From La Femme Nikita and The Professional to The Fifth Element (each of which is currently available on Blu-ray), filmmaker Luc Besson has created some of the toughest, most memorable female action heroes in cinematic history. Now, Besson directs Scarlett Johansson in Lucy, which tracks a woman accidentally caught in a dark deal who turns the tables on her captors and transforms into a merciless warrior evolved beyond human logic. Lucy also stars Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman and is produced by Virginie Besson-Silla for EuropaCorp.
The premise of writer/director Luc Besson's 'Lucy' is based on a false assumption: that human beings only use about 10 percent of their brain capacity. This, of course, is complete nonsense and has been debunked by just about everyone except (apparently) the scientists Besson claims to have consulted with for the making of this movie. However, I realize that to enjoy many titles, one has to happily turn off the part of their brain that requires storylines to be realistic and logical. So I cranked my own down to Besson's preferred 10 percent level while watching 'Lucy'. Even then, my cerebral cortex begged for mercy. 'Lucy' is one dumb movie, and no amount of scientific mumbo jumbo thrown into the script can change that.
Clocking in at just under 90 minutes (one wonders just how much was left on the cutting room floor), it's hard to talk about the plot of 'Lucy' without giving away the entire story, but I'll try. Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is just an average girl who has been seeing the wrong guy, Richard (Pilou Asbæk), particularly when that guy turns out to be a drug dealer who now wants Lucy to deliver a briefcase to a group of Asian industrialists, led by Mr. Jang (Min-sik Choi). Jang and his henchmen dispose of Richard, drag Lucy up to one of the top floors of their high-rise, and insist she be the one that opens the briefcase. Inside is a very powerful blue crystal drug, that we'll later learn is a synthetic form of CPH4, which is apparently produced in small quantities in pregnant women and helps increase brain activity in the fetus – well, assuming Besson didn't get this bit of science the same place he got the rest (I'll confess to not researching this one). Anyway, Jang looks to move the drug to buyers by putting a bag of each inside the bodies of his 'drug mule' delivery men, and he forces Lucy to be one of those mules. However, some violent circumstances cause the bag to leak its contents inside her body, resulting in the increased brain activity that's at the heart of this story.
As if realizing how much he's asking the audience to accept as scientific fact, Besson has employed the talents of Morgan Freeman, who plays Professor Norman, a scientist who's an expert on brain activity in all animals, including humans. Freeman has the uncanny ability to make us believe whatever comes out of his mouth – and Besson even confesses in the bonus materials on this release that this is exactly why he wanted Freeman for the part. Sadly, Morgan's not given a whole lot to do in this movie, and the overwhelming majority of his screen time has him either giving a PowerPoint presentation or talking on the phone. He's only using 10 percent of his brain, because the other 90 percent is devoted to exposition.
Now let's get to my biggest issue with 'Lucy'. When Lucy's brain power begins to expand, does she become more compassionate, more understanding, more of everything one would associate with an advanced human being? No. She instead becomes a walking/talking killing machine that trots around like a robot and seems to place zero value on human life. That's great if you’re an action movie fan, not so great if you believe education is the ladder to enlightenment. There's one scene early on in Lucy's development that showed a hint of promise. In it, Lucy makes a cell phone call to her mother where she talks about being able to feel everything now…even the kisses her parents gave her when she was a child. Nevermind that Lucy is on an operating table at the time holding a surgeon at gunpoint after executing his patient…this could have been the start of an interesting arc for her character. Instead, she winds up killing even more people, all while trying to obtain more of the synthetic chemical like some kind of crack addict. It's almost as if the message Besson is trying to send is that the human race would be better off remaining stupid. That certainly helps if you're watching this movie, of course.
While all of Lucy's brain changing is taking place, she's still being pursued by Mr. Jang and his men, although they become less and less of a threat to her as she becomes more powerful. So by the time we make it to the climax, there's absolutely no sense of drama or tension to the movie, since the odds are so one-sided. Plus, because Lucy seems to be losing every ounce of her humanity as her intelligence capacity expands, we care less about her in the film's final moments than we did when we first met her.
If 'Lucy' has any redeeming value, it's that fans of action movies – and particularly Luc Besson action movies – should be able to enjoy those parts of the story. There's a lot of running, jumping, shooting, and bloodletting in 'Lucy', even if the plotline surrounding it isn't all that engaging or involving. Heck, Besson even throws Scarlett fanboys a bone by first having the actress appear in a skimpy black bra and then having her put a white shirt on over it so you can still totally see everything underneath. Sorry for that sexist observation... I was still only using 10 percent of my brain.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Lucy' arrives on home video in a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD combo pack. The Elite keepcase houses the dual-layer DVD on the inside left and the 50GB Blu-ray on the inside right. The sole insert contains a code for a UltraViolet and iTunes digital copy of the movie. A slightly embossed slipcover matching the artwork of the keepcase slick slides overtop the case.
Both the DVD and the Blu-ray are front-loaded with trailers for The Scorpion King 4, A Walk Among the Tombstones, Get On Up, Kill the Messenger, Continuum, Nightcrawler, DragonHeart 3, and 'The Man with the Iron Fists 2'. The Blu-ray main menu consists of the same image as the box cover, with menu selections along the left side of the screen. The DVD menu uses the same image, with menu selections running across the bottom of one's screen.
There are a few retailer exclusives available for this release. Best Buy is offering this combo pack with an exclusive lenticular cover, while Target is offering the combo in steelbook packaging. The Walmart release offers an exclusive interactive screenplay, which isn't part of the actual Blu-ray disc, but must be accessed via website and a code included in the set.
The Blu-ray in this release is region-free.
Despite my misgivings with the actual movie, there's little doubt that Universal has once again delivered a fine Blu-ray transfer for viewers. Shot digitally using primarily Arri Alexa equipment, 'Lucy' looks incredibly sharp and detailed in this 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC transfer, with my only small complaint being that the colors lean slightly toward the over-saturated end of the scale, which also means skin tones are on the warm side of things. The depth of image here is fantastic, and the black levels are deep and inky. The crispness of the image tends to make some of the less-than-stellar special effects of the movie (like when Lucy moves a group of men to the ceiling with telepathy or when she morphs into different forms late in the movie) look less realistic than they should, but it's hard to fault a transfer for being too pristine, isn't it?
In terms of any flaws to the transfer, such as banding, aliasing, or any problems with compression, there are none to be found. All in all, this is a great-looking title – just a tad short of reference quality – but impressive nevertheless.
'Lucy' cranks things up with an English 5.1 DTS-HD track that delivers when needed, providing crisp dialogue along with some nice directionality and a few instances of deep LFE effects. While the track doesn't always take full advantage of the surrounds, all the bigger set pieces do, like when bullets are flying on-screen or when Lucy gets behind the wheel and races through the streets of Paris. Unlike a lot of action movies, the balance between dialogue and any explosions is well done, so viewers won't have to play games with their volume control throughout. Much of the movie contains the type of 'immersive' feel that the best audio tracks provide. All in all, an above-average track from Universal.
In addition to the English lossless track, tracks in both French and Spanish 5.1 DTS are also available, as is an English 2.0 Descriptive Video Service track. Subtitles are available in English SDH, French, and Spanish.
Even if one accepts the premise that humans can use much more brain capacity than they already do, 'Lucy' is just a big, loud, dumb movie that uses its premise as an excuse for a lot of special effects and a lot of violence. For a film that wants to explore the levels of human intelligence, there are few coherent thoughts to be found in this surprisingly disappointing movie. Skip it.