Watch enough movies and they all start to look the same. Prescribing to an Ebertian view, that’s because they are the same, just with the details swapped in and out. Stereotypes and movies seem to be kin in this way: they’re developed from commonality. Like it or not, there’s a lot of bad smelling French folk, and it’s hard not to find a recent sci-fi movie that doesn’t stink.
Transcendence was borne from a growing fear of technological advancement and artificial intelligence. Really, it asked the right questions. The only problem: Wally Pfister was the one to raise his hand. Somehow he turned a good concept into I Spambot, a joke of a movie. Johnny Depp transforms into a computer and subsequently takes over the world. From nothing, he grows tentacles and conquers death, quite literally reviving people from the grave, even at one point building himself out of dark cyber-matter. The whole “is he a computer?” question hinged on figuring out whether Captain Crack still had any emotions. Except, no one really gave a shit. Whatever Pfister was going for, he failed miserably. Transcendence was so monumentally bad that no one could figure out who the joke was on.
Neil Burger’s Limitless wasn’t bad; it was just a nothing film. A mansion built on an eroded mountain slope is set to crumble. Anyone who’s ever opened a Psych textbook knows that 10% brain theory is a crock of shit fallacy. So … Bradley Cooper can take a pill that makes his brain more effective? College kids have a name for that: Adderall. At least he didn’t grow any tentacles. Limitless, just like its premise, was limited from the start. What happens when a human can use 100% of its brain? Well, apparently, Transcendence.
Lucy is a Luc Besson lucid dream. You don’t realize it isn’t real until halfway through. At the start it’s more of a nightmare.
The French director decided to expand the transhumanistic concept Transcendence garroted with a desk chair. “The average person uses 10% of their brain capacity. Imagine what she could do with 100%,” reads Lucy’s tagline. When they’re so blatant about a putrid concept like this, it’s tough to figure out if they can access their brain at all.
For what initially seemed like a brainless film, Scarlett Johansson felt like a good fit. The jury’s still out on whether she’s any good as an actress. As the eponymous Lucy, she goes from dumbfounded to unbounded in spurts. Her green eyes are a window into what appears to be a great big void. Caught in a massive scheme, she’s accidentaly drugged by Asian drug lords with “CPH4,” a brain-activating powder the kids are going to love, her mind starts to explode and her eyes circle the color wheel. Besson loads her brain like a phone charging: as she gets access to more and more brain power, her percentage flashes on screen.
She goes from 0-100 like Jason Statham in Crank. When her body intakes the drug, she starts seizing up. Besson throws in insert shots of cells splitting and blue energy surging through her bloodstream. Then she starts to float. All of a sudden she’s on the ceiling, tweaking out. None of it is remotely possible, though it’s made not to feel surreal.
Reprising his exact role in Transcendence, Morgan Freeman serves as Lucy’s resident cerebral professor. At the podium, he waxes about the cerebellum like he’s unveiling a new iPhone. What happens when the brain reaches 20% usage? 100%? Freeman, concerned, says there’s no way to tell.
With movies like Transcendence and Limitless getting more and more common, common sense seems to be going out the window. Things explode because they have to, else why would anyone care? Humans are given unfathomable powers—impossible even. Unnatural is made out as normal as an excuse to throw in big effects. Characters have endless capabilities. Don’t think about it. Eat your popcorn and be entertained by crazy CGI and bad writing. When did we turn into Androids?
I’m not sure quite when it clicked that I’d been duped. Besson’s got the uniquely weird French sense of humor that lends well to the satirical. Les Français always seem to be good at making fun of themselves, but they’re way better at making fun of everyone else. Lucy’s a truly awful adventure/sci-fi film. Seen through the lens of a bizzaro comedy though, it’s the funniest film of the year. It might just be the best superhero movie in years. Lucy is 86 minutes of eloquent parody.
Lucy’s powers quickly become insane. With a frenetic, hectic pacing, Besson fits in references to ET, Transcendence, Limitless, Inception, Planet of the Apes—basically any sci-fi movie that’s ever hit the big screen. She reads minds, steals memories with one touch; feels no pain; mind-controls German Shepherds; stops time and speeds it up; hacks into every cell phone, TV, computer; detects cancer and travels at the speed of light. She is limitlessness embodied, everything Transcendence should have been.
By the end, she’s swiping her way through time like she’s on an iPad. This movie has dinosaurs. At one point, she witnesses creation itself. None of it coheres, but it looks gorgeous. Nonsense platitudes about life and death are thrown in like the shots of zoo animals humping tossed in for fun. Freeman and Johansson babble about ones and twos and science—complete gibberish. ScarJo de-materializes and turns into a pseudo-Tomb Raider. Then she turns into a computer. A character asks what she’s doing and Freeman replies that she’s “searching for life and matter.” Obviously. Besson’s film is the Condescendence to Pfister’s Transcendence.
Lucy is a masterpiece of mockery and wit, made Hollywood by gorgeous, over-the-top CGI and Johansson’s and Freeman’s hilarious self-depricating work. With a first act that’s egregiously terrible, Lucy is one big trap that never fully lets you in on the gag. Shot in Taipei, Paris and New York, Lucy is stunning, unpredictable and laugh out loud funny. All of this packed in at less than an hour and a half, you leave the theater refreshed and giddy. What a shocker: a French guy made a movie that doesn’t stink.