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Ambitious 'Lucy' values images over plot

Universal Pictures

By Karsten Smolinski, Daily Arts Writer
Published July 30, 2014

Usually, action-thrillers remain content with being simple, one to two hour diversions that entertain their audiences with suspense, spectacle and one-liners. “Lucy,” on the other hand, uses gangsters and guns as an excuse to show the universe and the interconnection of everything it holds. It’s like Terrence Malick collaborated with Michael Bay. Director Luc Besson might be their love child.

Scarlett Johansson (“The Avengers”) plays Lucy, a completely normal human who accidentally absorbs a whole lot of some drug that makes her superhuman. The plot feels similar to 2011’s “Limitless”, except Johansson makes Bradley Cooper’s character look like a chump. The emotionally muted Lucy recalls Johansson’s cold-blooded Black Widow from “Iron Man 2”, before she started joking about relationships with Captain America.

Like the gangsters and guns, the drugs serve merely as a far-fetched excuse to grant Lucy the powers of a god. “Lucy” wants to show viewers that boundaries exist only in the mind. Thanks to some beautiful special effects work, audience members see the boundaries between Lucy and everything around her slowly eroding. She hears every sound, feels every movement, and remembers every detail. As cool as they sound, these omniscient powers do ruin any chance of suspense. Once Lucy starts pulling bullets out of herself with her bare hands and sending people flying with a flick of her hand, obviously nothing’s stopping her.

The threadbare plot and characters push the film’s focus to its pervasive computer generated images and montages of National Geographic style footage. “Lucy” wants to show its audience literally everything: evolution, history, culture. City crowds scurry to work like insects. Cars pour down highways like blood through a vein. Civilizations rise from ash like galaxies from cosmic dust. “Lucy” wants viewers to take this bombardment of seemingly disconnected images and see the connections between them instead. It wants them to stare in wonder and awe at existence and all its intricacies.

Unfortunately, “Lucy” reaches a bit too far. It takes all the experiences displayed and tries to sum them up with a few words that fall painfully short. The dialogue throughout does little more than exposition. In fact, Prof. Norman (Morgan Freeman, “The Dark Knight”), who possesses no character arc, exists solely for the purpose of explaining the drug’s effects and questioning humanity’s morality as an afterthought. With little development, the character relies completely on the aura of wisdom emanating off Freeman for credibility.

“Lucy” lacks substance in her action sequences and suspense in her plotline. Her characters stand thin as cardboard cutouts. However, these are only small pieces of the diorama. Art, science and the extents of human knowledge play the central parts in this film. So just forget the odd mix of pretentious blathering and blockbuster clichés. Sit back. Contemplate the universe’s endless possibilities until your head hurts. Enjoy the sensation of awe.