If there is a mindset that is getting on my nerves more and more as it becomes steadily more prominent, it’s the idea that a work (especially a film) possessing a certain level of either style or ostentatiousness is in and of itself worthy of praise. It’s an ideology that gave the laughably atrocious 2002 schlockfest “Equilibrium” a baffling cult fanbase way back when, it’s one that is chief among the apologists of Michael Bay, whose rampant misogynist tendencies and deplorable politics are rendered immaterial as long as his dedication to wanton grand scale chaos remains intact, and it’s one that will no doubt come to the aid of Luc Besson’s excrescent power girl fantasy Lucy: a shambles of gobbledygook pseudoscience, weightless action scenes free of stakes, and eye-rolling symbolism that holds only the basest (if that) of necessity, let alone significance. Fitting that a film only interested in surface-level artistry will find fans in those looking for the same.
Scarlett Johansson (“Under the Skin“) gives a way better performance than this movie deserves as the titular Lucy, a party girl taking classes in Taiwan who, upon being unwillingly roped into being a drug mule for the mob in the transportation of a hot new narcotic, finds the bag containing the substance leaking within her. As it makes its way into her bloodstream she finds herself able to unlock abilities such as telekinesis, omniscience, and the ability to control other people, all stemming from the drug giving her the power to access more than the “normal” 10% of her brain’s capacity (a premise that is one step up from a hostage drama where a man must save his mother by traversing a fissure-filled road while keeping her spine intact, but I digress).
It’s this very premise that guts Lucy as an action film. Eschewing the more intensified spectacle of many of its contemporaries for a series of situations that put the main character in immediate danger, the film’s central concept of Lucy gaining more power (and powers) as time goes on all but ensures victory for the side we’re supposed to be rooting for. Say what you will (hell, say what I will) about “The Matrix” but at least it didn’t start with Neo knowing kung fu and being able to dodge bullets right out of the gate. Besson has never been one of my favorite action directors, but it’s hard to imagine even him not seeing the inherent problem here. Harder yet to believe is that even with an omnipotent demigoddess at its fingertips, the film is near-pathologically committed to serving up the same boring shootouts and chases that have become the norm of Besson products (although I’m certain a shootout initiated to the sounds of classical/choral/I-can’t-remember-and-who-gives-a-shit music will be a religious experience among those too young to gain entrance to the thing).
Likely aware of its mind-numbing mundanity, Besson tries (and fails, should it even need to be clarified at this point?) to gussy Lucy up by having it wear avant-garde flourishes the same way high school girls don faux fur. In the third act, the film begins a facile bid to shift into Malickian/Kubrickian territory by framing Lucy’s reaching of her full capacity as a trip through time and space. Dinosaurs are glanced at, lip service is paid to the concept of evolution (the oldest discovered human ancestor was dubbed “Lucy,” get it? Huh?), and Besson demonstrates the fact that his understanding of “2001: A Space Odyssey” boils down to “trippy shit and monkeys” without grasping any of that work’s implications or throughline.
In this light, it seems no coincidence that the very idea behind Lucy is a widely-debunked non-factoid dropped by douchebags at parties to seem like the smartest person in the room. Because the film is that person. Interested in the acclaim that comes with the abstract, but wholly disinterested in anything that lends it deeper meaning, Luc Besson has made what is essentially a boon for people who complain about modern Hollywood’s lack of originality but are too lazy to read the subtitles on foreign films. It’s arthouse cinema as a temporary tattoo. A fashion statement to be worn by people who like the scenery, but wouldn’t want to live there.