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One of the most respected and relatively reliable action writer/producer/directors out there, Luc Besson, has made a name for himself in particular for his films featuring a strong female protagonist. This was not a common thing when he first received worldwide notoriety with the French hit “La Femme Nikita” back in 1990, which later spawned an American remake, “Point of No Return,” and two TV series, the Canadian “La Femme Nikita” and most recently, the CW’s “Nikita.”
In 1994, he made actress Natalie Portman an overnight sensation with “The Professional,” aka “Léon,” which served as the prototype for any number of later films with young, gun-wielding anti-heroines, notably “Hit Girl” from the “Kick-Ass” movies and the ladies of “Sucker Punch.” More hits followed, including the iconic Milla Jovovich character “Leeloo” from the sci-fi actioner “The Fifth Element” (Jovovich also played Joan of Arc in Besson’s “The Messenger”) and Zoe Saldana’s fierce turn as Cataleya in the riveting “Columbiana.”
So, Besson knows his ass-kicking heroines, to be sure. Enter “Lucy,” his latest endeavor of this sort, featuring the ever-busy Scarlett Johansson in the titular role. Johansson has effectively repurposed herself as quite the action heroine with her turn as the Black Widow in the hugely successful “The Avengers” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”
She will also reportedly reprise the iconic role in her own film, tentatively-titled “Black Widow.” It’s high time there was a female superhero-lead film, especially with DC seemingly unable to get it together with “Wonder Woman,” who will sadly be sidelined to the upcoming “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.”
And to think DC could have had Joss Whedon do a “Wonder Woman” movie but passed, only to see him go the Marvel route to great effect with “The Avengers.” Way to drop the ball there, fellas.
DC’s loss is Scar-Jo’s gain, so you won’t find me complaining, as a “Black Widow” movie sounds awesome in my book.
So is Johansson’s turn in “Lucy,” in which she plays a woman hoodwinked into delivering a suitcase to a gangster type (Min-sik Choi, of “Oldboy” infamy) by her no-account boyfriend (Pilou Asbæk, “The Borgias”).
Things go south faster than you can say “Consider this a break-up!” and she is held captive by the gangster’s men and forced to carry an illicit drug surgically sewn into her stomach in order to transport it to Europe without being detected.
The drug in question is called CPH4, and is highly addictive and can increase the user’s brain function capacity, while rendering others into a complete mess. The woman, in fear for her life, dubs herself by the fake name “Lucy,” after the chimpanzee-like creature discovered in 1974 in Ethiopia that her boyfriend mentions before things go sideways.
Lucy is subsequently beaten and nearly raped by a gang member, and the package of drugs inside her is damaged in the process and leaks into her system. The fun really begins as her capacity for critical thinking vastly improves and she is able to overtake her captors.
Lucy divides her time between avenging herself against the gangster who did this to her, stopping the others who are transporting the drug to various places, and sharing her newfound knowledge with scientist/professor Norman (Morgan Freeman), whose work she finds online while researching her newfound condition.
Needless to say, things get a little insane along the way, as Lucy exhibits powers ranging from mind-reading to the ability to move objects, including people, with her mind, aka telekinesis. The higher her brain capacity rises, the stronger and more capable she becomes. But what will happen when she reaches the full 100% brain capacity? Will she survive? Therein lies the bulk of the rest of the movie.
Okay, so first things first: yes, the premise is absolutely ridiculous. It’s not so much the idea of someone figuring out a way for humans to maximize their brain function capacity that bothers me–that could happen, absolutely. It’s that doing so would lead to humans being able to freeze and float people in their tracks as they attack them and keep a car speeding down the wrong lane of traffic from crashing, as Lucy does here, among other amazing feats. Now that’s a bit dubious!
Of course, this is a movie, not a documentary, so you can either go with it or not. (Although, at times, it feels like the most bad-ass episode of “Through the Wormhole” with Morgan Freeman ever!) I knew exactly what I was getting into from the preview, so I was onboard from the jump. As somewhat aforementioned, I love action heroines, and they don’t get much more awe-inspiring than Johansson.
She’s already had a banner year, between “Captain America” and the more low-key films “Her,” “Under the Skin” and “Chef,” which might have achieved varying degrees of box-office success overall but still represent one of the more intriguing careers in Hollywood at the moment, male or female.
Johansson is simply becoming more adventurous with her choice of roles, and while, to some degree, “Her,” “Under the Skin” and this film can be seen as variations of similar themes and characters, it’s a pretty interesting set of themes and characters, regardless. In short, she keeps making films that appeal to this viewer at least, and which go beyond her simply being easy on the eyes.
I won’t deny that there are actresses who I will watch in anything because I find them appealing and attractive- I’m only human and functioning at a 10% brain capacity max. I think Johansson may be my favorite actress not because she’s beautiful, but because she just plain makes interesting choices. That’s a great asset to have in a field in which many actresses or actors get stuck doing the same thing over and over again because they get typecast as something or other. “Lucy” might be firmly within Johansson’s current given wheelhouse, but it’s a fun wheelhouse to explore, so who can blame her?
This is a visually arresting, colorful film, with some eye-popping effects, mind-bending concepts, thrilling action sequences and a truly nutty ending that admittedly may make or break the movie for some. And granted, some may find the subject matter a bit far-fetched, because it is. But it’s a movie, not a documentary, so get over it. The important thing is: does “Lucy” entertain? And IMHO, it does.
“Lucy” zips by at near lightning speed, clocking in at a relatively stealth ninety minutes, with very little time wasted on the unnecessary. Certain action film directors could certainly learn a thing or two about brevity being the better route to take from Besson, just as certain actors could learn a thing or two about how to effectively pick interesting roles from Johansson. The film may be silly at times, but it’s never boring.
As such, I’m giving it a solid B+ rating. The film itself may not be functioning at its full brain capacity, but it’s entertaining enough that you won’t care, so why complain? I got what I came for, and if you like seeing ladies kick butt, you will too!