When a Luc Besson movie opens with shots of 'Lucy' the pre-historic female hominid we are all potentially descended from, you know this will not be any ordinary action movie. Lucy is two characters in this film, the hominid, to whom the film returns a couple of times, and Lucy, an American in Taiwan, played by Scarlet Johannson, who gets kidnapped, and forced into being a drug mule. She has a package of a synthetic hormone, called CPH4, surgically placed in her stomach. The broght blue crystals of the drug supposedly emulate a substance produced in the womb that gives a fetus the energy to survive. During a beating, the bag breaks and the drug leaks into Lucy’s system, affecting her brain in profound ways so that she becomes super-powered.
The film operates on a trope I have heard for much of my life, that humans only use 10% of their brain capacity. This mythic idea has been used a couple of times recently in movies, Bradley Cooper's 2011 film Limitless for one.
Morgan Freeman plays a neuro-scientist who has built a career on this theory and the film cuts to him early on giving a lecture where he posits his theory that if we could use 100% of our brain capacity our minds would be blown basically. Cue Lucy, who rapidly moves toward this mythic capability, developing abilities along the way--learning chinese in an instant, defying gravity, stopping time, killing bad guys (well, it is an action movie of sorts).
It's actually a fascinating film, a little silly in places, as many Besson films tend to get, and this one has some major flaws (not the least of which is Lucy's reliance on Professor Norman, the Freeman character when it seems obvious that her increasing super-intelligence means that she doesn't need anyone else's help-but they probably needed another marquee name so..), but this one is actually quite adventurous and really stretching for something--I'm not sure it totally gets there but it goes a fair way. Besson ultimately wants us to consider the wonder and the mystery of life, the sheer fragility and luck of it all, and the limits and act accordingly.
The more interesting and probably over-looked point is that Lucy is not overly enthralled with her new found capacites, in fact, quite the opposite, she senses that they actually detract from her humainty, and she repeatedly makes the point that the limits of our 10% are actually enough for us to live meaningful existences.
The film intersperses some great Koyanaquatsi-type film footage to enhance our understanding of the scope of the story, and the return to pre-historic Lucy seeks to connect us more deeply to present-day Lucy's transformation. Lucy's transformation is within the context of an action film so it lacks a little depth and the attempts at depth are few and far between unfortunately, but there are moments in this film that might move you and that is rare for a 90-minute action flick with guns and bad guys.
The idea of limits seems to be cropping up a lot lately-after our modern obsession with perfection, infintity and the like, its a welcome relief.