Lucy may be about the seemingly unlimited power of the human mind, but it could have benefitted from putting some limits on itself. Scarlet Johansson plays a young American abroad who is kidnapped by an Asian drug lord and forced to become a mule. When the new, synthetic drug that has been sewn into her belly leaks into her system, it activates the 90 percent of her brain that – at least according to a cheerfully dumb framing lecture given by Morgan Freeman as a dapper neuroscientist – the rest of us humans never use.
The problem isn’t that Lucy, written and directed by Luc Besson, is built on a thin concept that’s stretched to absurd lengths; that’s the basis for many fine action films. But here, Besson simply uses his premise to do whatever he wants with his heroine at any given moment. Nothing Lucy suddenly finds herself capable of is tied to any sort of internal movie logic: she dabbles in telepathy here, telekinesis there and mortal combat everywhere, and always to easy success. There’s never any tension or suspense to the movie, because whatever Lucy faces, we know her big brain will inexplicably be able to handle it.
As for Johansson, she and Besson seem to feel that accessing more of our brains would turn us into soulless, dull automatons. And so her performance is almost the exact opposite of the one she gave in a 90-percent better film from 2014, Under the Skin. If Lucy depicts increased awareness in terms of robotic invincibility, Under the Skin traces a cold alien’s growing understanding of what it means to be a vulnerable human.