Monday, July 28, 2014

Lucy - The Trailer Lied To You. It Sucks.

I was so excited for Lucy, you guys. You have no idea. I saw that trailer and I could barely hold in the squee. I mean, here it was, the answer to my deepest movie-related desires: an independent, original female-lead superhero movie starring Scarlett Johansson, opening wide as a summer tentpole feature. It was just so...magical. Plus, the trailer looked rad as hell.

Sure, there was that problematic part of the trailer where it looked like Lucy (Johansson) was shooting a Taiwanese cabby for not speaking English, even though they were in Taiwan. That didn't look super promising. But the rest of it? Looked stinking awesome. Morgan Freeman was going to be in it, and it looked like at most there was going to be one white guy in this whole movie, a movie about a lady superhero kicking ass.

Plus, the plot, from what the trailer told us, was going to be a really compelling revenge thriller. Lucy, a naive party girl, gets kidnapped in Taiwan and has a bag of drugs slipped into her stomach. Against her will, she is made a drug mule, but then something goes terribly wrong, and the bag leaks, giving Lucy superpowers. She enlists some scientist dude (Morgan Freeman) to help her figure out what is happening while she tracks down the men responsible and murders them. Yay!

This is what we were promised, isn't it? Well, trust me when I say that it is not what we got.

I mean, if you want to be technical, yes, that is the plot of the movie. Sort of. Everything I wrote in that paragraph above does happen, it just happens very differently. Instead of being this cool thriller about a woman getting revenge on the men who infringed on her bodily autonomy, what we got was...something. I'm not entirely sure what. But definitely not what I was expecting. And I mean that in a bad way.

It's actually kind of hard to talk about the movie we did get because it was so so so different from what I was expecting. Like, different enough that I'm beginning to suspect that the marketing people lied on purpose in order to sell tickets. Because I cannot think of a single person I know who would have bought a ticket for this if it were accurately advertised.

Here's the gist, as far as I can express it in words:

Lucy (Johansson) is an American university student living abroad in Taiwan. She parties a lot, and one day her boyfriend takes her to a hotel and asks her to carry a briefcase upstairs for him. She refuses, and so he grabs her arm and handcuffs the briefcase to her. She is displeased. Inside, she goes in and asks for the man she's supposed to give the briefcase to, and the clerk calls him. 

Cut to a shot of a cheetah stalking a gazelle on the Serengeti. Cut back to the hotel lobby. Some men come downstairs. Cut back to the gazelle. Cut to Lucy. Cut to the cheetah. And so on. Like a lot. A weird amount.

Lucy gets dragged upstairs, where she meets up with Mr. Jang (Choi Min-sik), the recipient of the briefcase. A terrified Lucy is forced to open the case while everyone else hides in case it's a bomb. It's not. Lucy hyperventilates, and Mr. Jang discovers that the briefcase is full of bags of some blue crystalized drug. He makes someone snort it. They get high. 

Blah blah blah, Lucy gets knocked out and wakes up with a bag of the drugs inside her and a plane ticket to Paris. When her handlers take her to a cell to wait for her flight, they try to assault her. She fights back, and then they kick the crap out of her, breaking the bag. She then goes on a very trippy very literal flight up the ceiling as the drug pours into her bloodstream and BAM! Lucy has superpowers.

We cut to (probably, I only saw this movie once, so the details might be wrong and I'M NOT WATCHING IT AGAIN) Morgan Freeman lecturing to a packed hall about how we only use 10% of our brains, and what would happen if we could use more of it. Superpowers, apparently. We would get superpowers. The more of our brain we controlled, the more of the outside world we could control, because that absolutely is totally reasonable logic and not at all made of crack.

I don't feel like running down everything else that happens in the movie, so here's a rather brief synopsis. Please bear in mind that all of these plot-like things are intercut with audio of Morgan Freeman talking about evolution and video straight from a National Geographic documentary. At one point we had to watch frogs having sex. It was...different?

Lucy goes to a hospital and gets the drug removed from her stomach. It's apparently a synthesized chemical that pregnant women make that allows us to use our brains. She's got half a kilo floating around her body, so clearly crap is about to get weird. Also she's almost definitely going to die. But before that, she needs to figure out what is happening to her.

So, she beats up Mr. Jang, uses her superpowers to get a disguise, and calls Interpol to alert them of the other drug traffickers. The Interpol agent who answers, Pierre Del Rio (Amr Waked), becomes obsessed with the case. Then Lucy flies herself to Paris to meet up with Del Rio, grab the drugs, and then meet Morgan Freeman and figure out what's happening to her.

The bad guys, apparently a Korean drug smuggling thing, follow her. There is shooting. She passes out at one point. Later she kidnaps Del Rio, and drives through Paris in a really terrifying car chase that is ultimately pointless, only to get more of the drug and go off to meet Morgan Freeman. Del Rio thinks she's pretty. She kisses him. Then she and Morgan Freeman get down to figuring out what is happening to her brain before the drug cartel murders them. 

