Director: Luc Besson
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman
Watch Lucy online in the UK: TalkTalk TV / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play
What is life? How does it evolve? How many bad guys can Scarlett Johansson beat up? Lucy asks all the important questions – and a ton of others to boot.
Luc Besson’s sci-fi starts off in a tellingly bonkers fashion: with a shot of two cells dividing. Then, a chimp in the early stages of civilisation. If that catches you off guard, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
As soon as the chimp goes, it looks like business as usual. Scarlett Johansson’s heroine is kidnapped by gangsters and forced to become their drug mule for a new compound called CPH4. “We’re trying to think of a catchier name,” oozes a slimy Julian Rhind-Tutt in a suit. You could almost swear it was another sequel to Taken or a spin-off from The Transporter – but Besson never lets things settle, constantly cutting away to gazelles and lions on the prowl. Life. Death. Nature. Yes, this is a thriller, but the director makes it clear that Lucy is first and foremost a philosophical flick.
The deep themes of the movie, though, can be summed up in a single number: the 10% of our great matter that normal humans use? Lucy’s percentage is now on the up. The science of the whole thing – CPH4, aka. 6-carboxytetrahydropterin synthase, is an enzyme produced by pregnant mothers to help their babies grow (true), it makes you use more of your brain capacity (um…) – is off-the-wall stuff, literally so when it enters Lucy’s bloodstream, sending her flying across the ceiling before coming back down to earth with a bump. But Besson bookmarks the increase in big, white letters. 20%. Lucy makes something levitate. 30%. She reads someone’s mind. 40%. 50%. It’s hardly subtle, but the effect is electrifying, driving the on-rails action forwards at a relentless pace.
All the while, we keep jumping to a lecture given by Morgan Freeman, Hollywood’s secret weapon when it comes to making mumbo-jumbo sound believable. “She’s making a computer,” his somber scientist tells the other boffins, as they witness Lucy doing something that looks nothing like making a computer whatsoever. Everyone nods. Morgan Freeman said it. It must be true.
The result could be a disjointed experience, but the director and his leading lady pull it off – either by making the action smarter or dumbing everything down to the same level. What might once have been a mediocre shootout is dismissed entirely by Johansson, who simply waves her hand and makes everyone float on the ceiling. Car chases happen but she never hits anything. Lucy is, somehow, above the genre – but it doesn’t beneath her.
Johansson is perfect for the role, her blank face eerily detached while her eyes spark from sad to scared to omniscient in a second. It’s a sensational performance, literally anchored in her senses, which pick up everything around her, from bone and blood to light and phone signals. In a way, Lucy makes most sense as a prequel to Her and Under the Skin, completing Johansson’s trilogy of lofty science fiction. An increasing sense of her physical form becoming irrelevant is rammed home by gob-smacking effects, which (props to DoP Thierry Arbogast) culminate in a dazzling sequence worthy of 2001 or The Tree of Life; a whirlwind tour of evolution that feels like a companion to Aronofksy’s Noah.
Both films share that same sense of ambition, daring to be more than mere spectacle. The director seems to realise that he cannot answer his own question, but asking them alone is enough. “Humans define everything in ways that make sense to humans,” she explains, making her hand transform into shapes at will. Lucy’s surreal final act manages to feel part of that gulf of understanding. This is Besson back at his Fifth Element best. Audacious to the point of ridicule. Complex in the most absurdly simple way. “We could die!” cries a policeman as she weaves a vehicle through oncoming traffic. She turns to him. “We never really die.” Then she keeps on driving.