Dir: Luc Besson
It’s often regarded as lazy criticism to make lots of comparisons, but when a film defies succinct description, it helps to start out by saying it’s ‘Limitless’ meets the ‘X-Men’ with a liberal helping of ‘Transcendence’.
Scarlett Johansson is Lucy, a young woman tricked into a dangerous drug-muling operation, surgically implanted with a stash of a new designer drug against her will. When the bag leaks unprecedented amounts of the substance into her body, Lucy’s brain function rapidly rises from normal levels towards 100%. For guidance she approaches a scientist (Morgan Freeman) who theorised this situation, while being pursued by the drug-smuggler who put her in it.
Big ideas are being touched on here, the film establishes that right from the very beginning. It’s based on the same false premise as ‘Limitless‘ that we only use around 10% of our brains, and indeed both films show a similar solution to increasing brain use, drugs. Where they differ hugely is in the execution, the way in which the protagonists both feel the effects of their higher cognitive function and how they make use of their new abilities. Some of the themes and elements though starting out like ‘Limitless’, end up being far closer in many ways to ‘Transcendence‘.
With Luc Besson directing, chances are that we’re going to get an action film (with at least some of the action set in France) and sure enough it’s certainly that. Though based on a ‘scientific’ idea and featuring an academic as one of the leads, the film is firmly in Besson’s wheel-house, with his strong style and clever editing propelling action that should please fans of the ‘Taken’ franchise or even ‘The Transporter’, and as an action sci-fi, it’s pretty good. However, I approached it from a different perspective.
I’m reviewing this as part of my ‘Super Saturday’ series, reviewing films that feature superheroes, comic book or graphic novel adaptations, and people with super-human abilities. This clearly fits into the latter, with Lucy gaining abilities that wouldn’t be out of place in the X-Men but let me be clear, Lucy is far from being a hero.
A couple of years ago when ‘Man of Steel’ was released, much of the criticism of the film was around the levels of destruction and collateral damage that resulted from Superman’s battles with Zod, with critics rightly pointing out that allowing such loss of life was far from heroic, especially for that character. ‘Lucy’ too features large amounts of destruction and loss of life, much of it at the hands of the lead, making her very difficult to warm to and support. There are scenes in which she drives a car at breakneck speed calculating everything near-perfectly, even weighing up the odds of someone on an operating table, yet with all her cognitive abilities she still chooses to use large amounts of lethal force, often on people who do no more than get in her way. Killing, when directed at the villains of a film is to be expected, but how can we really side with a character, even one as interesting and as well-acted as Lucy is by Scarlett Johansson, when she’s so very trigger-happy? I’m sure there might be some argument put forward by those who think it’s a sign of her advancement to prioritise self-preservation, but I would disagree wholeheartedly, and I think showing her brain power put to better use would help the film’s very odd final act a great deal, and would leave a more satisfying impression of the extreme conclusion.
I don’t mind a 90-minute sci-fi based on a false premise, that’s what the ‘fi’ allows for, and I really enjoy suspending my disbelief. What I struggle suspending is my compassion and my inherent dislike for characters who discard their own. Lucy is a fascinating character, very capably portrayed, and put into a compelling condensed narrative, but no matter how super her powers, she’s no hero and sadly I wish she was just a little more so, I could then like her and this film as I’d hoped to.