First of all, let’s talk about the premise. “We only use 10% of our brains” is an idea that needs to stop being a thing because it’s pseudoscience and it’s stupid. There are easier, better, more inventive ways to give someone superpowers in a movie without making them a superhero. And it’s not like it hasn’t been done before *cough* *cough* Limitless *cough* *cough*. So the entire basis of the movie makes no sense to begin with, but let’s try to move past that.
It starts out promising enough as a solid action flick with good performances all around. Then the central premise kicks in—the packet of mysterious drugs ScarJo has inside her bursts, flooding her blood stream—and the movie begins its slow decline into ridiculousness. That’s the best word I can come up with to describe Lucy: ridiculous. The movie takes itself far too seriously for its fantastical premise. As Lucy gains control of more and more of her mental capacity, her powers get more and more amazing and crazy, and we’re expected to take them at face value and just accept them. She can shapeshift now? She can see every cell phone and device in the area? She has some kind of mix of telepathy and telekinesis? All this, and so much more! The special effects are also very hit-and-miss. Some sequences and powers are honestly quite gorgeous, and even some of the more insane moments look very well done. And then there are others—fucking dinosaurs, for one—that look ripped straight from a last-gen video game. They’re so jarring, especially juxtaposed with the more refined moments in other places in the movie.
Another major problem is Lucy herself. As soon as she begins to gain her new powers, she becomes completely devoid of all emotion and compassion. Lucy turns into essentially a robot, fully aware of how simple and petty human minds are and unfeeling towards any of it. When asked to prove her skills to a scientist, she doesn’t decide to shapeshift or mentally hack into a computer. She Vulcan mind-melds with the scientist, exposing a repressed memory of his young daughter being struck and killed by a car. What the fuck, Lucy. I’m pretty sure this was how the character was written, and it’s a shame because Scarlett Johansson just gets to walk around with a vacant expression on her face spouting scientific nonsense.
The closest comparison I can make to Lucy is 2001: A Space Odyssey in that both attempt to grapple with questions of human existence and knowledge. The latter is a classic for very good reasons: it doesn’t really seek an answer to the meaning of life, but instead it presents a surreal look at human evolution, back from early humans up through our journey into the far reaches of space and beyond. Lucy, however, handles those questions far more clumsily to the point of incomprehensibility. I honestly could not tell you what the movie was trying to say about human existence or the pursuit of knowledge, but it was certainly trying to say something—or, rather, everything. As the film progresses, Lucy grapples with what she should do with her new powers, with help from Morgan Freeman’s neural scientist. But it doesn’t stick with any one point: it suggests consequences for Lucy’s mental capacity and her newfound knowledge of literally everything, and then tries to explain more consequences for mankind and what it means for our own human pursuits of knowledge and existence and why we’re here. I think. All of this is happening while Taiwanese drug lords try to hunt Lucy down and Morgan Freeman and his band of scientists try to understand everything. And, like 2001, Lucy ends with a climactic, dreamlike sequence transcending time and space. But while 2001’s ending scenes are gorgeously obtuse, Lucy’s are painfully on the nose. It devolves into an orgy of symbolism and special effects and action and nonsense and none of it means anything in the end.
Lucy starts out as an action flick and very quickly ends up being a vague rip on 2001: A Space Odyssey. It crawls so far up its own asshole that by the time the mercifully short runtime is over, you’re left with an overwhelming sense of confusion. But there’s nothing to understand, because none of it made any sense in the first place.