Lucy. Action/SciFi (rated R, 89 min). Starring Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi, Amr Waked. Directed by Luc Besson. Showing in Mill Creek Cinema (McKinleyville), Broadway Cinema 8 (Eureka) and Fortuna 6 Theaters (Fortuna).
Astute philosopher Bill Hicks once predicted that the next kind of human evolution would be that of the mind. And like Mr. Hicks, the screenwriter of Lucy has decided the catalyst for this next small step will be drugs –little baggies of powdered human potential which look suspiciously like Miracle Grow. (Coincidence? I think not.) So the central questions Lucy are these: not only what will happen when Lucy (Ms. Johanssen) harnesses her full potential (100% of her brain), but can she survive it? Car chases, chaos and handsome Italian policemen ensue.
Now, there are several reasons to see this movie in theatres. Firstly, this film is attempting some big concepts and these kinds of attempts are always more effective on a big screen. Brilliant theoretical neuroscientist Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman, of course) explains that evolution is based on choice, and that cells choose their options according to their environment. The fact that human beings only use 10% of their brains leads to some good Old Testament-style judgment: humans have failed to evolve further as a species because we are more bent “on having than being,” ie, our hubris and greed have held us back. While this is explained various clips from the nature channel play, leading to an atmosphere that is at once heady and aesthetic. We are listening to a discussion of existence –existence as a continuum. Big stuff. Deep stuff. And even though the intellectual crux of the film is not followed up with any real thought, in a movie theater, with that big screen and that sleek, trip-hoppy soundtrack thudding through the walls and our skulls, we don’t really notice. And other sequences, like the vertigo-inducing roller coaster of liquid color which describes the origin of the universe, is just not going to be as powerful on the small screen. Go see it now while it’ll gonna knock your socks off. Don’t wait for Netflix; it just won’t be the same.
But let me be the first to console you: Lucy’s intellectual pretension doesn’t keep this movie from having action. There’s all kinds of bloodspatter and screaming steel and gallows/comic-booky humor here. And there’s no sophisticated way to say it: Scarlett Johansson is just awesome when she’s kicking the custard out of bad guys. She’s even more awesome when she’s nine feet tall and the shredding of cartilage is branded on our eardrums (as thousands of internet chat rooms would agree). So go see this movie for Johansson, doing what she does best.
That being said, there are some weak points. The movie isn’t as concerned with lofty questions as it is about its graphics and there’s a definite “Huh?” factor in the conclusion. And though Johansson has grown out of her blank-faced-I’m-so-bored-I’m-checked-out look in favor of this new, blank-faced-I’m-concentrating-on-the-intricacies-of-existence look, her few emotive moments are cut down by shoddy writing. At one point, early in the film, soon after the drug is taking effect, Lucy calls her mother. It’s a beautiful moment: an aching close-up of Lucy, tears streaming down her face as she tells her mother she can now remember everything in her life perfectly, from her parents’ kisses on her face, the cat she had when she was an infant, how much her bones hurt as a baby, her mother’s milk in her mouth –wait her what? That’s right folks, her mother’s milk in her mouth. And even though it’s Scarlett Johansson, and even though she’s making this tearful phone call, and even though I bawled my eyes watching that scene, nothing can fix the creepiness of that line.
Overall, Lucy is a good action movie with a dash of sci-fi philosophy, and a big helping of computer animation. It’s better than Transcendence, which recently attempted some of those same questions, but it’s not quite The Matrix. One thing you can say about it, though, is it’s one of the few places you can go this month without having to listen to Lorde’s Tears for Fears cover.