Twice already this year Scarlet Johansson has taken roles in which she is forced to communicate with and observe humanity from the position of an outsider – first in Spike Jonze’s Her and then in Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin. By taking the title role in Luc Besson’s Lucy she completes an interesting trilogy, but where Under the Skin was happy to move slowly and bide its time Lucy is hyperactively ambitious. Casting aside action genre conventions and tropes to instead pursue metaphysical and philosophical enquiries, much of this ambition is left unfulfilled as the plot descends into absurdity – although it’s not a film without intrigue.
Inspired by the old myth that human beings only make use of 10% of their brains, the film starts off with a botched drug deal leaving Lucy at the whim of some sinister Korean gangsters who cut open her abdomen, stuff the mysterious new drugs inside her and plan to use her to transport the drugs to Europe. When the packet of drugs splits open the narcotics enter her blood stream and Lucy’s cerebral capacity starts to increase, she begins to colonise areas of her brain previously inactive letting her control her own body entirely, telekinetically manipulate technology and other people before eventually allowing her to delve into the lineage of world history.
Conveniently for the plot a Professor in Paris (Morgan Freeman) is doing research into the consequences of enhanced cerebral capacity and what it could mean for humanity; Lucy decides she must find her way to him and try to harness her incredible intelligence. But by virtue of Lucy becoming a superhuman it renders any threat to her safety – posed largely by the Korean gang lord played menacingly by Min-sik Choi – null and void, meaning her journey to find the Professor lacks any kind of suspense or tension.
But the interest here for Besson clearly didn’t lie in the plot, in interviews he has spoken of putting “salt and sugar in the same meal, content and fun” – if this marriage of salt and sugar didn’t quite result in the recipe for success Besson might have intended, it has provided us with a film with ambition which doesn’t mind taking risks. The director is happy to let Lucy wonder around her newly mastered environment pondering the futility of human existence and the kinds of philosophical debates that have raged for millennia – and how many summer blockbusters can you say that about?