Wednesday, August 20, 2014

It Came From The Cineplex: Lucy

Lucy was written and directed by Luc Besson, whose impressive resume also includes La Femme Nikita, Leon The Professional, The Fifth Element, District 13 and the Taken films.

Lucy is typical of Besson's films, which are generally visually impressive and filled with over the top action sequences, along with strong female characters (often with superhuman powers).

The entire plot of the film hinges around the theory that humans only use 10% of their brain power, and that we would all be supermen if we could only access the other 90%. Of course this is a completely erroneous and boneheaded concept that for some reason just will not die. No matter how many times this cockamamie idea is debunked, it keeps on rising from the dead in "Mind Blowing Facts" lists on the internet every few weeks. It's the Jason Voorhees of bogus theories.

So how did the 10% idea ever get started? Some believe it started way back in the 1890s, when Harvard psychologists studied a child prodigy named WIlliam Sidis, who had an IQ of between 250 and 300. From this they posited that most people don't meet their full mental potential. Then in 1929, an ad in the World Almanac proclaimed that humans use only 10% of their brain power (the writer having apparently pulled the figure right out of his ass) and claimed that were we to use the other 90%, there would be no limit as to what we could accomplish. Others simply blame the origin of the myth on poorly understood early studies of neurological science.

However it started, it is most definitely false. Modern brain scans have shown that no matter what we're doing, our brains are always active. There's never any part of our brains that is not functioning. Even during sleep, all parts of the brain show some level of activity.

Plus, the brain consumes up to 20% of the body's energy, despite making up only 2% of its mass. If 90% of the brain was dormant, there'd be no reason for it to be so large and natural selection would have caused us to evolve smaller ones long ago.

In the end I'm not really bothered by the film's laughable premise. 
It's not like this is the first time a movie's plot has centered around absurd science. Peter Parker gained arachnoid powers from a radioactive spider bite and everyone was fine with it, so why can't Lucy use the 10% theory?

Despite the ridiculous science, somehow it all manages to work. The film sets up its own set of rules and then plays by them, which is more than I can say for a lot of movies.

BRAIN-EXPANDING SPOILERS AHEAD!

The Plot:
Lucy (played by Scarlett Johansson) is a young woman studying abroad in Taiwan, who is coerced into delivering a briefcase full of an experimental drug to Mr. Jang, a Korean drug lord. Jang (played by Choi Min-sik of Oldboy and I Saw The Devil fame) captures Lucy and has a bag of the drug sewn into her gut, so she can smuggle it into Europe. During her recovery she's attacked by one of Jang's thugs, which causes the bag to burst inside her, and she absorbs the experimental drug.

The drug, a synthetic form of CPH4, allows Lucy to access all of her brain, which gives her superhuman powers. She then exacts revenge on Mr. Jang, and tracks down the other bags of CPH4 in order to ingest them and develop her brain even further. She contacts Professor Norman (played by Morgan Freeman), an expert in neuroscience, who tries to guide her as her brainpower increases exponentially. 

When Lucy reaches 100% of her brain capacity, she travels throughout the space time continuum, becoming like unto a god as she tells Professor Norman and his colleagues that she is now everywhere.

Thoughts:
• The film is filled with dozens of fast-cut visual metaphor shots, apparently included to help those of us in the audience who aren't accessing 100% of our brains to understand what's happening. 


For example, at the beginning of the movie, Lucy nervously delivers a briefcase to Mr. Jang's penthouse. She's quite obviously in danger here, as Jang's black-suited goons converge ominously around her.

Besson needlessly hammers this point home though by splicing in shots of a cheetah stealthily sneaking up on an unsuspecting gazelle.

These kinds of shots pop up all through the movie, and become grating after a while. We get it, Luc, you don't have to draw us a picture.

• When the CPH4 is first absorbed into Lucy's bloodstream, she reacts by recreating Lionel Richie's Dancing On The Ceiling video. She writhes around in agony, eventually rolling up the wall and then squirming around on the ceiling. Apparently one of CHP4's side effects is anti-gravity.

• As Lucy begins accessing more of her brain's potential, she gains more and more powers, becoming virtually invincible. Note to future filmmakers: Invincible characters are dull. When a character can't be hurt, then there's no tension, and they become boring. This is why Superman has kryptonite.

They tried to introduce a bit of vulnerability by mentioning that Lucy's powers would cause her to die within a set number of hours, but it was too little, too late.

• When Lucy escapes her cell, she approaches two Taiwanese cab drivers. She asks one if he speaks English. When he says no, she coldly and nonchalantly shoots him. She then asks the other, who nervously exclaims that indeed he does speak English and agrees to drive her. 

As they get into the cab, a voice on the soundtrack moans, "My leg..." Apparently this was supposed to be the voice of the first cab driver. 

