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Lucy review: Scarlett Johansson scores less than 100%

Luc Besson's brainteaser is engaging but it stretches the boundaries of plausibility just a little too far.

What does it say about the listless, heavy hand of celebrity that one of Hollywood’s most famous actresses, Scarlett Johansson, is drawn to playing roles divorced from humanity? The 29-year-old, whose day job is playing an assassin in the Marvel comicbook blockbusters, has recently played an alien harvesting male flesh on Earth in Under the Skin and memorably voiced a sentient operating system in Her.

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Trailer: Lucy

A woman, accidentally caught in a dark deal, turns the tables on her captors and transforms into a merciless warrior evolved beyond human logic.

Reviewer rating


Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Title Lucy
Genre Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi
Director Luc Besson
Screenwriter Luc Besson
Actors Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi
OFLC rating Yet to be classified
Run Time
Year 2014
Language English

A woman, accidentally caught in a dark deal, turns the tables on her captors and transforms into a merciless warrior evolved beyond human logic.

Full synopsis

As the titular star of Luc Besson’s Lucy, a big bang theory of pop philosophy and contemplative action, Johansson begins as an ordinary young American woman studying in Taiwan, albeit hungover and used as an unwilling assistant by her sketchy new boyfriend. When a gangster, Kang (Oldboy’s Choi Min-sik), makes her his courier, Lucy is exposed to a synthetic drug that accidentally changes the very composition of her cells and liberates her consciousness.

It falls to Morgan Freeman, playing Samuel Norman, a distinguished Professor of Explaining, to deliver a lecture about what can theoretically happen when human beings make use of more than 10 per cent of their brain’s capacity. In Lucy’s case it practically means gunning down her captors at 20 per cent, and moving cars by telekinesis at 40 per cent. Perfect Wi-Fi is probably in there somewhere, too.

Besson has a long history of hard-kicking heroines, stretching back to Anne Parillaud in 1990’s Nikita. He’s the father of the modern action film, all style and mayhem, and while he can still do a great goon-squad arrival, Lucy foregoes full-tilt action for cosmic contemplation. The digital effects are numerous but comparatively small, with Lucy’s abilities mirroring Neo’s otherworldly progress in the Matrix movies.

At a certain point, a French police officer (Amr Waked) offers to leave Lucy’s side, as he’s superfluous. And Besson, who is responsible for B-movie franchises such as The Transporter and Taken, doesn’t present Johansson’s character as a female superhero but rather a budding modern deity, eventually flipping back and forth through time as if searching tracks on an iPod.

The 10 per cent of the brain angle is an internet myth (although it does explain Adam Sandler’s recent movies), and while the story is concisely and confidently told, there’s something chilly about Lucy (and Johansson’s) sudden goodbye to life as we know it. “I feel everything. Space. Air,” Lucy tells her mother, in a goodbye phone call, and the film is nutty enough to have us believe a parent wouldn’t immediately demand, “Are you on drugs?” Plausibility has its limits.