Wednesday, March 4, 2015

"Lucy": Dumb Action That Worships Brilliance

Now Available on DVD and Blu-Ray

Plot-wise, Lucy is pretty simple.  The titular character is abducted while vacationing in Taiwan and is forced to act as a drug mule for an Asian cartel.  While being held captive, the drug bag in her abdomen bursts, but instead of killing her with an overdose, the drug begins to enhance her cognitive abilities, making her superintelligent and capable of intense feats strength and accuracy.  As the drug becomes more integrated with her system, though, she begins to gain other superpowers, such as being able to manipulate radio waves and telepathy.  The ensuing tale is simultaneously one of revenge against the cartel that kidnapped her, and a quest to pass on her newfound knowledge to a group of scientists before the drug eventually kills her.

To address the elephant in the room, yes, the “we only use 10% of the brain” fallacy is stupid, and it is not an accurate representation of how cognitive functions work or how our brains are designed.  However, Lucy is a science fiction movie, with a very heavy emphasis on the fiction part of that equation.  The percentage markers are not presented with any sense of scientific accuracy or intent to be viewed as such, but are simply benchmarks to represent our protagonist’s next level of ridiculous superpowers.  And I’m totally fine with that, especially because the film in no way is trying to represent itself as an authority on neuroscience, but instead plays to director Luc Besson’s strengths of intense gunfights and car chases while acting as a love letter to actual scientific discovery and progress.

Best known for writing the Transporter and Taken franchises, Besson delivers precisely the type of film one would expect based on his previous work, populating the story with one-dimensional villains and supporting characters while a primary focus is placed on the superhumanly-skilled protagonist.  However, the man has mastered the craft of the action scene to such a degree that his films are often good, mindless fun, and Lucy is no exception.  This arguably makes Lucy a somewhat shallow experience, but it does what it’s trying to do decently enough. Depth is not one of Besson’s strong suits, nor would it likely appeal to Besson’s primary demographic of action aficionados.

That makes it all the better that the film chooses to focus on the benefits that Lucy can bring to humanity through her evolution rather than portraying her as a terrifying monster that needs to be stopped.  Though Lucy gradually loses her ability to feel as the film goes on, the logical choice she comes to is not to view herself as separate from and inherently better than humanity, but to try and spread her wisdom to humanity before her time is up.  The moral here is that knowledge for its own sake is a source of goodness in the world, and ignorance is what causes our human failings.  Given the less-than-cerebral nature of most guns-and-cars action films, this message is welcome in its delivery to an audience that might not otherwise ever receive or contemplate it.

Though not the most engaging or intellectually savvy film out there, Lucy is a good popcorn flick to spend ninety minutes on.  Additionally, it’s refreshing to see a female-led action film, with Scarlett Johansson delivering her increasingly emotionless affectation with a grace that is unique to her (and played to much greater effect than in the terribly overrated Under The Skin.)  All in all, it may rely on a scientific fallacy to measure its plot steps, but its adoration of knowledge elevates this film above most standard action fare.

Were you as disappointed as I was that Marvel’s Phase Three doesn’t include a Black Widow movie?  Think this is as close as we’re going to get?  Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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