Often, a film can live or die based on how seriously it takes itself. How many times do we see self importance suck the life out of a project, or a film which lacks the daring to stick to its guns and follow an idea through? Lucy is far from a perfect film, but it does at least know what it is, and what it is trying to do.
Scarlett Johansson stars as Lucy, a young traveller who, through no real fault of her own, pretty much immediately finds herself in the clutches of a gang lord played by Choi Min-sik, probably still best known in the West for Oldboy. Before we know it, Lucy has a stomach full of designer drugs. She’s to be a mule, or so her captors think, until she’s roughed up and the bag splits, filling her body with performance enchancing blue crystals.
It’s a high-concept thriller based, as so many of them are, on a single idea. In this case: what would happen if human beings could use the whole power of their brains, as opposed to just the 10% which the film takes to be ‘average’. Never mind the debatable veracity of that figure: for the purposes of the film, the average human uses 10% of their brain, and Lucy finds that she can use increasingly more of hers.
The film is pacy and doesn’t outstay its welcome. The only real character is Lucy, with a couple of supporting roles for Morgan Freeman, as a scientist whose primary role is to (literally) give an expository lecture on brain usage theory, and Amr Waked, as a police officer. Lucy is the focal point, and her presence remains likable and mostly convincing thanks to a charismatic and sensitive lead performance from Scarlett Johansson, who makes the whole thing more plausible than it has any right to be.
Lucy is more of a thriller than an action movie, despite what the trailer wants us to believe. Indeed, having seen the trailer, I went in expecting a knock-off of various action movies from the last decade or so, but was relieved to find that Lucy is much less derivative than it was sold to us. By the time the minimalist plot runs out of steam and goes all sorts of barmy, the thing wraps itself up and doesn’t give us time to ask too many questions.
It’s an interesting thriller, a good role for Johansson, and the most interesting thing Luc Besson has directed in years. It wo uld be a stretch to call it smart, but it isn’t stupid either, and Besson is sensible enough to allow the film to sprint with its idea until starts to get tired, and then stop.