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Is 'Lucy' too smart for action?

Scarlett Johansson as Lucy.
Scarlett Johansson as Lucy.
© Universal Pictures

Lucy

Rating:
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Those going into “Lucy” expecting an action movie might want to reset their expectations because “Lucy” is not an action movie. “Lucy” is actually more of a video essay on the connection between spirituality and science. Much of “Lucy” is not even new footage, but rather stock footage used to support its themes. “Lucy” feels more like watching an educational video than it does watching any form of entertainment.

The problem is that the main element that the plot and all of its scientific and spiritual revelations come from has been said to be false. That is, the idea that we humans only use a small percentage of our brain, is said to be just that: an idea. Scientists seem to say now that we actually do use about 100% of our brain. I don’t actually know who is right and who is wrong, but the arguments for the 100% use of our brain are compelling. Just look up the “Ten percent of brain myth” on Wikipedia to read more about it.

This is a movie, however, and it is a fictional one at that. This is not supposed to be a documentary even if its footage may sometimes come from and make you think you are watching one. Within this fictional movie stands a scientist, telling us without question that we use only up to 10% of our brain’s full capacity. Many use only 3%. The scientist telling us this is played by Morgan Freeman. Morgan Freeman has told us a lot of things in many fictional cinematic worlds and I’ve believed just about every one of them. He’s just that good at selling his lines (lies). So, maybe it’s best just to believe what he says here. At least, maybe we should believe him, if only for the sake of being immersed in the story being told in “Lucy”.

Okay, so the rules are set: we only use up to approximately 10% of our brain’s full power. Enter: Lucy, a woman who starts the movie at a very low brain power. The movie even offers a helpful countdown to show us where her brain power is at throughout the movie. The first percentage shown is one percent, but I am not sure that this text was meant to imply that this is exactly where she starts as I believe we see this percentage on screen before we even see Lucy, herself. More likely, is that she starts somewhere around three percent. That might be when she first shows up in the movie.

Anyway, Lucy uses not even 10% of her brain until she is unwillingly exposed to a drug that will unlock access to a higher percentage of her brain’s capacity. The science behind this drug is explained and I am definitely not knowledgeable enough about what is said to make any kind of judgment on how much it would make sense in the real world. In the movie world, I can judge it, however. The drug is not explained by Morgan Freeman as he knows nothing about it in the beginning of the movie. Instead, the drug is explained by a doctor who, well, he’s a doctor. He has a white lab coat so he probably knows what he is talking about, right? So let’s just keep believing in the movie, shall we?

So, now that we understand the basic foundation that the movie is built on, the question arises of what exactly is the movie about? Well, the movie's themes recall another movie that came out this year which is “Transcendence”. I loathed “Transcendence”. I gave it one star. If I could give it less then I think I just might. “Transcendence” is one of the most boring movies I have ever seen. It has no emotion and not a single shred of anything that isn’t totally predictable in its plot. Perhaps worst of all is that it is too serious to have any fun. "Lucy" isn’t “Transcendence”, however. Yes, both movies share a plot that involves a person expanding their mind, connecting with technology, and connecting that technology to the Earth. “Transcendence” and “Lucy” are both about the connections between humanity, technology, nature, and the spirituality or lack-there-of within all of these things. “Lucy”, though, is…different.

There are elements of fun here. I will say that. This is, in some ways, still a Luc Besson film. There are times in which you may think you are watching a Luc Besson action movie. At least, there are enough moments in the movie that resemble a Luc Besson action movie that trailers were able to be made to convince people that this is indeed a Luc Besson action movie. However, I will say it again: this is not an action movie.

The moments that make you feel like you are watching an action movie are really only small moments that fly by as quickly as the bullets do in a typical Luc Besson action movie. The movie starts off in a way that should serve as a kind of warning that this is not an action movie. It begins, not with any kind of action set-up, but with more of a thesis on the potential for the use of 100% brain power, complete with much stock footage that feels almost like watching a PowerPoint presentation. “Lucy” is almost more of a TED talk than a fictional movie. Well, at least that’s what it wants us to believe.

When the character of Lucy is first introduced, you might think that the movie is going to begin its full descent into Luc Besson action territory. It does give this impression in some ways, what with its introduction of gangsters and drugs and things that you normally see getting sold, injected, or killed in a typical action movie. However, as Lucy’s capacity of brain power increases so does the capacity for “Lucy” to be an action movie decrease. As she gets smarter, the movie at least tries to be smarter than the average action movie. The question, however, is whether “Lucy” really is smarter than the average action movie. Well, is it?

I can’t say I really learned much from the movie “Lucy”. I didn’t really feel like I was getting smarter in the movie as Lucy was getting smarter. At one point, Morgan Freeman’s character tells Lucy that when someone has a lot of knowledge that the most important thing to do with it is to share it. Whatever revelations Lucy has in the movie, and I do get the impression that she has many, it certainly didn’t feel like she was sharing them with me. At the end of the movie, when she has reached 100% brain capacity, she doesn’t have some kind of final statement. Lucy barely even says anything. What she shows us, is mostly some not too impressive computer generated effects. That’s about it.

I thought that as Lucy gained more brain power that she would perhaps bestow us with some wisdom, but I didn’t get much from her. In one scene, she even seems to contradict herself. Lucy tells us that she can’t feel pain anymore. Lucy says that she is not afraid anymore either. Her face in this scene, however, looks very much on the verge of tears and she is constantly shaking which implies some kind of fear. Maybe she was just cold. I don’t know. Can she still get cold?

I also thought that maybe if we didn’t get any wisdom we would at least get a cool showcase of what Lucy can do with her new-found brain power. Okay, really, I just thought we might see some cool new ways to take down some bad guys in a Luc Besson action movie. However, like I said, this is not an action movie. There is some action, but not a lot, and none of it is anything mind-blowing.

That’s the problem with “Lucy”. Lucy’s mind is being blown throughout the movie, but I don’t really have any sense of why. I can’t see what she is seeing. I can’t feel what she is feeling. A movie like this should have let us see into her brain more. If her brain is so important and if it is so important that what is going on in it is shared, than why not share it? “Lucy” may not be an action movie, but that doesn’t mean it is any better or smarter than an action movie. In terms of this year’s mind-blowing cinema, I found “The Raid 2” to be far more enlightening. In that movie, my mind was at least blown by the sheer level of action I was seeing on screen.

In the end, “Lucy” wants us to believe that it is showing us something important, but personally, I couldn’t quite see it.