Luc Besson’s “Lucy” continues a happy trend this summer. Unlike brain-dead battle movies like “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” some good sci-fi movies are effectively balancing thoughtful or clever ideas and exhilarating action, each feeding the other.
“Lucy” follows nicely in the footsteps of “Edge of Tomorrow,” “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” “Snowpiercer” and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”
Scarlett Johansson stars as the title character, an ordinary girl living in Taipei, whose shady boyfriend ropes her into delivering a suitcase to a powerful gang lord, Mr. Jung (Choi Min-sik, from the original “Oldboy”).
She is overpowered, then used as a drug mule to transport an experimental new substance called CPH4 in her intestines. When the bag bursts, she receives a massive dose, somehow unlocking untapped portions of her brain. She begins to see, hear and feel everything around her, and before long she can even control matter.
She must obtain the rest of the drugs to stay alive. She also consults with brain specialist Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) to decide what to do next.
Besson (“The Fifth Element”) is not exactly a critics’ darling, but he is very good at his job. He clearly loves making movies, even if only a certain kind. He’s one of the few directors out there that can create a stylish frame, fill it with clear, kinetic, colorful action, and move it all at a brisk pace. (“Lucy” is a tight 90 minutes, far shorter than most other summer blockbusters.)
For that alone, Besson deserves comparison with Michael Mann, Brian De Palma or Quentin Tarantino, even though his films rarely are profound. He’s content to remain in his pulpy, B-movie realm.
“Lucy” is constantly playful and awestruck. Besson uses silly little documentary flashbacks to illustrate human history and broaden the movie’s scope. He also genuinely seems moved by the capability of humans to do good.
Oddly, he has made a simple movie about being smart, but it works. “Lucy” makes intelligence alluring and exciting, rather than dry and snobbish.
Besson also is one of the few filmmakers who creates active parts for women. Johansson is mesmerizing, constantly searching and processing, her character eventually making a complete transformation.
Although scientists complain that the notion that humans only use 10 percent of their brain capacity is a fiction, “Lucy” is also a fiction — so open up your minds and enjoy.
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Choi Min-sik, Amr Waked
Written and directed by Luc Besson