‘Lucy’ Review: Scarlett Johansson’s Brains and Brawn Don’t Quite Mix

By  · Published on July 23rd, 2014

‘Lucy’ Review: Scarlett Johansson’s Brains and Brawn Don’t Quite Mix

Universal Pictures

The question of, “What would happen if we used more than ten percent of our brains?,” is one that has been posed before, but Lucy looks to answer it in a way that is both cerebral and action packed.

Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is an American student living (and living it up) in Taiwan, but her entire world is turned upside down when a locked briefcase is handcuffed to her wrist and she finds herself in the middle of a ruthless drug ring. After meeting the elusive Mr. Jang (Choi Min-sik), Lucy finds out what is in the briefcase and what Mr. Jang would now like her to do with its contents.

Forced to carry the drugs inside her (scenes that will have squeamish viewers turning away), a sudden physical altercation causes the bag of drugs (CPH4, to be exact) to burst and Lucy to go from unassuming drug mule to an emotionless walking superhuman. Set on understanding what is happening to her, Lucy sets out to find Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) who has spent twenty years trying to theorize what Lucy has experienced in twenty seconds.

Johansson has proven she can be the ingénue (Lost In Translation) and the action star (The Avengers) and is able to successfully play both here, but the film falters when the drugs take effect and Lucy abruptly shifts from scared and timid to emotionless and monotone. She begins as a compelling character who is suddenly thrust into a terrifying and dangerous situation, but once she loses any sense of fear, the narrative begins to lose its draw. Lucy is facing a ticking clock with both the drugs and Mr. Jang’s nameless henchmen (who would have been better served showcasing their fighting skills in one of The Raid films than here) threatening to tear her insides apart, but with desensitized emotions (She doesn’t feel pain! She is forgetting the power of human connection!) and the ability to disarm and lay out anyone in her way with a single wave of her hand, the stakes are never very high. Basically, it becomes difficult to stay infested in her fate.

Lucy talks about her increased brainpower allowing her to see past any obstacles, but Lucy becomes a hollow race against time when no real roadblocks stand in our heroine’s way. Eric Serra‘s score works to keep the film moving and one’s adrenaline pumping, but the cuts between Professor Norman‘s scientific explanations and Lucy’s action sequences end up slowing down the film’s pace, making the scientific elements feel shoe horned in instead of a needed part of the plot.

Freeman is perfect for the role of a professor (his voice was made for turning boring lectures into compelling ones), but he is under utilized, reduced to someone who sits back and watches the action instead of ever becoming a part of it. Freeman is first introduced through his narration, but even when he joins the main plot line of the film, he still feels like an outsider simply commenting on the action and is, unfortunately, never given much more than that to do.

Lucy never quite finds it’s balance, jumping from action scene to science explanation, but truly fails when it takes away any real stakes to keep you invested. Luc Besson knows how to blend action and science fiction, but without a character to really care about, Lucy becomes a spectacle rather than a compelling narrative. The film is at its best during the more impressive action pieces that showcase Lucy’s evolving abilities while still driving the action. When Lucy is first infected with the drug, her struggle to fight gravity (while also defying it) perfectly blends the film’s attempt to combine the question-causing sci-fi with the eye-catching action, but unfortunately these scenes are highlights instead of the norm.

The visual effects employed to explain what is happening to Lucy are impressive, but they end up taking you out of the film and the action rather than deepening your connection to it. Lucy spends a good amount of time talking about increased understanding and knowledge as more and more of Lucy’s brain is accessed, but it starts to go off track when the rapidly evolving situation spins further and further away from logic. Professor Norman presents the idea of what could happen when more of the brain to accessed through logic and science, but Lucy tears right through those explanations leaving you with cool visual effects and interesting questions, but no real connection to the plot or characters.

The Upside: Solid performance from Johansson; impressive action set pieces; sound design works to create palpable tension while the score works to keep up the pace of the narrative

The Downside: Too sharp of a character turn for Johansson’s Lucy; Freeman underused; visual effects are slightly overplayed and slow down the narrative rather than add to it.

On the Side: Lucy features more special effects than any of Besson’s previous films (which includes The Fifth Element and The Transporter).