Scarlett Johansson began 2014 by wooing Joaquin Phoenix with just her voice in Her, and, in the months since, she turned her sex-bomb screen persona inside out as a predatory alien in Under the Skin, indulged Jon Favreau’s ego as his co-worker fuck buddy/personal cheerleader in Chef, and presented the Black Widow as a nuanced, rounded co-star even if Captain America: The Winter Soldier wasn’t her movie.
And for her next and latest trick, Johansson takes on the title role in Lucy, opening this Friday. The future stoner classic you hadn’t realized the summer was missing, written and directed by The Fifth Element’s Luc Besson, is an incredibly silly movie about such non-silly topics as the meaning of existence and trans-humanism. Lucy follows ScarJo’s eponymous character, an American party girl studying in Taipei, who begins transforming into a superhuman after an accidental overdose of an experimental drug. Struggling with the major questions of existence — like, Why are we here? — doesn’t preclude Lucy from also kicking some ass, stunt driving through the streets of Paris, and stopping gun fights with her mind.
Basically, it’s a movie ideally watched through a THC haze and here’s why.
1. It starts at THE DAWN OF MAN.
Like 2001, a movie to which it totally should not be compared, Lucy begins at the beginning…of mankind. It starts with a glimpse of one of the earliest human ancestors we have physical evidence of, squatting in a stream. That hominid’s nickname? Lucy. Think about it.
2. It’s about the meaning of life.
“Life was given to us a billion years ago. What have we done with it?” Johansson intones over the opening prehistoric images, staking out some awfully ambitious philosophical territory for an action thriller.
3. Lucy lives in Taipei solely because it looks cool.
Luc Besson’s films have always had a sprawling, international flavor, but Lucy’s use of its initial Taipei setting is unusually gratuitous. Lucy, who’s 25, is some sort of student there, while the baddies who use her as an involuntary drug mule are Korean and lead by Oldboy star Choi Min-sik. The action kicks off in Taipei because Taipei looks awesome and sci-fi-ready, with its neon, Chinese signage, bustling traffic, and a skyline dominated by what was recently the world’s tallest building, Taipei 101.
4. Pre-transformation Lucy is compared to a hunted animal on the African veld.
When the naive Lucy’s on the verge of starting her adventure, getting cajoled by the cowboy-hat wearing guy (Pilou Asbæk) she’s been dating, the film cuts between her in the lobby of a high-end Taipei hotel and shots of a gazelle being stalked by cheetahs. It’s a motif the movie doesn’t stick with, which makes it all the more winningly weird.
5. Lucy’s most terrified moment involves a speaker phone.
Long before it gets really wacky, Lucy shows a sense of humor. When its trembling heroine first meets the Korean gangsters who are going to stick her with a belly full of experimental drugs to smuggle, they can only talk via a translator on speaker phone who indignantly notes he “studied a year at an international high school in New York.”
6. The drugs are bright blue crystals.
Called CPH4, they look like Walter White’s blue meth crossed with the gravel you’d use to line a fish tank, except they cause brain magic.
7. Morgan Freeman spends half the movie giving a talk on brain capacity.
Freeman’s character, a professor of brain somethingorother, is introduced delivering an astoundingly conveniently timed lecture on what humans might be capable of if we were able to use more than 10% of our brain capacity, complete with sex and birth nature montages. This lectxposition, which, as far as we’re shown, would be pretty stoner friendly in itself, frees up Lucy to start segueing into higher brain usage while Freeman’s Professor Norman foreshadows all the things she’s probably going to be capable of.
8. Lucy’s overdose/transformation causes her to defy gravity.
Whatever they’re planning on charging for this drug, it’s probably not enough.
9. There’s more eye and space imagery than Cosmos.
CPH4 also apparently makes novelty contacts unnecessary.
10. Lucy tells her mom she can remember the taste of her breast milk.
Instead of asking her daughter what the hell she’s on (the answer being, quite accurately, drugs!), her mom takes this confession and the increasingly spacey ones that came before it in stride, perhaps knowing their cell phone conversation is as much character development as Lucy’s going to get.
11. Lucy can see how trees work…
12. …and how cell phones work…
13. …and how people work.
She pulls a Neo.
14. And she can page through time like the universe is controlled by a Kinect.
Swiping left on the present.
15. Lucy’s also the most faux deep of them all.
“We never really die,” she tells her cop accomplice (Amr Waked) while driving them full-speed through traffic in Paris, after he yells, “Hey, I’d rather be late than dead!”
16. Like, she toasts “to knowledge.”
Fortunately, no one’s around to hear it.
17. And her thoughts on the secrets of the universe aren’t as profound as she seems to think.
It’s hard to believe that, “Time is the only unit of measure,” is the best someone who’s up to 60% brain capacity can do.
18. But it’s possible she’s turning into God or something.
So all is forgiven. As deities go, we could certainly do worse.