Written by Ankit Ojha
What to Expect
Luc Besson is known to be a storyteller with a distinct set of visual stylistic elements. Many people agree that a lot of his content, while contemporary, is plated to the audience with various styles. I, for one, haven’t seen his earlier films enough to comment any more eloquently than I can. One honestly wouldn’t be able to blame me much on my wariness, considering most of his later efforts have been pale and fairly formulaic, building upon nothing but (as I’ve come to know) his own built up trademarks. Discovering a director, if you end up liking the film you bumped into, you’ll probably definitely go ahead and check out his filmography for more of what’s he’s done. But if the films you’ve bumped into are generic, there’s a fair chance you wouldn’t care to do any quick search on the guy behind the director’s chair. With the case of Besson, however, aside from knowing him as the founder of EuropaCorp and subsequent producer of some capriciously mixed bag of films (most of them highly generic and predictable in content), I’ve not been fortunate enough to have watched his better directorial ventures. Aside from a strict one-time watch called The Lady, and a humorous-but-flatlined The Family (or, as some of you might know, Malavita), the productions I’ve seen of his consist of some of the slickest action sequences in quick succession of each other, supported only in flashes (District B13 franchise) by a coherent narrative and storyline. Of course, there’s a highly entertaining set of romps (Taken, Colombiana), but let’s be honest – when broken down, they really have no point apart from their thrilling action set-pieces and almost super-heroic protagonists.
The expectations that would therefore ordinarily be set up for the film by a potential viewer could be broken down into three very straightforward branches:
- Besson in a film could mean nothing but entertainment – great action, fantastic protagonists and some fun one-liners – without so much as a believable plot, so if one’s ready to go with the flow, that’s definitely there;
- Scarlett Johansson has proven herself to be the quintessential badass reprising Natasha Romanoff in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the expectation here being a rerun of pure badassery – at the least from what’s been shown in the trailers; and
- A breathlessly action packed ninety minutes are definitely expected, no questions asked, along with some interesting science fiction
Now, the expectations – at the risk of repeating myself – are fairly straightforward. Action, sci-fi and a badass Scarlett Johansson in the template of a Besson film. all we’ve got to see is whether this gets past the shackles of expectation and delivers something that fairly transcends Besson’s tropes of action and chaos.
What’s it About?
Chaos is basically what Lucy (Johansson; Under the Skin) is driven into when her week-old sleaze-bag boyfriend Richard (Johan Philip “Pilou” Asbaek; A Hijacking) sets her up in a conspiracy that involves a superdrug the bad guys slip into her stomach. This turns around for her when the packet of the superdrug is torn open in a turn of events, and she finds out she’s more than she ever was.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Now watching the trailer, one of the main reasons an audience member would go would be to watch Johansson kicking serious ass and shooting ‘em up; which is quite there. There is, however, one very big hitch. All the action you’ve seen in the trailer is almost as much you’re going to watch in the movie – albeit extended, and yet still as much. This will definitely put off a couple of people who probably won’t find the considerable lack of it worth their money. The slightly more open-minded moviegoer will be in for a surprise when they find out that the film has a bunch of other absolutely fantastic things to look forward to. Besson’s sharp excellence in steering between elements of conspiracy, thrilling action and the elements of surreal science fiction shows in the sharp, yet poignant execution of the first hour of the film. Johansson’s character arc also rises rapidly from being a bumbling victim to a self-aware woman in the process, and while the pace of the build-up to the core of the story is dizzyingly fast, it’s still almost convincing despite some absolutely unbelievable plot elements. Morgan Freeman’s character delivers a speech about the usage capacity of the brain, that runs parallel to Johansson taking control of her powers, which establishes a lot of major developments in her life. While the technique isn’t new, it definitely helps to gain some logic – even for the parallel universe that is the film. What makes the movie take a complete 180 degree turn is the second half, depending totally on the action and hijinks of the film than anything else, dumbing the film back down for a bit before it fortunately reaches a very ambitious finale – albeit dramatic – that doesn’t shy away from steering itself to the end it does go for.
The major problem, thus, with the film is that it can’t decide what’s it really out to be. For its fairly ambitious ideals and surprisingly confident school-of-thought, it shifts unconvincingly between EuropaCorp action and surreal, almost metaphysical science fiction tropes. It addresses a what-if scenario by building up to the movie’s core question quite well, and also has a very interesting answer to the question, but it dumbs it all down in a weird melange of action genre clichés through its second half, which is all quite unfortunate.
This, apart from the fact that the elements of conflict – particularly antagonists – are stereotypical and overly contemporary, with no character development of the main antagonist. I think I’ve stressed my disappointment with trying to make the ‘bad guy’ nothing more than just a bad guy in movies far too much, and here too the film gives the titular protagonist nothing more than just a menacing dude who doesn’t match up to her at all – thereby nullifying his need to be a part of the film anymore.
Technically, the film is supported by stunning imagery composited with surprisingly crafty visual effects that don’t go over-the-top or aim to become a gratuitous showreel for the VFX artists that work toward the film. Thierry Arbogast, who’s continued hopping into Besson’s occasional works, returns to collaborate with the writer-director to give the film some fairly fluid moving imagery, supported well by some very efficient camera operators who are surprisingly steady even in the building up of the action of the film, giving the viewers a lot to absorb. The production design of the film is fairly classy, with most of the outdoors given a rich look through the lens of the cameras used. The film also boasts of some of the most experimental editing for a film like this. Parallel editing basically rocks the entire film, with superb match cuts that allude a lot of what happens to the characters of the film in the wilderness of nature – which is a decision that’s vocally bold for a film with more commercial stance than not. And lastly, the music by another frequent collaborator to Besson films – Éric Serra – gives the film apt enhancement and support in major sequences of tension, sometimes behaving in the exact opposite way than the usual tropes suggest.
To Perform or Not to Perform
If there’s anyone who can be credited for handling the whole film singlehandedly, it’s Scarlett Johansson. Her confidence in the role is surprisingly electrifying, and for a person who replaced Angelina Jolie (who was previously cast in the titular role), she’s done miles better than what (I personally imagine) Jolie would have done. Johansson most definitely looks and plays the character, digging into it with nothing but devilish glee. Morgan Freeman is a great supporting character. He gives speeches in his classic vocal tone. But then that makes him not so great apart from the fact that he’s given nothing but a certain job to do in the film. Amr Waked (Syriana, Contagion) pitches in a sincere performance as the cop Del Rio. You end up feeling for how exasperated he is in his interactive time with the protagonist, and that shows that he’s done his job very well. Choi Min-sik functions well as the bad guy, but I find it very disappointing he’s given nothing more than the absolutely one-dimensional character he plays, considering into play his filmography (the not-Hollywood, not-crappy Oldboy, I Saw the Devil).
A film like Lucy can be enjoyed a lot when gone in without any hard-set expectations the trailer requests the audience to set themselves up for. The section of audience expecting a film with non-stop popcorn munching action will be in for a surprise, because it majorly elevates it. The problem is, for a film with curiosity-driven questions, it elevates itself only so much, leaving behind major plot holes and a story that’s trapped in its own shackles of attempting to please its action fans. However, for a film that sticks to its guns for the sake of commercial business, it still is one that smartly brings forward a freshly elevated school of thought giving the audience a very interestingly toyed around premise, mixing it with possibly surreal – and fairly enjoyable – sci-fi too.
An interesting watch that definitely deserves a gander. If nothing, you’ll come out having had some unmemorable fun.
Star Rating: 3 / 5