacity to do this is remarkable. I wrote recently that I was bored of the Marvel movies as they feel so familiar; it’s this element of next-level weirdness presented so frequently in Lucy that I wish all blockbusters had ingrained in their DNA. The film is unarguably a mess in terms of narrative- playing a drinking game based on plot holes in this film could be lethal, but its sheer storytelling audaciousness makes all criticism irrelevant. It’s been a long time since I’ve been so surprised and weirded out by a mainstream movie- criticizing it for having a narrative that’s all over the place would do a disservice to how much I enjoyed it whilst watching.
What’s remarkable is that it manages to make elements “borrowed” (stolen) from other films seem so unique. Besson himself said the film was a cross between Leon, Inception and 2001, yet there are references to everything thrown in the mix here- the final 15 minutes are like a bizarre cross between Akira and The Tree of Life, but in reverse. It’s the lowest form of criticism to just list a bunch of movies a particular film resembles, yet in the case of Lucy it is impossible not to do that.
It may play better than an extended homage to better movies, but it’s still not quite the sum of its parts. It is, however, a frequently inspired, continuously bonkers movie. You might hate the science, you might hate the nonsensical narrative and you probably will hate the ending. But I guarantee you this- you will not be bored.