Thursday 24 July 2014


In response to those grumbling about the experience of watching Lucy (Luc Besson's latest big effects action film - this time with Scarlett Johansson as the kick ass lead), I'm of two minds...Going in to the movie, I was simply hoping it would at least be a somewhat fun trifle of a summer flick on the order of Limitless. On that scale, it hits its target the majority of the time (though you'll have to decide for yourself if it deserves bonus or penalty points for its rather kooky ending that is part 2001: A Space Odyssey, part Isaac Asimov and part "You've gotta be kidding me..."). However, I can't help but think about what the film could have been...How it could have explored the nature of the brain from Lucy's perspective and touched on how the organ evolved, continues to do so and manages to have such a vast array of amazing abilities and structural flaws. That probably would have departed drastically from what I hoped for going in, but the possibility is just so tantalizing...

The movie you do get is patently ridiculous. That's OK though - even though it's not overly thrilling, has laughable science, is best when no one (except maybe the always menacing Choi Min-sik) is talking and has CGI effects that get in their own way sometimes, I'll be damned if I wasn't at least somewhat entertained. Most often that was due to the built-in ridiculousness, but at some point it's easy enough to roll with the whole thing and realize that it's just one of "those" movies. As it slowly but surely ramps up the silly, it lets you reset your approach to it, laugh with and/or at it and then settle back with a bit of a grin on your face.

To its credit, the story doesn't waste much time at all in jumping into the thick of things. Within a few minutes, Lucy has been tricked into delivering a suitcase to a Korean businessman in a swanky hotel lobby and before you know it, she's been snatched upstairs and forced into a drug mule operation. The new drug in question (synthesized from a chemical that pregnant mothers transfer to their still developing babies) purports to give users a superman effect, but when Lucy accidentally ingests a rather large quantity, it begins to expand her brain's capacity to allow engagement with all the matter and energy around her. During these early stages of Lucy's adventure, we occasionally check in with a brain researcher named Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) who is giving a lecture about that old (and disproved) adage that we only use 10% of our brains. He's been working on theories about what humans could do if we tapped that extra bandwidth within our skulls and he suggests we could control more than just our own bodies.

As Lucy's brain starts increasing the percentage of utilization (handily flashed on screen whenever she reaches another milestone: 20%, 30%, 40%, etc.), she realizes that she will need more of the drug to stay alive and pass along the knowledge being gained from the experience. Given her new "powers" (e.g. language translation, a new found ability to drive a car, tapping into people's thoughts, controlling objects, etc.), she goes back to the Korean drug kingpin (Choi) to get more of the blue crystals. She also contacts Professor Norman to learn more about her brain's evolution and a French detective to help her recover additional quantities of the drug that have been dispatched to other corners of the world.

Though the script fumbles through some oddly phrased moments and goofy jargon ("cracking the nucleus of the cells"), it is somewhat refreshing to see a movie that assumes its audience not only accepts evolution as the guiding force for the diversity of life, but hopes that they can extrapolate from there (and even alludes to man being its own creator as Lucy "meets" the original Lucy). Granted, as mentioned, the rest of the film's "science" is pure gobbledygook, but I was happy to give it a wide berth since at its core it does wonder how the human species will evolve to meet the more and more hostile environment that it is creating for itself.

The set pieces aren't terribly exciting (the car chase pales in comparison to The Raid 2's well-orchestrated affair due to its reliance on CGI cars and crashes), but at a brisk 90 minutes it almost never lags. Though Johansson does what is necessary for most of the role, the direction and script don't do her many favours at times - particularly when she is encouraged to act in robotic fashion or needs to describe her feelings out loud as she explores her own brain. A call to her mother early in the film has her detail the energies all around her as she grasps at how to explain the permanent change that has occurred. As frustrating as that monologue is, the scene is doubly frustrating for giving a glimpse as to what the film could have been.

