The amount you’ll be able to enjoy Lucy will likely depend largely on whether or not you’re able to completely ignore that the “humans use only 10% of their brain” conceit is a complete myth. That’s not how it works. There are many reasons why this is not how it works. Google it, if you really want. Humans do not only 10% of their brain. Some people will get hung up on this. They know it’s not true and will turn away the rest of the movie. If you can accept, that in this movie’s universe, humans only use 10% of their brain, then Lucy is a lot of fun. Stupid fun, sure, but fun.
The plot follows Lucy (Scarlet Johansson), who winds up finding herself in a terrifying situation. Her boyfriend forces her to deliver a briefcase to a drug lord, Jang (Choi Min-sik), who in turn makes her a drug mule. The only problem: the package leaks. They put it inside her, and much of it got out. What does the drug do? It allows a human to use more than 10% of their brain. This basically gives them superpowers. I’m not kidding.
Lucy winds up gaining these superpowers as the percentage of her brain she can use increases. Eventually she can read at millions of words per minute, control time or other people, and shapeshift. Along the way, she discovers more about the universe than any human before her. She also has to go through the beats of an action movie, which involves Jang and his group of criminals chasing her down and trying to kill her. Lucy teams up with a French detective (Amr Waked), although he’s a redundancy.
There isn’t a single moment of tension to Lucy’s action scenes. It’s clear from the beginning that our lead character isn’t going to have any difficulty dealing with her adversaries. She doesn’t. By the time they even locate her, she’s become Neo. She can stop people in their tracks, force them to do things, and she can pick and choose whether or not she feels pain, assuming someone managed to sneak up on her. They don’t get that opportunity, and it never feels like they’ll be able to.
Much of the fun of Lucy is watching Lucy’s powers develop over time. At each interval of 10%, her progress is noted on-screen. We know exactly how powerful Lucy is at any given moment. This also provides a handy “how much longer is this?” gauge for the audience, although there’s enough going on in the film that this wouldn’t be a concern anyway. Lucy also believes that she will die as soon as she hits 100%. We don’t question this because she discovers this once she is using more of her brain than we do.
Lucy might be the smartest movie Luc Besson has done since The Fifth Element, and I say that while acknowledging that it’s also often very stupid. Some of it is so silly, so ridiculous, and just flat-out dumb that few will be able to take it seriously. But then there are other parts — philosophical discussions, or off-hand remarks like “we never truly die” — that make you realize there’s more to it than initially seems. Much of Lucy is stupid. But there’s enough there to make you realize that this is Besson’s vision, and you’re getting to see some of his thoughts.
Some of it is very clever. The obvious 2001 references might get in the way, but they make their point. As Lucy discovers more about the universe, our origins, and our purpose, we get to see glimpses of that. The “10% of your brain” premise is here less as the be-all and end-all, and more as a simple way to get to the point — and deliver a fun action movie in the process. If the film simply gave Lucy a drug that gave her these abilities, would people be more accepting?
In fact, the movie’s ideas and philosophizing actually distract you from how little action there is. Save for a couple of shootouts — or non-shootouts, as at least one of them winds up — and a car … it’s not really a “chase,” but it involves driving really fast through traffic nonetheless, there’s really not much action in Lucy. That’s fine, but it’s worth noting that if you’re going just for action, you might wind up disappointed. You also might find something else worthwhile — something better than a hollow, empty action movie.
Scarlett Johansson plays Lucy much the same way she played the lead in Under the Skin. Both characters are largely emotionless beings who are the smartest person in the room by far. The potential for both roles to be ridiculously silly was high, but Johansson manages to make them serious parts. Morgan Freeman is also in the film, largely to provide exposition and an explanation as to just what is going on. Choi Min-sik gets little to do as our villain. Nobody else leaves an impact. This is mostly Johansson’s (and Besson’s, obviously) film.
Assuming you can get past the factual errors within it — that, in the grand scheme of things, aren’t really important, even if they initially look like they are — it’s possible to have a lot of fun with Lucy. It’s dumb fun, for a large part of its running time, but there are also moments of genuine intellect, where you get to see Luc Besson’s vision of, well, you’ll see. It’s certainly interesting and it’s not boring for even a moment, so if the “we only use 10% of our brain” premise doesn’t turn you off, Lucy is worth seeing.