by Rob Gonsalves
What are the movies trying to tell us about Scarlett Johansson? Of late, sheâs been seen (or, in one case, merely heard) in three idiosyncratic sci-fi films directed by people with more on their minds than simple escapism.Spike Jonzeâs Her wedded Johanssonâs purr to a super-advanced operating system; Jonathan Glazerâs Under the Skin offered her as an alien harvesting men; and now, in Luc Bessonâs Lucy (Luc with a y?), Johansson plays an unwilling drug mule whose cargo of experimental blue powder, leaking into her bloodstream, allows her access to more and more of her brain. In the Besson-verse, this means Johansson becomes the ultimate badass, able to bend matter to her will, until eventually, like Samantha in Her, Lucy slips the bonds of the material world.
What matters to the sane viewer is not whether Lucy is scientifically plausible â it isnât â but whether itâs an entertaining riff on its hefty themes (like, what is human, man?) â and it mostly is. Which doesnât mean I donât have many questions about it. Lucy starts out an ordinary young woman with understandably intense emotional responses to her plight â in a nice nod to realism, Besson has her barf at the sight of gangster bloodshed â but as her brain grows, as in so many of these parables, her heart seems to shrink. Johansson becomes dead-eyed and rather spooky, rattling off complex dialogue in a flat affect. She comes across as more inhuman than she was as actual nonhumans in Her and Under the Skin. Reason trumps feeling, I guess â though another nice touch finds Lucy phoning her mom and tearfully sharing infant memories she can now access â but a main character without fear makes for a movie without emotional stakes.
Lucy is probably easy to parody, what with its nods to landmarks of furrowed-brow cinema â at one point, Lucy touches fingers with a curious pre-evolved monkey; finally, Scarlett Johansson as the Monolith! â sometimes playing like Limitless remixed by Godfrey Reggio. It comes complete with a thesis statement, spoken by Johansson in sullen voiceover: âLife was given to us a billion years ago. What have we done with it?â The peak of human endeavor, apparently, being the ability to take out a hallway full of Korean thugs with a lordly wave of the hand. For extra gravitas, Besson brings in Morgan Freeman, filling the same role he did in the recent and thematically similar Transcendence. Where Johnny Depp in that film sought to crown himself the worldâs benevolent cyber-king, though, Lucy just wants to survive, to pass along information as a cell does. Is this the difference between a deus ex machina and a dea ex machina?
Ultimately, Lucy is more interesting as the final panel of the 2013-14 Scarlett Johansson âwhat is human?â triptych than it is in and of itself. It has its giddy moments, though. When Lucy teams up with a cop (Amr Waked) and takes him on a leadfoot tour of Parisian streets, or when she achieves oneness with every electronic device in Freemanâs lab, Besson shows a muscular imaginative glee thatâs hard to fend off. The director of La Femme Nikita, The Professional and The Fifth Element has never been a thinker; despite Lucyâs feints towards philosophy, itâs really about the cool visual, the dispassionate masklike beauty of a young woman serving up a bit of ultraviolence."Lucy" was not based on a comic book, but it might as well be; essentially, Luc Besson is in the comic-book business.
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originally posted: 11/17/14 08:00:00