There are certain things that experience has taught us to expect from the cinematic summers. Thankfully, while DragonDark happen to consider much of 2014’s silly season to have been of variable standard at best, it hasn’t disappointed in some regards. It’s seemingly obligatory that each year needs an overhyped stinker that turns a fortune regardless (congratulations, Transformers: Age of Extinction). It’s par for the course that a critical darling earns positive reviews and word of mouth, but fails to really convert that into bonzo box office business (say hello to Edge of Tomorrow). There’s the uber-hyped behemoth that we really wanted to like, but just didn’t do it for us (what’s that coming over the hill? It’s Godzilla). And of course, those rare beasts that lay waste to all before them, both critically and commercially – take a well-earned bow, Guardians of the Galaxy and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
That leaves just one final category to fill; the sleeper smash that comes from nowhere. There’s a fine tradition of leftfield genre classics have taken us by surprise dating back to The Matrix, and this year seemingly belongs to Luc Besson and Lucy, which has topped the box office charts all over the world. The visionary director has returned to the SF genre despite it failing to treat him particularly kindly over the years (lets agree to disagree, Fifth Element fanatics), and has seemingly finally nailed it. Lucy is the kind of hyperkinetic thrill-ride that we feared was beyond Besson at this stage of his career, and the most pleasing return to form since Mystique turned from smurf-on-steroids to Jennifer Lawrence.
A flick doesn’t make as many greenbacks as this without building some buzz, so let’s keep any talk of plot synopsis brief. The ever-delectable Scarlett Johansson – surely rivalling Sigourney Weaver as the first female of the fantasy genre by this point – plays the eponymous Lucy; a naïve party girl who clearly doesn’t realise that she is living in a Luc Besson movie. Dating a shady drug dealer and allowing oneself to be drawn into their shenanigans are rarely innocuous actions in the Bessonverse, and to the surprise of nobody Lucy finds herself in a pickle involving no–nonsense Korean gangsters and their excessively suave English associates. Oh, and a new narcotic that allows human beings to use more than the alleged standard 10% of their cognitive function, which she finds herself involuntarily ingesting.
We won’t lie to you; after that, things start to get pretty weird.
As befits a nominative protagonist, Lucy is very much Johansson’s movie. We’re huge fans of the ever-improving Scarlett woman here at DragonDark, and this shows that the husky New Yorker has grown into her well-deserved position as an A-list leading lady. A dumb-‘n-fun flick this may be, but that’s not to say that the role of Lucy isn’t taxing; Johansson displays an ability to shift from an inexperienced and afraid (though, refreshingly, never dull-witted) young woman to a hyper intelligent and emotionally-detached pseudo-superhero with ease and charisma, all whilst retaining a keen ear for comic timing. Besson has always enjoyed a great relationship with his principle actresses, making stars of Nathalie Portman and Milla Jovovich and teasing out Rie Rasmussen’s finest screen performance to date, but with Lucy he has the pleasure of dropping a sturdy and established plaything into his toy box. It’s clear that he’s enjoying the experience.
Such a dominant lead performance leaves little room for anyone else to shine, but a solid supporting cast do their best with limited screen time. Morgan Freeman spins scientific homilies in the way that only he can and almost makes us forget that the movie’s whole premise is flawed, while Choi Min-sik makes up in presence what he lacks in lines; Mr. Jang is the kind of sharp suit sporting villain with a master’s degree in intimidation that Besson does so well. Amr Waked has the unenviable task of playing po-faced straight man to all the lunacy around him but handles himself admirably enough, while Julian Rhind-Tutt absolutely steals the show with a brief but devastatingly charming cameo.
Perhaps the most important point to address is the Limitless-shaped elephant in the room prevalent whenever Lucy’s plot is discussed. In reality, Besson’s flick is closer in anarchic spirit to Crank, though where the cartoon misadventures of Chev Chelios paid homage to the art of video games, Lucy is pure cinema – cinema that oozes Eurochic from every frame. The camera is rarely more than a few inches from the action, whether we’re engaged in a dialogue exchange or a high speed car chase throughout one of the many globetrotting locations, and there’s a detached cool about the whole movie that acts as one long ninety-minute Gallic shrug.
Of course, all of this is to mask the fact that the script makes very little sense, and the science doesn’t stand up to any kind of scrutiny. It turns out that talking bollocks really is always bollocks, even when it’s being spouted by Morgan Freeman. This isn’t a film for the great thinkers of our time though, despite occasionally lofty ambitions and unconcealed influences and homages to the likes of 2001. You can check all that baggage about the meaning of life and evolution of humanity at the door, along with 90% of your brain’s capacity; purchase a ticket with the intention of watching Scarlett Johansson blaze a trail through an army of thugs like some kind of Louboutin-sporting Terminator and you’re guaranteed a rollickingly good night out at the movies. Lucy is a short, sharp shock to the senses, and a welcome antidote to some of the bloated and overloaded blockbusters that have made up this most capricious of summers.