Review: ‘Lucy’ Is a Fun Action/Sci-Fi That Lands Somewhere Between Creative and Ridiculous

Scarlett Johansson, LucyUniversal Pictures via Everett Collection

I think about Limitless more often than any person should: occasionally. Topping the film’s lengthy list of shortcomings is the stinging presence of wasted potential (funny, since it’s a movie about the wasted potential of the human mind) capping its high stakes exploration of the expansive question, “What would happen if we used 100 percent of our brains?” with the softball answer, “We’d be pretty good at predicting stock patterns and learning new languages.” In Lucy, we have the exact same hypothetical, albeit delivered in a different kind of story altogether — Limitless was effectively an addiction thriller, Lucy is an action/sci-fi. But the answers are much bigger.

American slacker Scarlett Johansson comes about her newfound mental capacity much like Bradley Cooper is, by way of experimental drugs. Lucy (Johansson), an effectively anonymous character with whom we identify principally over just how regular she seems to be, has the substance thrust into her system by a sociopathic crime kingpin (Choi Min-sik) — neither party has a clue what CPH4 (which lacks the nominal panache of Substance D or Melange or Dropper or Chems) is capable of doing with Lucy’s brain, nor even does top-of-his-game academic Morgan Freeman, whose main purpose in the movie is to be there to explain to us what the hell is going on… and inject a subtle plug for his upcoming film Dolphin Tale 2. But it’s this grand mystery, this shriek of possibility, that makes Lucy a fairly riveting experiment. And from one rather unexpected source: Luc Besson, who has never veered too far from the straight-and-narrow path, entertains quite a few what ifs with his latest picture.

Scarlett Johansson, LucyUniversal Pictures via Everett Collection

What if you could access 20 percent of your brain? Then 40, then 50, and eventually 100? What if you had the sensory capabilities of the average dolphin? Or you had total command of organic energy? Or a free supply of the stuff that kicks you into life as a developing fetus? What sort of powers would you find at your disposal? What sort of consequences would amount from this state of evolution? How would your worldview change, your feelings change, your humanity change, your body change?

And what if a filmmaker were to brave the task of telling this grand a story? Would he deliver the account in the ordinary aesthetic and kinetic fashion of his standard one-way actioner stricken with existential tunnel vision? Or would he vie toward imagination? Jumping from his onscreen narrative to footage of wildlife fornication and blank screens that prompt recollection of a certain Looney Tunes short? Why not? What if?

If it sounds silly… well, it is. A great deal of Lucy will inspire smirks and scoffs. In its ambition to explore the possibilities of its premise, landings are overshot and marks are missed altogether. And sure, there are probably far more intriguing ways to go about the concept than performed by Besson and Johansson in this picture. But very little of Lucy feels like wasted potential. It’s creative, even when not entirely original. It’s exciting, even when just a bit aimless. And it’s ambitious, even when it doesn’t seem like it has a complete idea of what it’s doing. Ultimately, Lucy wants to be a movie about possibilities, and it at least puts an honest go toward living up to that endeavor.