The first ten minutes of Lucy are kind of lame. Director Luc Besson inserts blunt imagery of animals hunting prey, while the narrative very obviously tells a parallel. The symbolism is so heavy-handed, it borders on insulting and almost derails the movie before it begins. But then, the movie blasts off.
It’s rare for a movie to bottle that feeling of a rush, to create a visual experience that makes you feel like you’re inside adrenaline. Occasionally, a movie like Run, Lola, Run does manage to capture it. The breakneck Lucy joins such rare company.
Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is a college student in Taipei who finds herself kidnapped and turned into a drug mule, with a baggie of experimental, mind-opening drugs sewn into her stomach. When she’s assaulted and the bag begins leaking its content into her bloodstream, she starts accessing the 90 per cent of the human brain that’s normally dormant.
Like a hyperkinetic Flowers for Algernon, Lucy’s protagonist becomes smarter and smarter as her mental capacity increases, eventually gaining abilities to control radio waves, electricity, magnetic fields, matter, gravity, and even time. Comparisons to movies like Limitless or The Matrix are quickly left in the dust as Lucy rockets along at an unrelenting speed.
The only action director who loves strong female heroines more than Quentin Tarantino is Luc Besson, who has made a career out of populating movies like La Femme Nikita, Léon: The Professional, The Fifth Element, and The Lady with powerful leading ladies. As Kill Bill’s The Bride was to Tarantino, so is Lucy to Besson. She’s smart, capable, strong, and blindly unstoppable in her mission of vengeance against her kidnapper and her quest for more knowledge.
Johansson is fantastic as Lucy, continuing her streak of potent performances in movies like Her, Under the Skin, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The subtle changes and nuances in her performance, as Lucy slowly becomes less emotional and more robotic, are marvellously complex.
Morgan Freeman co-stars as a neuroscientist helping Lucy, which is notable because of Lucy’s similarity to another 2014 Freeman vehicle: Transcendence. While that movie lacked focus and style, Lucy has both in spades. The premises to both movies may be quite similar, but while Transcendence bloviated at great length, Lucy wastes no time with exposition or heady technobabble. All the information is learned by the audience while hanging on for dear life.
A more apt comparison for Lucy would actually be 2012’s mind-boggling Chronicle, which started slowly but picked up speed at an exponential rate, leading to a truly spectacular climax. Lucy’s first few scenes are similarly inferior, but once the movie hits its stride, it swiftly evolves into one of the briskest action movies, one of the most stylish art films, and one of the most fascinating sci-fi movies of the year.