Once upon a time, two movies opened in the same weekend. In one, you had to accept its clichés in order to enjoy it. In “Lucy,” you have to accept its rather dubious and simplistic science.
Stars tend to eat up quite a bit of a movie's budget, but Scarlett Johansson is worth every penny in “Lucy.” Another actress may have made her blank stare feel truly empty, but Johansson makes you feel as if she is hearing and seeing things that we cannot.
Johannson plays the titular role of a very ordinary young woman studying abroad in Taiwan who happens to make a very common mistake in that the guy she's been dating turns out to be a real jerk. How big of a jerk? Well, for one, he wears a cowboy hat. Even worse, he handcuffs her to a briefcase and makes her deliver it to a crime boss, played by Min-sik Choi of “Oldboy,” who is as vicious as he is wealthy.
Soon, she's forced to become a drug mule for a stimulant that's as new as it is powerful. When that drug gets into her system in an unexpected way, she is soon transformed. How? Well, said drug allows her to access more of her brain, which causes her to mutate into a kind of superhero whose abilities grow as her access increases. Since so much emphasis is placed on the mind, the body becomes less important, and she becomes more and more detached from her humanity.
But this is an action movie, so she does have to condescend to bother with those pesky gangsters who idiotically decide to pursue her. And since Luc Besson wrote and directed, we can expect trademarks like exotic locations and high tech concepts. But since Lucy's journey is the focus here, the movie makes the smart decision to make her not into a Lara Croft, but rather a far less annoying Jean Grey, who can dispose of her adversaries with a wave of her hand. Here such restraint feels like the right tone for a film that is all about the wonders of our cerebral capacity.
Plus, there's just something about Morgan Freeman playing a professor that makes you take all his scientific claims seriously. (Just what is it about the soothing sound of his voice?) Of course, his research may just hold the key to Lucy's survival. Then there's the humorous moments, which come mainly in the form of well-timed nature clips (when Freeman speaks of reproducing and genetics, it shows animals copulating, and when Johansson is taken by the gangster, we see a cheetah stalking and killing its prey) that gives “Lucy” a somewhat Kubrickian feel for the impatient, ADD generation.
At least part of the movie's polarizing effect is its refusal to cater to the usual tropes. There is no talk of destiny, spirituality, or the meaning of any sort of higher power. Lucy is not special or destined, she is merely a woman with a sense of morality who is made greater than herself by circumstance. She has evolved into a higher state merely as a result of an accident. Here, humanity's future remains firmly in its own hands, and its greatest enemy is ignorance.
However, its critics are correct in that it feels more than a tad incomplete. It could probably work more as a miniseries than as a movie, which would've given it more time for its lofty ambitions. It is an enjoyable time at the movies, but when push comes to shove, it's more “The Matrix” of the present moment. But I can't wait to see “Inception.”