A couple of things here. First of all, if he didn't speak English, how is he saying, "My leg?" Secondly, his voice was obviously dubbed in after the fact, as he's not even onscreen when he says it. I'm thinking they crudely dubbed this line in to make Lucy seem less cold-blooded, and imply that she just incapacitated the driver instead of killing him for no good reason. It reminds me for all the world of the G.I. Joe cartoon. Every time the Joes would shoot down an enemy Cobra plane, they always had to show the pilot parachuting to safety to prove he hadn't been killed.

I honestly don't know why they bothered to dub this line in though. At this point Lucy had already killed at least four of her captors, and would go on to kill dozens more. I don't see how sparing this one man made any difference one way or the other in our perception of her character.

• Lucy goes to a hospital to have the bag of CPH4 removed from her abdomen. She walks briskly through the hospital corridors while carrying a handgun in plain sight. She makes absolutely no attempt at hiding it, but no one pays the least bit of attention to her. Is she mind controlling everyone there so they don't see her gun?

She then barges into an operating room in the middle of a surgery. She gives the patient's X-ray a quick once-over, then shoots him dead and shoves him off the table (he didn't even get a chance to groan, "My leg!"). She tells the stunned surgeons that they wouldn't have been able to save the patient anyway, because his tumor had spread too far.

That may well have been, but I'm sure he had at least a little bit of time left. Time he could have used to say goodbye to his family and make his peace with whatever god he worshipped.

• Lucy forces the surgeon to remove the leaky bad of drugs from her gut. The surgeon does so and tells her it's a synthetic form of a naturally occurring drug called CPH4. He says it's normally produced by pregnant women in small quantities and "jolts" fetuses into growing brain tissue or something.

So is CPH4 a real thing? According to Luc Besson, yes. He claims there is a hormone that pregnant women produce that affects developing fetuses like an "atomic bomb." But he says he changed the name because he doesn't want people taking it to try and increase their brain power. So who knows if any of it is true or not.

• I don't get why Lucy was so determined to have the leaking bag of CPH4 removed from her abdomen in the first place. At this point she knew it was responsible for the changes in her, which she seemed to be OK with. So why remove it? Why not continue to absorb the rest? Did she just want the vinyl bag out of her gut?

• Throughout the film Lucy has several opportunities to kill the evil Mr. Jang and his gang, but doesn't. In fact she goes out of her way not to kill them. She shows no hesitation killing anyone else; so why spare them?

The ONLY reason for sparing them is because the script says so. The story needs a big shootout at the end, so she seemingly saves them only so they can show up and cause trouble in the third act.

• When Lucy first contacts Professor Norman, her face appears on his TV screen. She explains that her newfound powers allow her to control and manipulate simple electronic devices. Oddly enough, the image on Norman's flatscreen includes very visible scan lines, like it's a video monitor from the 1970s. Scan lines aren't visible on modern TVs.

I suppose I could be generous here and say that Lucy's control of TV waves hasn't yet reached 1080p levels yet. I suppose I could say that, but...

• During Lucy's flight to Paris, her body begins to disintegrate for some reason. Why this happens is never explained. Maybe her brain is cannibalizing the rest of her for fuel? That doesn't seem very logical, as a brain without a body isn't going to be much use, no matter how smart it is. Anyhow, she locks herself in the lavatory, which greatly agitates the stewardesses.


Airline employees should know that a lavatory door can easily be opened from the outside, even if it's locked from the inside. All you have to do is lift up the "Lavatory" sign on the door and pull the latch under it.

• When Lucy first contacts Paris policeman Pierre Del Rio by phone, she proves she's legit by identifying him by name and describing what's on his desk. How she does this is not explained. There are no cameras in the office. Is her brain power somehow allowing her to see through the phone lines? Or is she accessing Del Rio's brain and seeing through his eyes?

• Lucy tells Del Rio where he can find the various drug mules who are also carrying CPH4 in their guts. When he asks her for details about the drug, she tells him it's in powdered form. It looked a lot like crystals to me.

• Speaking of Del Rio, he's a bit of an odd character. He speaks French, his name is Del Rio and he's played by an Egyptian actor (Amr Waked). In a similar vein, the first half of the movie is set in Taiwan, but Mr. Jang and his gang are Korean. It's A Small World After All!


• As Lucy's powers grow, she begins manipulating the world by swiping at everything she sees with her hand, exactly the way one controls an iPad or iPhone. Funny how the best way to control the world exactly mimics Apple's interface design. Steve Jobs was right!

• When Lucy reaches 100% of her brain capacity, she begins traveling through time. She goes far back into the past, eventually confronting the oldest recorded ancestor of humanity, who was coincidentally nicknamed Lucy. The two touch fingertips, and the shot perfectly mimics the pose from Michelangelo's The Creation Of Adam, because of course it does.

Lucy is based on a ridiculous and debunked premise, but if you can get past that it's a decent sci-fi action film. I give it a B.

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