Film Review: Lucy

Yesterday I went to see the new Luc Besson film Lucy. I deliberately avoided reading any in-depth reviews so as to go into it with as few preconceptions as possible.

Lucy tells the story of a woman who, after a double cross  by her boyfriend, becomes the unwilling subject of a criminal experiment using a drug which gradually unlocks the full potential of the human mind. As the film progresses and more of the drug is released into her body, she becomes ever more powerful and ever less human. The final section of the film is a trippy, 2001 style exploration of the possibilities of future evolution. It also raises the possibility that if there were a god, it would definitely be a she…

Lucy is played extremely well by the beautiful Scarlett Johansson who recently played the alien hunter in the ambiguous film addaption of Under The Skin. She’s obviously now the go-to girl for sexy but dangerous alien women. If ever Species is remade, she’ll be a shoo-in for the role of Sil.

In fact Species and 90’s SF in general seems to cast quite a shadow over the film. It was a decade that saw lots of human-but-not-human women appear in the genre. There was the Ripley clone in Alien Resurrection, Areyn in Farscape and Seven of Nine and the Borg Queen from the Star Trek franchise. Many of these characters displayed a level of emotional autism just as Lucy does here. There are times when Besson’s direction also recalls his own outstanding contribution to 90’s cinema, Leon. The action sequences are frequently OTT and overblown but they are also thrilling to watch. 

Perhaps because of its indebtedness to the past, Lucy isn’t a film whose plot surprises once, after a tense beginning, it gets underway. The fun lays in seeing the frequently very impressive visuals that accompany Lucy’s journey from human to superhuman. There are moments of fantastic black comedy and genuinely surreal moments as the film nears its conclusion. Unlike Under the Skin or Species, this is an optimistic film which suggests that ultimately people can be masters of their own lives. Indeed, there are occasional moments, when Lucy is describing her new level of experience, that the language sounds vaguely like a Mindfulness seminar!

For all its philosophical musings, it is also a violent film. The amount of innocent bystanders that must die in a car chase sequence through Paris is astonishing.Unfortunately, this leads into the film’s major failing. Lucy is set in a purportedly recognisable world, but there never seem to be any real consequences of events that would surely be headline news.

Lucy herself is well written,  but the rest of the characters serve to move the plot along and are generally  one dimensional. Although this could be viewed as a failing, a charitable view might be that it does fit the film’s agenda of moving from the personal to the infinite.

Films which set philosophical musings and stylized visuals ahead of character and plot tend to receive – at least initially – quite hostile responses as the – in my view unjustified – outpouring of hate that greeted Prometheus showed. However, Lucy is an exciting and hopeful film with a great soundtrack and one that I think is well worth seeing on the big screen.

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