Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Some Splainin' to Do

Though it seemed to have plenty of potential to go bad, I still wanted to see last year's sci-fi(-ish) action movie, Lucy. It's not even a very original idea; like Limitless, this is a story of drug allowing someone to transcend the "only using X percent of your brain" myth.

What drew my interest was the people involved. It was written and directed by Luc Besson, who has a mountain of credits to his name -- the most relevant here being The Fifth Element. That film firmly established that he can make a thoroughly enjoyable science fiction movie starring a butt-kicking female, so I was willing to give him another chance here. And on this occasion, he cast Scarlett Johansson, a skilled actress I expected to be strong in both the drama and action the story seemed to require.

Lucy isn't as good as it should have been. But it's much better than it could have been. At a tight 90 minutes, the movie gets in, does what it aims to do, and wraps up at breakneck speed. It has an entertaining take on the "emergent superhuman" story, one that mostly makes it worth this retelling. The action is generally more clever than simple hand-to-hand combat. And it's all pretty fun.

But because it's so compact, the main character doesn't really get much of an arc. Scarlett Johansson is great as the pre-drug Lucy, a weak and terrified character caught up in something far beyond her. She's also strong as the robotic and efficient post-drug Lucy, on a mission and using her emerging abilities to achieve it. But the movie really isn't interested in showing us any journey between the two. Apparently, the difference between using 15% of your brain and 20% of your brain is all the difference in the world. (Then again, it kind of has to be, given the outlandish place the movie plans to get to in the end.)

If you aren't a fan of Scarlett Johansson, you shouldn't even bother. She's the star of the show. Morgan Freeman plays a supporting character, a scientist Lucy seeks out for his theories on human brain potential. But the movie is really trading on the gravitas Freeman brings to any role he plays; it doesn't actually give him very much to do.

A very welcome element of the movie is the quirky and compelling score by Eric Serra (a longtime collaborator of Luc Besson's). A rather unwelcome element of the movie are the flashes of documentary-style footage spliced into scenes in the first act of the film, a too on-the-nose way of spelling out the obvious subtext of what's unfolding. But the movie has these things that work and things that don't because it's willing to risk being different. And overall, that's a good thing.

I'd rate Lucy a B-. I suspect few of my regular readers would be blown away by it, but most would at least like it.

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