For this review 110% of the brain’s capacity has been used. That is the 10% that is apparently in use right now and the 100% that an overstimulated Scarlett Johansson reaches at the climax of Lucy. Science, or its subset, ‘Hollywood Own Brand Science’, has been all the rage this past year from Johnny Depp’s Transcendence, via Joaquin Phoenix’s dystopian Her, through to Director Luc Besson’s latest: the Scarlett Johansson starring Lucy. The film is no break from the current trend for Science as fantasy and does not dip into the murky tides of realism as science fiction washes over the characters’ earthly exploits. Lucy has a token, surface interaction with its psychoanalysis subject matter. Fits of graphic depictions of neurons flit across the screen (wow, how box office, so blockbuster). Meanwhile, super scientist Morgan Freeman parallels the main plot giving his hypotheses on the brain’s potential in ground-breaking tedium to sell out student audiences. Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) realises these expositions, forcibly drugged and ready to rumble, providing the adrenaline ride to accompany the lecture. As the narrative builds, it is interspersed with a bizarre combination of nature-documentary style animal chases meets 24 style Jack Bauer clockwatching as Lucy’s progress flashes across the screen in percentage form (REVIEW 20% COMPLETE); distracting, but helpful, just in case your attention span does not stretch to the film’s required ninety minutes. Think a 24/Brian Cox/David Attenborough style mash up, with Scarlett Johansson replacing the impala, plus the Morgan magic voiceover and you are not far off the mark.
Now to the woman herself. Woman being all-important; in a rare break for the actress, she actually plays a human being, albeit in exaggerated form, but reassuringly Homo sapiens nonetheless. Other than a cameo in Chef (as a maïtre double d), Scarlett Johansson has spent the past few years in an insatiable attempt to burst the mortal bounds of the human condition, or perhaps the offers just pay that much better. From The Avengers and Captain America’s Black Widow to the singularly sensual Siri, Phoenix’s warped love interest, Samantha, in Spike Jonze’s Her, we have rarely been treated to the actress in traditional human form. Include her most recent role as Laura, a man-slaying alien in residence, roaming the streets of Glasgow, in Under The Skin and the actress’ preferable avoidance of humanity is complete. Under The Skin provides the best reference point for this performance, chillingly aloof with an icy cold pallor as she remains recognisably human for all of half an hour before a hilarious drug induced transformation through levitation scene. Her sexuality only increases alongside her superhuman brainpower, as she knocks whole corridors of armed men off their feet at the flick of a finger, giving further support to the age old adage of geek chic.
Disappointingly, in the real edge of seat stuff (you can indeed drive down the pavements of Paris’ Rue de Rivoli: drive through Parfumerie anybody?) she is accompanied by a one man male entourage Amr Waled’s French policeman, Pierre Del Rio, because surely one woman could not do all this alone. Despite the intensity of action, her eyes are detached in a constant suspense of daydream as she interprets the complex art of my-brain-is-being-cooked.
Lucy’s brain is in overdrive from the synthetic drugs stitched into her stomach at the behest of Julian Rhind-Tutt in a camp cameo as the ever so typically English ‘The Limey’, charged to complete the dirty deeds of his Taiwanese bad-guy employers. The selection of Taipei for the location, and the Korean actor Choi Min-sik as Taiwan tycoon and evil drug baron, Mr Jang, nestles into the burgeoning trend for appealing to the Chinese market and the ensuing adherence to an avoidance of stereotypically sweaty Chinese style villains. China’s film industry is worth $4.6bn in 2014 and estimated to become the largest single market by 2020. Lucy looks to piggyback on the success of Transformers and Iron Man in the Chinese market and not alienate an increasingly important audience share. Strangely, their tastes are not seeing self-righteous Chinese evildoers being maimed and mutilated by a blonde haired American girl with brainwaves registering off the Richter scale. As a result, the antipathy is directed towards the Taiwanese: Chinese speaking, but not Chinese.
As for the western viewers, Lucy provides an elegantly overproduced yarn. It is an escapism capsule for any intrepid individual looking to delve into the wonders of a starlet Scarlett-centric world. The success of a strong Science fiction film is the ability of the director to concoct a fully formed universe; immersive to the extent that on leaving the cinema, existence feels different and reality a bit, well, weird. Lucy might be stupidly overwrought, but it achieves this criterion and for a film shorter than a football match, it is well worth a watch.