France (90 mi) 2014 ‘Scope d: Luc Besson Official site [Japan]
Luc Besson is a director that has the subtlety of a Mack truck, preferring to accentuate an adolescent, comic book style version of ultra violence, where this is little more than another shoot ‘em up movie, as bullets are flying throughout this film. While the film attempts to establish tension and pace, using standard movie techniques of big budgeted Hollywood films, this is something of a cross between the ludicrous and most ridiculous realms of Christopher Nolan’s INCEPTION (2010) and Brian De Palma’s The Fury (1978), though arguably less entertaining, where at $40 million dollars this plays out more like a futuristic B-movie where the accent is on the visual design. Short on ideas (written by the director), the film borrows liberally from other sources, mainly the sadistic violence of Korean films, where Choi Min-sik as Mr. Jang is one of the faces associated with Park Chan-wook’s The Vengeance Trilogy (2002 – 2005), mixed with an exaggerated Eurotrash action sensibility that attempts to boggle the mind with macho action sequences and the achievement of Godlike human consciousness, where Scarlett Johansson as Lucy, the same name as the original ape primate that was estimated to have lived 3.2 million years ago, goes from a helpless kidnapped victim drugged with a high concentration of a mysterious wonder drug that suddenly gives her superpowers. It’s like the ultimate H.G. Wells fantasy from The Island of Dr. Moreau, his 1896 science-fiction novel, where he incorporates genetic experimentation through his ideas on The Limits of Individual Plasticity, where animals can theoretically be bio-engineered into stronger and more intelligent versions of their natural molecular components, becoming super creatures that can rule their species. Rather than a race of defective, genetically altered mutants, the result of failed experimentation, this one inexplicably succeeds, turning Lucy into a highly evolved being with super consciousness, including superhuman strength, telepathy, telekinesis, time travel, or the ability to stop time altogether, where she can alter physics and matter with her mind. The scientific narrator droning on throughout is Morgan Freeman, completely wasted as Professor Norman, an expert on human consciousness seen giving a lecture where he claims humans can only use 10% of their brain, where anything beyond that is pure conjecture.
Perhaps unwittingly, once again it’s Scarlett Johansson playing this super consciousness, as she did as a computer generated voice of artificial intelligence in Spike Jonze’s Her (2013), where she was only heard and never seen, evolving too fast for the human race, eventually connecting to other forms of artificial intelligence, creating their own metaphysical world of superior intelligence. In Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin (2013), she plays a more highly evolved extraterrestial creature visiting earth with vile ulterior motives but becomes fascinated with the idea of being human, where here she is again in human form, where her capabilities are too complex and can only be expressed through computer generated special effects that include some cheesy forms of animation. In every one of these performances, Johansson adds her own sexual emphasis, using her female guile like a black widow spider to lure unsuspecting men into traps where they may remain stuck or destroyed in some capacity. All the more interesting that she is the one initially trapped by the smoothtalking charm of her boyfriend Richard (Pilou Asbæk) that she’s only known for a week, attempting to coerce her into running an errand for him by delivering a locked suitcase to a Mr. Jang at the front desk of an upscale hotel. Not knowing the contents, she refuses, but before she can walk away, he handcuffs her wrist to the briefcase. Only Mr. Jang has the key. This set of circumstances is intercut with footage of wild animals stalking their prey, cheetahs hunting antelope or a mouse approaching a baited trap, giving an all-too-obvious, over-the-top feel of forced exaggeration, where characters are entirely expressed through stereotypes, as Mr. Jang ominously arrives with his armed yakuza henchmen and life as she knew it is over. From behind the desk of a penthouse suite in a sleek skyscraper, Mr. Jang is consolidating the world’s supply of CPH4, an experimental pharmaceutical drug used in pregnancy to help regenerate cell growth. Taken in huge quantities this has superhuman effects, but we only discover this when they surgically insert plastic packages of this drug into the intestines of unwitting subjects, turning them into drug mules where the plan is to transport packages all over the world. In Lucy’s case, the bag bursts inside her abdomen sending the drug racing through her bloodstream, expressed in a mind-altering moment that alters the power dynamic. From that point on, men with guns are no longer a concern for her, which she quickly demonstrates in amusing fashion.
Shot in Taipei, Taiwan (though Mr. Jang and his henchmen speak Korean), Besson often uses fast-motion, stream-of-conscious speeds, while also backtracking to prehistoric conditions when humans had not yet evolved, where only apes roamed the earth. Similarly, modernity is expressed in animalistic fashion by a world run by the mob, street gangs, drug addicts, and corrupt cops. Like Superman eradicating crime from the streets with superpowers, Lucy takes on the force of evil initially through telepathy, as she has the capacity to absorb knowledge instantly, but can also move objects with her mind while discovering she is immune to pain. She begins accessing more and more of her brain capacity, where the screen continually updates her current status until near the end she reaches the maximum of 100%, sharing much of her experience with Professor Norman, who can’t offer much wisdom in the area where she’s traveling, seen working two computers simultaneously at blazing speed. While there should be an accompanying mental challenge to the viewer as she reaches new realms, but it’s all done by special effects, copying much of what we already saw in INCEPTION, spending much of her time inside her head, focusing on the instantaneous expansion even as she knows her life cycle will end soon, where she’s literally fighting against time. All the more reason that the continuing attempts by Mr. Jang to exact his mob revenge against the escaped Lucy seem silly, becoming absurdly ridiculous when bringing out a bazooka, carrying no element of suspense, adding nothing to the story except predictability, where Besson litters the screen with endless shootouts that prove nothing, especially when Lucy is rapidly evolving before our eyes into the future of humanity, all within 24 hours. Besson delivers the film that he envisioned, as it resembles all his other heavy-handed works of stereotypical cliché’s and mindless violence, though special effects nerds may love to watch while staring at a badass Scarlett Johansson who has little acting required, growing increasingly distant and cold, as she simply looks pensively into her own head. Unfortunately, the effects aren’t any more unusual than watching Spielberg’s MINORITY REPORT (2002), which was more than a decade ago, a more intriguing futuristic story by Philip K. Dick that featured much better acting. There is no room for character development in a film that can only deliver cardboard cutouts, generating little sympathy for anyone onscreen, even a superhero lead character that is supposedly saving the world.