Director Luc Besson’s latest sci-fi (fantasy?) thriller features superb cinematography, a vibrant and pulsing musical score, and a commanding performance from lead actress Scarlett Johansson. The real mystery, then, is that with all of these excellent components how is Lucy as a whole so actively mediocre?
It’s impossible to hate Lucy. Johansson has been delivering consistently strong performances as of late (her turn in Under the Skin was my pick for Best Female Lead of 2014) and Lucy is no exception. While she isn’t given a meaty role to work with she portrays her character’s shift from a deeply flawed, deeply human young adult to near-omnipotent force of nature convincingly. Around the halfway point, as Lucy develops the ability to “feel everything” around her and before her, she calls her mother. Johansson sells the moment with conviction and its one of the few scenes, outside of the opening minutes, in which I felt pulled into the film – immersed.
Unfortunately Lucy’s set up (which is really more fantasy than science fiction) allows only for pseudo-intellectual didactic babble. Whether its Johansson or the ever-graceful Morgan Freeman delivering the dialogue, it all rings out hollow. Besson is still superb behind the camera, able to frame and shoot a film with the best of them (his ability to turn a bustling city into a legitimate “urban jungle” is cinema at its finest) but the rest of the film is so completely impenetrable. From the moment Lucy takes out her first captor, and subsequently the gangsters gambling in the lobby, the stakes are gone. Johansson’s firm, cold, emotionless badass face is on. There are pulpy thrills to be had from this side of Johansson, as her staggering screen presence is up with the best of them, but without emotional and dramatic stakes Lucy eventually feels like a deflated balloon.