Thursday, 24 July 2014
In response to those grumbling about the experience of watching Lucy (Luc Besson's latest big effects action film - this time with Scarlett Johansson as the kick ass lead), I'm of two minds...Going in to the movie, I was simply hoping it would at least be a somewhat fun trifle of a summer flick on the order of Limitless. On that scale, it hits its target the majority of the time (though you'll have to decide for yourself if it deserves bonus or penalty points for its rather kooky ending that is part 2001: A Space Odyssey, part Isaac Asimov and part "You've gotta be kidding me..."). However, I can't help but think about what the film could have been...How it could have explored the nature of the brain from Lucy's perspective and touched on how the organ evolved, continues to do so and manages to have such a vast array of amazing abilities and structural flaws. That probably would have departed drastically from what I hoped for going in, but the possibility is just so tantalizing...
The movie you do get is patently ridiculous. That's OK though - even though it's not overly thrilling, has laughable science, is best when no one (except maybe the always menacing Choi Min-sik) is talking and has CGI effects that get in their own way sometimes, I'll be damned if I wasn't at least somewhat entertained. Most often that was due to the built-in ridiculousness, but at some point it's easy enough to roll with the whole thing and realize that it's just one of "those" movies. As it slowly but surely ramps up the silly, it lets you reset your approach to it, laugh with and/or at it and then settle back with a bit of a grin on your face.
To its credit, the story doesn't waste much time at all in jumping into the thick of things. Within a few minutes, Lucy has been tricked into delivering a suitcase to a Korean businessman in a swanky hotel lobby and before you know it, she's been snatched upstairs and forced into a drug mule operation. The new drug in question (synthesized from a chemical that pregnant mothers transfer to their still developing babies) purports to give users a superman effect, but when Lucy accidentally ingests a rather large quantity, it begins to expand her brain's capacity to allow engagement with all the matter and energy around her. During these early stages of Lucy's adventure, we occasionally check in with a brain researcher named Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) who is giving a lecture about that old (and disproved) adage that we only use 10% of our brains. He's been working on theories about what humans could do if we tapped that extra bandwidth within our skulls and he suggests we could control more than just our own bodies.
As Lucy's brain starts increasing the percentage of utilization (handily flashed on screen whenever she reaches another milestone: 20%, 30%, 40%, etc.), she realizes that she will need more of the drug to stay alive and pass along the knowledge being gained from the experience. Given her new "powers" (e.g. language translation, a new found ability to drive a car, tapping into people's thoughts, controlling objects, etc.), she goes back to the Korean drug kingpin (Choi) to get more of the blue crystals. She also contacts Professor Norman to learn more about her brain's evolution and a French detective to help her recover additional quantities of the drug that have been dispatched to other corners of the world.
Though the script fumbles through some oddly phrased moments and goofy jargon ("cracking the nucleus of the cells"), it is somewhat refreshing to see a movie that assumes its audience not only accepts evolution as the guiding force for the diversity of life, but hopes that they can extrapolate from there (and even alludes to man being its own creator as Lucy "meets" the original Lucy). Granted, as mentioned, the rest of the film's "science" is pure gobbledygook, but I was happy to give it a wide berth since at its core it does wonder how the human species will evolve to meet the more and more hostile environment that it is creating for itself.
The set pieces aren't terribly exciting (the car chase pales in comparison to The Raid 2's well-orchestrated affair due to its reliance on CGI cars and crashes), but at a brisk 90 minutes it almost never lags. Though Johansson does what is necessary for most of the role, the direction and script don't do her many favours at times - particularly when she is encouraged to act in robotic fashion or needs to describe her feelings out loud as she explores her own brain. A call to her mother early in the film has her detail the energies all around her as she grasps at how to explain the permanent change that has occurred. As frustrating as that monologue is, the scene is doubly frustrating for giving a glimpse as to what the film could have been.
Specifically, Lucy's ramblings about memories flooding back, revelations about the world and the sudden realizations about the energy flowing around her reminded me of this wonderful and emotional talk by the real life brain researcher Jill Bolte Taylor. In it, she recounts how she tried to understand and study her own brain as she lived through a stroke. She tells of her brain flipping between its two hemispheres - the logical part reminding her to get help since something was obviously wrong while the sensitive, empathetic side felt it had reached nirvana and had become one with the entirety of the energy around her. It may sound a bit new-agey, but the decoupling of the brain's mechanism as described by this neuroanatomist is fascinating, dramatic and far more alluring than the powers realized by Lucy. It strikes similar chords as the tales of hallucinogenic drug users and dangles the prospect of ideas well beyond our current imaginations. I don't know if there's a movie in Bolte Taylor's real-life blow by blow record of her brain coping with its twin halves splitting from each other, but the 18 minute talk is far more compelling than the ideas only partially worked out in Lucy.
So I couldn't help but want more - much more - from Besson's thriller. But that's my right hemisphere talking...My left side would say that if you simply don't expect more than what was intended - a pleasant summer diversion - you won't leave too disappointed. So like I said, I'm of two minds...