Lucy: a kick ass scifi starring Scarlett Johansson and directed by Luc Besson… need I say any more?
In Taipei, Taiwan, Lucy (Scarlett Johansson), is an everyday American girl who is studying abroad when her new boyfriend Richard (Pilou Asbæk) causes her to become caught up in a ruthless Asian drug ring. The criminal gang, led by Mr Jang (Min-Sik Choi), use Lucy, and three other captives, as vessels to transport a new, unstable drug to various parts of the world. When the bag of drugs implanted inside Lucy starts leaking, her cells start reproducing at an alarming rate, and the more the drugs spread throughout her system, the more she starts to unlock the potential of her mind. According to scientist Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman), whose lectures in Paris are intercut with Lucy’s experiences in Taiwan, we only use ten percent of our mental capacity, and as the drug charges Lucy’s system she is able to tap into more and more of her brainpower. As Lucy comes to terms with her new abilities, and travels to Paris to meet with the Professor, she simultaneously seeks revenge on Mr Jang and his minions, and employs the assistance of Parisian law enforcement agent Pierre Del Rio (Amr Waked) to do so.
As soon as the film opened with colourful graphics of cells reproducing alongside Eric Serra’s funky score, I knew I was going to love this film, and as the film progressed I was not disappointed. The whole concept may be a bit over elaborate with the dual storyline of Lucy wreaking havoc on the Asian drug lords, whilst also liaising with the Professor and discovering her heightened abilities, and Besson may delve too far into the science fiction genre for my liking towards the end of the film, but these are my only criticisms. Yes, the narrative does become more than a little farfetched in the final act, and yes, Lucy’s super human skills are quite difficult to believe, but the film is so thrilling that it’s easy to overlook these flaws.
I must admit that I am extremely partial to Scarlett Johansson; as I said in my review of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I absolutely idolise her. Apparently Angelina Jolie was originally considered for the role, and although she is another favourite of mine, I am very glad that Scarlett was cast instead. We have seen enough of Angelina in these types of roles in films such as Salt and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, so it’s refreshing to see someone new step up to the plate. Scarlett has previously proved herself in physical roles, such as in her portrayal of the Black Window in multiple Marvel films, however this is the first time I have seen her bring to life such a strong female heroine that has the power and depth to carry an entire film as a lead character. From the very opening scene Scarlett nails it; she fully embodies the character, and demands your attention. When she transitions into a robotic version of Lucy when she has lost her humanity as a result of the effects of the drugs, Scarlett is equally strong.
Morgan Freeman and the minor cast members all deliver satisfactory performances; whilst none of them are outstanding, no one is noticeably weak either. In a way I think this is effective as it allows the spotlight to shine more upon Scarlett as their performances support her, rather than overshadow her. Although his role in the film is fairly brief, Pilou Asbæk is definitely the stand out among these additional cast members.
Unlike a lot of directors in this day and age, Luc Besson is not one to roll out one film after the other as if he is working in a factory. Whilst he has numerous writing and producing credits to his name, he only takes on the occasional project as a director, and these films are always memorable, from The Fifth Element to Leon The Professional. This French filmmaker often directs films centered around powerful female characters, such as his early nineties film La Femme Nikita, and one of his more recent releases The Lady.
I felt as though Lucy was very reminiscent of La Femme Nikita, and I think Besson must be rather connected to the subject matter of this nineties film as he has also written the American television series based around the same concept, which is just known as Nikita. Lucy has the same dark and sinister tone as La Femme Nikita, but it’s quite a bit more glamorous with the big, Hollywood special effects, and epic action sequences taking place in major cities, whereas La Femme Nikita was done on a much smaller scale. In both films Besson starts off the narrative in the middle of a scene, and leaves the viewer to put the puzzle together and draw their own conclusions, which I really enjoy. The first act of Lucy is so suspenseful because first of all you are trying to figure out who this main character is, and what is going on, and then as one shocking event after the other unfolds, you are left feeling just as frightened and tense as Lucy as both you and her try to learn the end game of the drug lords.
I am a huge fan of Besson’s choice to intercut a lot of the first act with shots of nature and animal behaviour that reflect what is happening in the narrative. This technique easily could have come across as jarring, but somehow it really worked. His attention to detail is also astounding; for example, in the beginning Scarlett wears chipped, silver nail polish, but once she starts reaching into higher percentages of her brain’s capacity and is able to control the growth and colour of her hair, her nail polish becomes perfect and smooth. Whether this decision was the choice of the designer, or a direct product of Besson’s vision is yet to be seen, but either way it is an indication of how much thought goes into Besson’s films.
I briefly mentioned Eric Serra’s score up above, and I have to say it’s one of the greatest scores I’ve heard this year, second probably only to the score in Only Lovers Left Alive. It’s eclectic and modern, and although at times it draws attention to itself (which normally I don’t like), it suits the story and the visual style so well that it doesn’t matter that it’s so noticeable, in fact, I preferred it this way.
Eric Serra has worked on most of Besson’s other films, as has cinematographer Thierry Arbogast, and the camera work is absolutely beautiful in this film. The cinematography does get a little lost in between so many other excellent elements, but there are some gorgeous shots in there. The special effects are also very impressive with an Inception like moment where gangsters are swimming in mid air as if gravity has ceased to exist.
It’s pretty clear from this glowing review that I thoroughly enjoyed this film, even though I did find it a little difficult to suspend my disbelief at times, which is why I am giving it 4 stars.