I’m “biast” (con): not generally a fan of Luc Besson
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
You know how you can tell that Luc Besson is completely full of shit — and knows it — with the adolescent heavy-metal-deep pseudo-sci-fi philosophy of Lucy? Because what it has to say about the meaning of humanity varies depending on nothing but how “cool” something looks onscreen.
When Lucy (Scarlett Johansson [Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Chef], who deserves better than this) accidentally ends up with a massive overdose of a synthetic drug meant to increase one’s “cerebral capacity” — an unself-aware riff on the myth that we dumb monkeys typically use only 10 percent of our brains — she begins to acquire preposterous superpowers, such as the ability to manipulate space and time, which she then uses to exact revenge on the gangster (Min-sik Choi) who thought to coerce her into transporting the drug. Besson (Brick Mansions, The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec) perhaps hopes we’ll start to ponder whether abilities such as empathy are mental artifacts the human species will leave behind if it evolves beyond that supposed 10 percent, which he depicts — as writer and director here — by having Lucy shoot dead an innocent bystander who isn’t even in her way and later by exhibiting utter disregard for the appalling human and property damage she leaves in her wake during a car chase.
She simply doesn’t care anymore, you see, about puny 10-percenters, in the same way that we don’t care about stepping on ants. (Anyway, “We never really die,” she says with her superadvanced brain; she offers no evidence whatsoever for this bizarre assertion, but it’s all okay then, I guess.) So why, if we are only ants to her, doesn’t she kill the army of gang soldiers who actually are in her way and actually are out to kill her when that would be the easiest and most productive thing to do? Because it’s way the hell cooler if Besson can show us how she floats them up toward the ceiling and lets them hang there. As if she were in the Matrix and turned out to be The One.
We could talk about how this and other examples of supercharged action nonsense only serve to underscore, even better than most action movies do, how truly stupid the clichés of the genre are. Like how Besson simply cannot resist shoving the camera up in Lucy’s ass for your viewing pleasure — he is using the dick portion of his cerebral capacity, it would seem — because even a woman evolved beyond what we would consider decent humanity is still a sexual object, doncha know. Like how the shootout set to classical music comes across like a Baby Einstein attempt to, maybe, kick your brain up to 11 or even 12 percent.
But Besson has higher artistic and philosophical goals in mind, and they are better worth deriding. When she’s not killing bad guys, Lucy is trying to get to Professor Morgan Freeman (Transcendence, The Lego Movie), who Studies This Stuff and lectures us on the human brain. It’s never really clear why she wants to get to him — she ends up giving him something that she could have given to anyone –but he’s the purveyor of the scientific absurdities meant to underpin such “radical” concepts as “maybe intelligence and knowledge makes us less human” that are meant to be whoa-inducing.
Those scientific absurdities can just about be taken as metaphoric, and aren’t worth worrying too much about. But there’s no excusing the pile of popcorn sci-fi sermonizing they are meant to serve, which are lofty only in Besson’s 10 percent. Lucy is like 2001: A Space Odyssey meets The Tree of Life for Dummies, lots of flashing on nature footage of, say, a cheetah with its scared herbivore prey, in case you missed out on how Lucy, before she got supercharged, was like a little soft baby doe about to get fanged by a nasty predator. Later, when she is fully mentally evolved, she will travel back in time and meet the protohuman Australopithecus Lucy, because why not? It’s deep, or something.