Specifically, Lucy's ramblings about memories flooding back, revelations about the world and the sudden realizations about the energy flowing around her reminded me of this wonderful and emotional talk by the real life brain researcher Jill Bolte Taylor. In it, she recounts how she tried to understand and study her own brain as she lived through a stroke. She tells of her brain flipping between its two hemispheres - the logical part reminding her to get help since something was obviously wrong while the sensitive, empathetic side felt it had reached nirvana and had become one with the entirety of the energy around her. It may sound a bit new-agey, but the decoupling of the brain's mechanism as described by this neuroanatomist is fascinating, dramatic and far more alluring than the powers realized by Lucy. It strikes similar chords as the tales of hallucinogenic drug users and dangles the prospect of ideas well beyond our current imaginations. I don't know if there's a movie in Bolte Taylor's real-life blow by blow record of her brain coping with its twin halves splitting from each other, but the 18 minute talk is far more compelling than the ideas only partially worked out in Lucy.

So I couldn't help but want more - much more - from Besson's thriller. But that's my right hemisphere talking...My left side would say that if you simply don't expect more than what was intended - a pleasant summer diversion - you won't leave too disappointed. So like I said, I'm of two minds...


Unknown said...

useless review...of two minds? really?. What a way to avoid the possibility the reviewer may get the chance to meet Johanssen

Bob Turnbull said...

I was going to ignore your non-constructive comment, but I'll be honest - I'm really having trouble parsing that last sentence.

Are you saying I'm purposely being wishy-washy so that Scarlett will not want to talk to me? If you are aware of Scarlett's blog-reading habits, please share them. I'll adjust accordingly.

Or are you saying I should "pick a side" because that's the only way to have an opinion? Or do you just not like my fairly lame "two minds" play on words?

I can accept that last reason...

Unknown said...

I thought your "fairly lame" play was fine because you tied it together with the movie and explained yourself to where I know exactly what you mean. An opinion that something is good, yet could be better is still an opinion.

I've read about 15 reviews tonight in an effort to decide if I should go see it or wait for the DVD (or HBO) and your comments were probably among the most helpful.

It's easy to criticize; it's even easier to criticize those who criticize; I don't think either is easy enough for nonya bisnuss.

Bob Turnbull said...

Hi Amanda! Thanks for the comment...I'll be curious what you think of Lucy if you see it. It looks like there are a lot of reviews that talk about how much better Lucy could be, but still point out its entertainment value. Not likely a movie people will come back to for revisits, but still somewhat fun.

Twinmaster said...

I took the ride, as director Luc Besson suggests in his video interview on IMDb, and thoroughly enjoyed it! Hats off to Mr. Turnbull for a smartly written, intelligent, and oh-so-far-from-useless review!

Bob Turnbull said...

Hi Twinmaster! Thanks so much for the comments and support. Glad you liked the film...

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I liked your review. Here are my answers to critics of the movie:

1. Although I was never a fan of Dr. Seuss, I wouldn't criticize his work because of the lack of existence of oobleck just as I wouldn't criticize Luc Besson for taking liberties with current knowledge.

2. The enjoyment of Science Fiction requires a momentary suspension of disbelief and, believe me, I'm generally a disbeliever but I enjoy Science Fiction.

3. It's inconsistencies that spoil the fun.

(As it turns out, the word oobleck is now being used to describe a non-Newtonian fluid. It shows up in an episode of The Big Bang Theory where the guys are bouncing a handful of it around on the upward facing cone of a subwoofer.)

...Sorry for the detour. I haven't seen the movie yet.

Gavin said...

Ive just arrived home after watching the movie Lucy. Its probably one of my all time favourites. It had me thinking about it on the drive home for 30 minutes, and im still thinking about it as I type this and and scour the internet for more reviews to see if other people enjoyed it as much as I did.

Suffice to say that a lot of people are really hard to please when it comes to entertainment. Its as though every second comment is basically "oh so its a female version of the Matrix.." Well the Matrix was a more technological twist on The Terminator, and if you go back through every movie ever made we would probably trace every idea back to the silent movies of Charlie Chaplin and eventually the first movie ever made. Which is kind of ironic, because this movies core is all about evolution, were we've come from and we're we are going.

