You’d be forgiven for feeling a sense of deja vu for the latest Scarlet Johansson film Lucy, for it seems to form a sort of unofficial sci-fi trilogy alongside Her and Under The Skin. Whilst it is not as good as Under The Skin –I still haven’t caught up on Her – it remains an decent and interesting film in its own right. It even feels similar to this years’ giant flop Transcendence, which I didn’t actually mind, sure it was boring as hell for large swathes, but the key similarity between that and Lucy is that they are both tent pole SciFi films that primarily deal with ideas and themes, as opposed to action and violence. Lucy is certainly more successful in its aims than Transcendence.
The intertexts don’t end there, the main ones I detected were Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, and even parts of Christopher Nolan’s Inception. The first two are an especially strong presence in the film. The evolutionary themes of 2001 provide a valuable insight into Lucy’s own thematic core. That is, that Lucy’s cerebral enhancement is a sign of humanity’s evolution as well as (nearly) opening with primitive apes. Similarly in a somewhat bold move, Lucy also alludes to the magnificent universe sequence in The Tree of Life. Malick’s 2011 film opens with a quote from the Book of Job: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the Earth…When the morning stars sang together?” and the following sequence is, I think, a representation of God showing Job the formation of the universe in all its sublime splendour because he was testing his faith. So when a similar sequence occurs in Lucy it hints that her powers may be a part of some grand cosmic plan or at the least, everything is connected through time: the formation of the Earth, the dinosaurs, early humans, giant modern cities like New York and so on. By referencing these films, it at least states a grander intent of the film as opposed to run of the mill type of films. It also helps to clarify its themes and ideas; however it doesn’t entirely elevate itself.
Speaking of themes, the central conceit of this film is that we only use 10% of our brain which may seem familiar thanks to Limitless (the one with Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro) having a similar concept. Despite the obviously wrong myth that Lucy is predicated on it does take it in an interesting direction because it doesn’t contain any of the naval gazing wishfulfilment of Limitless. It takes the idea of “What if we could transcend our current biological capacity?” and turns it into an existentially problematic issue. Getting past the dumb conceit though, is another matter. If you can resist groaning Morgan Freeman says “We only use ten percent of our cerebral capacity” then you should be okay for the rest of the film. The best way to think of it is as a science fiction concept because are lot dumber things in science fiction than this that seemingly get a free pass.
It takes the idea of “What if we could transcend our current biological capacity?” and turns it into an existentially problematic issue.
What is in the film’s favour is Luc Besson’s rapid and fluid direction as the film bears a close resemblance to an advert or a music video. What this style does is that it engages with the film’s own inherent silliness, almost like the film itself is trying to get over its premise. However it does drag a little towards the final act as the big bad guy is not as philosophically interesting as our heroine and her predicament. But still, you can’t deny that he’s the bad guy, even if he doesn’t offer a substantial threat towards Lucy herself.
Moreover, from a performance point of view, Scarlet Johansson continues to impress and demonstrates that you can have a blockbuster with a strong female lead and for that blockbuster to be genuinely good. For Marvel fans, perhaps this makes the probability of a Black Widow film more likely. Johansson is pretty good as she is playing someone, who despite gaining these wonderful powers, is slowly losing her humanity and she does well as showing us glimmers of her humanity whilst still retaining that almost alien/robot like manner – which she has showed us in Under The Skin and Her respectively.