Friday, August 1, 2014

The Cinema File #373: "Lucy" Review

Any review of the new film Lucy is likely going to make some mention of the 10% Brain Myth, the idea that humans only actively use 10% of their brains, implying that unlocking the other 90% might lead to our becoming superhuman. It’s a fun bit of pop pseudo-science that’s been thoroughly debunked for so long that it's kind of amazing that anyone would still base a movie on it, and yes, this movie is completely based on it, right down to a running clock of the main character’s progress every ten percentage points. Because there are still people who unfortunately continue to believe this garbage, it can and should be pointed out as a major flaw of the film, but the thing is, all told it might just be the least stupid thing about it.

Lucy is just a typical girl living in Tai Pei for reasons never explained or even commented upon, thrust into the world of underground drug smuggling when she is forced to become a mule for a mysterious blue substance. When the pack of drugs in her stomach bursts, she doesn’t die of an overdose as is usually the case in this situation, but rather develops super powers, evolving in the way one can only do in movies (individually and in a short time period) using her newfound gifts not for the betterment of mankind, but rather to get revenge on the people who gave them to her. It’s the kind of premise that much like The Purge sounds completely ridiculous on paper, but unlike The Purge, it doesn’t ultimately justify itself by providing the backdrop for interesting storytelling.

What we get instead is a protagonist who, once she gets her powers, instantly becomes a completely different but equally ill-defined character never developed beyond her penchant for reciting bullshit jargon faster than an old white bearded guy in a room full of TVs, wedged into what I can only assume is Luc Besson’s shallow attempt to update his own classic film La Femme Nikita for the post Marvel movie era. And God help us if this is the prototype for the next great female superhero movie everyone’s clamoring for. Don’t get me wrong, I want to see that happen as much as anyone, but not if it’s going to be like this. This is not representative of modern inclusive feminism. If anything its more like the worst caricature of 80’s feminism, all sharp shoulder pads and anger, basically aping the worst qualities of men, or in this case, male-centric action cinema.

Lucy suffers from what you might call the Superman Problem, which ironically rarely afflicts Superman except in the shallowest interpretations. The basic idea is that as a character becomes more powerful and unstoppable, they invariably become less affected by conflict and thus less interesting. Superman avoids this issue through his essential humanity; his greatest weakness isn’t kryptonite, but rather that the people he cares about do not share his indestructibility. Lucy is so divorced from humanity, killing innocents with abandon and seeing the world through the eyes of a god, that nothing can touch her. The movie tries constantly to create moments of suspense, but there is no antagonist or situation that can possibly pose any threat to her, so there are no stakes to anything that happens

Not to mention, the powers that make her so unstoppable are all over the place and often make no sense whatsoever. They try to use Morgan Freeman exposition to provide some context, but basically Lucy can do anything and everything, whatever the situation may require. Literally every scene where she displays her powers, it’s a different power, and apart from establishing midway through that she needs more of the drug to advance, no rules are ever established concerning what she can and can’t do. She’s the ultimate Mary Sue, just indefinably awesome and without flaw or defect (at least in the context of a movie where being willing to murder anyone who gets in your way is considered a good thing). All the characters around her only exist to look upon her in amazement at how awesome she is and occasionally express their mystification at how such a goddess can exist.

If the cause of her “evolution” had been magical it would be one thing, but Lucy tries to establish a plausible scientific rationale for itself, the sins of which go far beyond the 10% myth. I’m pretty sure that this super intelligent being doesn’t understand the difference between a cell and a molecule, and later on when she’s explaining her powers, she declares that math is not the language of the universe and in fact doesn’t exist at all, only time does. The first part at least is technically correct, in that math isn't a physical thing, but one of the scientists in the room should have gotten up to explain that we measure time WITH MOTHERFUCKING MATH! Ultimately, this is just a flimsy pretext for some third act time travel, which isn’t a spoiler because it adds absolutely nothing to the movie, except to steal a theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey in a shameless attempt to stand on the shoulders of a giant, and then piss on its head.

Lucy is the perfect example of what I was trying to get at in my review of Snowpiercer, which is to say it is the perfect counterexample of what lazy science fiction movies do when they have nothing profound or meaningful to say. It cynically asks its audience to shut off their brains, then proceeds to throw out junk science on top of faux-losophy (copyright stupidblueplanet) to fill them in order to sound smarter than it is ever capable of being. We’ve seen in films like Under The Skin and Her that Scarlett Johannson is better than this. Morgan Freeman, who seems like he’ll do anything for a paycheck at this point including Dolphin Tale 2, is better than this. Luc Besson, who frankly hasn’t made a great movie in almost 20 years, is better than this. And for that matter, pretty much every sci fi movie released so far in 2014 is by far better than this.
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