LUCY. Besson’s best science fiction since The Fifth Element

A packed cinema hall on the day of the premiere, and already during the screening, a noticeable division emerges…

Krzysztof Walecki

13 February 2024

LUCY. Besson's best science fiction since The Fifth Element

…between the audience members squirming in their seats and those enjoying Luc Besson’s new film. Controversial entertainment cinema? Somewhat, because although the starting point of Lucy is the outdated theory that humans only use 10% of their brains, the director compels us to believe in it, at least for the duration of the projection. At the same time, he indulges in his love for action cinema, serving up increasingly unrealistic action scenes with relentless intensity. It’s hard to say when in Besson’s film stupidity begins to outweigh any sense, but in my opinion, it’s more deliberate than an artistic mistake. The French creator goes all out from the prologue, showing the first woman on Earth, who resembles a monkey more than a human. Shortly after, we see Scarlett Johansson. It’s almost like transitioning from a thrown bone to a spacecraft in Stanley Kubrick’s famous film.

The titular Lucy (played by Johansson) is an American student who likes to party and lives in Taiwan. Her new boyfriend asks, and then forces her, to deliver a briefcase to a certain Mr. Jang (Min-sik Choi, known from Oldboy), who turns out to be a dangerous gangster. He sews a bag with a new type of drugs into Lucy’s abdomen and orders her to transport it to the USA. However, before the girl even leaves China, she is beaten by one of Jang’s men, causing the drugs to enter her bloodstream, resulting in irreversible and quite remarkable changes in her body. Initially, Lucy exhibits only increased strength, but soon she begins to control other living organisms and matter. In an attempt to gain control over herself, she seeks help from a scientist, Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman), located in Paris. Meanwhile, Mr. Jang is on her trail.

Lucy Scarlett Johansson

I can only speculate that Besson must have had a great time making Lucy. This applies to both the way he tells his fantastic story and the plot itself, which navigates from action cinema through science fiction to a finale that references 2001: A Space Odyssey, all seasoned with the director’s typical humor from Leon: The Professional. For many, it will be a hard-to-digest mixture, not because Besson can’t control the whole, as was the case with his previous film, Anna, which constantly changed its conventions and tone. Lucy, in this respect, is a cohesive and thoughtful work, at least in terms of execution. The director plays with form, especially in the initial parts of the film, blending the sensational story of the titular character with lectures given by Norman. He occasionally inserts short scenes involving wild animals in danger, stalked by a predator, creating an analogy to Lucy’s situation. At other times, he inserts shots of a thriving civilization and flora and fauna, evoking associations with Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi. There is also a counter showing the current percentage of brain utilization by the main character, filling the entire screen. What is all this for?

Lucy Scarlett Johansson

It may emphasize Besson’s ambitions, who, by telling an incredible story supported by pseudoscientific deliberations, decided not only to tackle the subject but also to reference the classics of cinema. Hence the immediate associations with Kubrick, Reggio, Malick, and even Ken Russell and his Altered States. But the creator of Nikita is aware of his limitations. Those who say that the man who directed The Big Blue no longer exists are right. In that film, Besson touched the absolute without resorting to ideas straight out of science fiction. Lucy, on the other hand, was directed by the person responsible for the Taxi and Transporter series, so alongside intriguing solutions, the viewer receives a sack full of absurdities, like an unnecessary chase through the streets of Paris.

Lucy Scarlett Johansson

The strength of Lucy does not come from fulfilled ambitions because it often falls into absurdity. But it’s a humor that Besson accepts and thus tames—hence he directs every nonsense born in his mind as if inspired, never allowing the film to turn into over-intellectualized gibberish. He opts for spectacle and entertainment, presented in a light and unpretentious manner. He avoids buffoonery, although for many viewers, the very premise and the fact that the director/screenwriter decided to make a film about it will be unacceptable.

Lucy Scarlett Johansson Morgan Freeman Amr Waked

So, what does the Frenchman really tell us? About a super-being capable of… everything. After a while, there are no impossible things for Lucy, no boundaries, or obstacles. So, doesn’t Besson have the right to go wild and try to push the boundaries? He fails, if only because he is Luc Besson, but I can’t shake the feeling that he came out of it unscathed. He directed the film in his style, once again making the protagonist a strong individual, this time almost with divine attributes, but frightened, sensing that the changes taking place in her will lead her to the brink of humanity. He is consistent in his vision and literal, but, at least for the undersigned, it often evokes healthy laughter rather than embarrassment. He goes all out, or at least as far as he can, never for a moment giving the impression of a man who believes in the story he is telling. The hypothesis that is the basis of the film seems highly viable and inspiring, but let’s not go crazy, or even more so, argue about its probability.

Lucy Scarlett Johansson

There is something else—none of his films has looked as good as Lucy in a long time. After years of making more Arthur movies and completely mismatched Lady or Anna, he finally realized a work confirming his extraordinary talent. Not everyone has to like the screenplay, but directorially, it is Besson’s best film since The Fifth Element.