Lucy (Scarlett Johansson), an American living in Taipei, is kidnapped by men working for mob boss Mr. Jang (Choi MinSik) and forced to work as a drug mule. When a large quantity of an experimental drug leaks into her system, however, it has highly unexpected side effects. The drug allows her to access more of her brain than the average human, resulting in an ever-increasing array of psychic abilities. Now on the run from Jang’s thugs, Lucy enlists the aid of Professor Samuel Norman (Morgan Freeman) to understand what’s happening before her new powers overwhelm her.
Luc Besson’s brilliant but daffy Lucy finally gives us the female superhero film that both Marvel and DC are unwilling or unable to provide. Johansson is magnetic as she goes from a naive, emotional party girl to a certified badass that would give all of the X-Men a run for their money. Equal parts serious and silly, this is as purely Besson as you can possibly get: a tight and propulsive pace with a compressed narrative, stunning visuals, a dynamic Eric Serra score, and an empowered female lead character who is both creator and destroyer.
A note on the premise. A lot of people have criticized the film for basing Lucy’s powers on the myth that we only use 10% of our brain. In fact, as the film goes on, a tally indicates how much of her brain Lucy currently has access to. Besson himself has stated that he knows this is rubbish, but that it makes for good cinema. Honestly, though, it’s no less plausible an origin story than believing that a bite from a radioactive spider will give you wallcrawling superpowers. Lucy doesn’t run on science so much as philosophy and metaphysics. The “10%” angle is much more metaphorical than literal. Beyond that, the film knows how ridiculous it may look and decides to wear it with a kind of awesome pride. In the end, it’s just a show; just relax.
It’s not the summer action film promised by the trailers—in fact, whenever the film focuses on the crime lord hunting Lucy, it starts to lose its momentum. Instead, it’s one part Euro pop art 2001: A Space Odyssey, one part Akira style body horror, and one part another variation of Besson’s career-long meditation on the Feminine Divine. But with guns and Morgan Freeman. And that’s quite all right with me.
8 out of 10 / B+