- Joe Gross American-Statesman Staff
It is tough to watch writer/director Luc Besson’s careening, entertaining and deeply silly “Lucy” and not think, “Man alive, this guy has read a whole lot of comic books. Like, maybe he has read all of the comic books, ever.”
Jammed with far-out-dude gobbledygook about brain capacity and violent Asian mobsters, “Lucy” is easily the summer’s most gaga super-powered caper. Its combination of trippy, quasi-profound theorizing and trippy, quasi-profound action will thrill serious comic book fans, the sort of geeks who own shelves full of work by brainy writers such as Grant Morrison and Warren Ellis or Japanese manga such as “Akira.”
It would surprise nobody if said fans light up the Internet in the coming weeks discussing all sorts of tropes, rhythms and psychic blasts Besson probably saw somewhere else first. Oddly, this is not a knock. Kinetic and kooky, “Lucy” is far more refreshing than any of this summer’s other CGI blow-’em-ups.
One morning in Taipei, a hung-over American student expat named Lucy (Scarlett Johansson and yes, the character is very obviously named after the “first woman”) is trying to rid herself of a sleazy boyfriend. Suddenly, the guy locks a briefcase on her arm and pushes her into delivering it to a bunch of extremely scary guys in black suits. Uh-oh.
Terrified, Lucy becomes a reluctant drug mule for a mobster named Jang (Korean superstar Min-sik Choi of “Oldboy” fame) and gets a bag of blue crystals sewn into her abdomen. Things don’t go so well on the other end of the drug buy and, one very comic-booky origin story later, our heroine finds herself using much more of her brain than the rest of us do.
Conveniently, there’s an American scientist in Paris (Morgan Freeman, often in extreme closeup) lecturing about the very thing Lucy is experiencing, about how humanity is full of untapped mental potential and how the more we unlock, the more hypothetically limitless our powers become. Naturally, these two need to talk. But Lucy — decreasing in emotion and increasing in mental sensitivity, reflex time and psychic powers — first has some revenge to unleash. The more of her brain Lucy uses (the movie helpfully tracks her percentage for us) the more godlike she gets and the more cars and people she’s able to flip around Paris.
Of course, the funny thing about hearing ScarJo say “I feel everything” is that “Lucy,” like her most recent roles (“Her,” “Under the Skin,” any of the “Avengers”-related movies), emphasize her natural blankness. Other than maybe her outstanding turn in “Ghost World” — in which she explicated teenage disdain like few before her — expressing emotion has never been her strong suit, and these post-human roles have fit her nicely.
“Lucy” is definitely of a piece with Besson’s other movies, mostly in the totally-awesome-heroine department (see also “La Femme Nikita,” “The Fifth Element” and “The Messenger” about Joan of Arc). But it has acres more philosophical justification for its goofy premise than the earlier flicks, even the one about God talking to a French girl.
Fortunately, Besson’s famously music-video-ish visual style — full of interstitial bits of cells dividing, animals mating and the all-but-inevitable mind-expanding-into-the-cosmos bit — makes the brain-hooey move with a welcome mania.
And good for him for presenting it without a stitch of camp, which is the key to getting the audience to buy into it, yet another trick Besson probably picked up from comic books. Of course “Lucy” can’t quite hang together, but while it’s in front of you, it will effortlessly expand your brain’s fun-lobe.