If you read the reviews on the internet, its like all of a sudden everybody has a PhD in science, health and chemistry. For people to say that the movie is bollocks because the 10% theory has been debunked is just crazy. No-one, not one single person on this earth knows exactly how the brain works. Every single person who has watched the movie Lucy has taken a paracetemol tablet in their lifetime for a headache or some other form of pain. Yet not one person in the world understands why paracetemol works as a form of analgesia. Its analgesic properties were disscovered by accident.

No-one really understands how the brain works, and no-one can say for sure what the meaning of life is, or how it all started. So for people to write of the movie Lucy as being a matrix ripoff with gaping holes in science is just laughable. New drugs are being constructed every year and many of their beneficial properties are discovered by dumb luck, such as the muscle reversing property of Sugammadex (of which its initial purpose for creation was for something completely different).

So the premise of the movie Lucy where some drug lords have manufactured a drug and by complete chance have discovered a chemical compound that unlocks the full powers of the brain is completely plausible. Ive read the studies where scientists have debunked the 10% theory by showing that almost all parts of the brain are activated in a single activity. But is there any mention of the intensity, or quantifying the activity of the brain? How hard can the human brain work? 500 years ago man would probably struggle to run 100m in 20 seconds. With all the PED's available currently we could probably get Usain Bolt under 9.

Getting back to the point of my argument - I think its absurd that people can rate this movie so low and point to scientific holes as a reason. The powers of the brain might never fully be understood, and 100 years from now its mind blowing to think what drugs might be available to the general public and the amazing effects they could have. I think the movie Lucy is a thought provoking masterpiece, that attempts to answer what is the meaning of life, how did this all start, and where might it all go. To say that the movies ideals and boundaries were ridiculous is both ignorant and idiotic. If you subscribe to the theory of evolution, how absurd would it be if the first homohabilis was given a 90 minute insight into the life of the modern day man sitting in an airborne piece of metal flying 30000 feet above the ground at 800kmph while communicating with someone on the other side of the world?

Lucy tells us that in the world there are no limits, because not us, or anyone to our knowledge has ever reached them. I thoroughly enjoyed the film, and found it to be a lot more plausible than the done to death AI vs humans storyline.


Bob Turnbull said...

Hi Ken...Thanks for stopping by and leaving your comment. Thanks too for the info about oobleck. I did not know that...

"It's inconsistencies that spoil the fun" - yes exactly! I don't mind if a movie's world has monkeys that can fly with wings that emerge from their butts - but stay consistent with the world you've built at the start of the movie and don't suddenly have those same monkeys shoot lasers out of their eyes because it helps the plot.

With Lucy, I was OK with much of what it was doing until she was on the plane and she started disintegrating. That seemed to be pulled out of nowhere. However, as things got progressively sillier, I just sat back and ran with it...

Bob Turnbull said...

Gavin, thank you so much for your very long comment. It's greatly appreciated!

Though I didn't quite love the movie to your extent, I agree with a lot of what you say. I tend to be a very logical person, but I'm fine with movies taking whatever liberties they want (e.g. I don't believe in ghosts, but I love a good ghost story film). As Ken mentioned in a previous comment, my biggest concern for a movie is that it stay consistent within the world it has created - or at least not change its premises and foundation just to move a plot point ahead. I think Lucy didn't always stay consistent and took a few too many leaps, BUT 1) it was pretty entertaining and 2) it used other scientific concepts to raise interesting questions.

For me, evolution is one of the most amazing scientific facts humans have ever discovered. A brilliant hypothesis from Darwin that has been refined and worked into one of the strongest core scientific concepts we have. So when a film wants to play in that world, I'm happy to go with it - even if I have to give it a lot of leeway.

"Lucy tells us that in the world there are no limits" - I like that comment. That does fit nicely with the theme and tone of the film. I still think it plays way too loose with a number of things, but at least it's playing in an interesting space.

So even if we wouldn't give the film the same rating, I do wholeheartedly agree with you about not not reviewing a movie based on how realistic or scientifically accurate it is. That would make the film landscape pretty restrictive.

I'm so glad you got that much from the film and loved it as much as you did.