Lucy (film, 2014)

I watched Lucy last weekend, primarily on the recommendation of The Week‘s mini-review, which called it “Ludicrous but highly entertaining.” I agree with the first part of that sentence.

Owing to the criminal machinations of stereotypically wicked yellow people and a stereotypically dastardly Englishman, a young white woman living in Taiwan (the eponymous Lucy, played by Scarlett Johanssen) absorbs a huge amount of drugs that allow her to unlock the 90% of her brain we don’t use. There are some unlikely fights, a car chase in Paris, and a soulful French gendarme as she is pursued by the criminal gang to France. Then there is some sketchy stuff about God. I think. And Morgan Freeman  (he’s not God in this one, okay? Okay).

I’ve seen very entertaining films with slimmer premises. This was poor on all fronts.

That we only use 10% of our brains is a myth that has become pervasive enough to be used in advertising campaigns. A beloved science fictional truth, it was the basis for the whole “psi” craze that gripped SF in the mid-20th Century. I can be a bit of bore about scientific veracity in SF, however, there’s nothing wrong with using bad science to create an action premise or for the purposes of allegory. We all like superheroes. Fair enough.

But Lucy does not do that.

Writer/Director Luc Besson has fallen in love with this idea, so much so that large, indigestible chunks of the film are taken up by Morgan Freeman (here playing earnest, gravel-voiced scientist) lecturing us about the Earth-shattering implications of this truth, which would be earth-shattering if it were true and not a fallacy, over footage of animals shagging. You sit down to watch an action flick, and find yourself instead being bombarded by some fringe New Age cult’s recruitment message.

The pacing of the film is lousy. The long, confused preamble segues into a muddy plot spiked with bad exposition and action sequences that are lacklustre and fake looking. Unlikely things keep happening to kick the moribund story along. Apparently one can wander into a Taiwanese hospital and shoot someone with no reaction from the authorities until it is narratively expedient (though, I hasten to add, this sort of thing is a problem in nearly all action films. Like Taken. Hang on, that’s also Luc Besson).

Lucy is also a fine example of geek culture’s odd relationship with girls. In geek land, when a woman becomes hyper-intelligent, she becomes yet another tedious Kick Ass Heroine™, a sex object who can break a man’s neck. Lucy starts off as a warm-hearted tart (a tart nonetheless) but becomes cold and otherworldly. Compare this to the effects on men in movies with similar themes – the John Travolta vehicle Fire in the Sky or Limitless, with Bradley Cooper, for example. The men in that become warm and super-smart. Violence is a part of their repertoire, but not the larger part. To create their drama, I suppose these films go against perceived gender traits, adding emotion to men and removing it from women. Still, Lucy leaves us with the uncomfortable feeling that empowered women are dangerous in the same way that scorpions are dangerous. Mixed into that is a kind of maternal weirdness. Once Lucy disappears and states via text message “I am EVERYWHERE”, the rest of the almost entirely male cast stand around looking sheepish, like their mother has caught them doing something they’ve been told not to a hundred times.

Bah. That’s enough. Bogus philosophy off the back of bogus science makes for a bad movie. Rubbish.


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