Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is an average young woman on holiday in China, but when her boyfriend of one week (Pilou Asbæk) gets her involved in drug trafficking a strange new substance, she ends up unlocking her whole brain (as opposed to the widely-debunked myth that we only use 10%), and through it develops incredible superpowers.
If you think this sounds like the same premise as Limitless, that’s because it is, but I haven’t seen Limitless, so can’t really compare. But if it’s as empty as Lucy I don’t want to. From very early in the film she develops the power to control matter and the minds of people around her, utterly ridding this film of any sense of danger. Having a character who’s in total control of every scene because she can perceive and manipulate everything around her does not a gripping movie make. Coupled with the fact the superpowers affect Lucy’s personality, so she no longer feels pain, fear or human desire, you have a recipe for an emotionally desolate movie.
To make a film like this emotionally engaging is very simple. You either make the person with the powers scared or in physical pain because of the change, or you focus on a character close to them, and their fear. A good example is the similar Transcendence. Johnny Depp’s character gained a comparable super-intelligence, but with the focus on his terrified wife it was easier to connect to. And when you’re using Transcendence as an example of a more emotionally engaging film you know things are bad..
The supporting characters in Lucy are a French cop (Amr Waked), who serves no obvious purpose, and Morgan Freeman, who is now Hollywood’s go-to ageing science man (The Dark Knight Trilogy, Dolphin Tale, Transcendence). Neither of them contribute much to the measly running time of a film which has nowhere to go. Stock footage of wildlife, nature and human civilization is clumsily added to serve either as literal visualisations of what is being said, or as clumsy metaphors for the events of the film. Except their real purpose is to edge the film over 90 minutes.
When sci-fi films have rubbish characters and are emotionally empty, they’d sure better make up for it with some good themes and ideas. The problem is Lucy is nowhere near as clever as it wants or needs to be. Its vague message about the insignificance of human perceptions is undermined by its claim that the human mind is capable of possessing unlimited power, and its poorly imagined view of what could happen if we could unlock greater potential has been better handled elsewhere.
Aside from a fairly neat car chase and some pretty impressive visual effects there’s little to enjoy here, resulting in another disappointment from Luc Besson. If only he could use 100% of his brain.