Del Rio gets in a shootout with the cartel. Lucy shows off her superpowers and gives some incredibly profound sounding bullshit answers to a bunch of philosophical questions. Then she has Morgan Freeman inject her with the remaining 3 kilos of the drug because of reasons. I think. 

Lucy absorbs the drug, the shootout continues, and then Lucy timetravels around a bit before slowly exuding a black goo that eventually absorbs her and becomes her and then becomes a flash drive full of the knowledge of the universe and made of stars. Literally made of stars. Del Rio runs in and is all, "Where's Lucy?" and she texts him, "I am everywhere."

End of movie.

And I guess there's a little part in there where she calls her mom and is sad that she might die, and a really funny exchange with her deliciously self-involved roommate (Analeigh Tipton), but most of the movie is just Scarlett Johansson doing her damndest to make you care about a walking plot device, and Morgan Freeman reciting incredibly inaccurate "facts" about evolution while the screen keeps showing you bizarre nature videos and scenes of vicious violence.

We all walked out of the movie theater completely baffled, not just by the emotionless ending or by the weirdness of the fact that our heroine literally turns into a flash drive made of the stars, but because none of it really meant anything.

See, the problem with this movie isn't that it's completely batshit, though it is, or even that it's kind of ponderously long and the characters aren't particularly compelling. Those are problems, but not the real reason why this movie made me so angry. And believe me, it made me very angry. It made me angry because I can accept loose characterizations and bad plotting and even really terrible science if it matters. If at the end of the movie I can look back and think, "Well, the rest of it was crap, but at least it was saying something interesting.

I cannot say that here, because as far as I can tell, the movie isn't saying anything at all. It's just weird.

Best side-eye ever.
Arguably, the point of the movie is the idea that the point of human life is to pass on knowledge. While that's a super lame and boring point, I'd be okay with it if it actually seemed to be supported by the story. But it's not. Throughout the movie, Lucy, who is supposed to be our first superwoman who can know the secrets of the universe, actually tells people almost nothing. She's cryptic or terse or otherwise unhelpful. If the meaning of life is to pass on knowledge, then Lucy isn't doing a very good job of it.

Even at the end, when she literally transforms herself into a repository of human understanding, it still doesn't make sense, because Lucy's dead/everything. She can't explain any of it to them. She just dumped a bunch of knowledge in their laps and then bamfed out of existence.

It's also problematic because Lucy appears to have, at first, a very strong sense of self-preservation, but later on she decides that she needs to sacrifice herself. For what? So we can know more stuff? Why?

It bothers me because that's fundamentally different from how I view the purpose of human existence. But it also bothers me because that's a terrible motivation for a character to have. Even worse, it turns a potentially epic female superhero into a blank slate that exists to further the ambitions of a man. Make no mistake, I don't think Luc Besson or Scarlett Johansson were trying to make that the point of the movie, but that is what happens. Lucy loses her self, and instead becomes pure information. The female protagonist is subsumed and deleted, her emotional fulfillment considered unnecessary and distracting. All that we are left with is questions, and a flash drive.

This movie had so much potential. So stinking much. And in the very beginning, it really looked like it was going to take advantage of that potential. You see, Lucy is a character whose bodily autonomy is violated in several different ways throughout the film. First, her boyfriend handcuffs the case to her. Then she is forced to do a series of actions. Then she is cut open and has something inserted into her abdomen. Later, a man sticks his hand down her shirt, and when she pushes him away, he retaliates by savagely beating her.

It made sense to assume that a movie where this happens, and then where the heroine gets superpowers, would be a rape revenge flick. You know, those movies where the heroine uses her powers to get back at the people who hurt and violated her. It felt like we were about to get a timely piece on the overwhelming anger that most women feel about the state of our bodily autonomy in the world. We live in a culture where the rape of a teenage girl was filmed and became a viral video. Hell yes I wanted to see Scarlett Johansson viciously attacking her violators. That's the kind of vicarious thrill that I, as a pacifist, really want in a movie.

But what I got was a bunch of really terribly researched and horribly outdated brain science, a wishy-washy plot, and an ending that makes no sense and leaves you cold. I am not okay with this.

I suppose you could compare Lucy to 2001: A Space Odyssey, because they are both intensely odd science-fiction auteur pieces about deep philosophical subjects with inscrutable endings, but I think that comparison really just highlights how cheap Lucy is, philosophically speaking. 2001: A Space Odyssey might be completely baffling and weird and slow and hard to love, but it says something deep and meaningful. I mean, you may not like it, but you definitely respect it.

By contrast, Lucy tries too hard for too little reward. At one point Lucy travels backwards in time by waving her arms as she sits in an office chair, and she manages to send herself to the exact time and space to meet Lucy, the first hominid fossil. But, you know, back when Lucy was alive.

They touch fingers like a Michelangelo painting that felt a bit too obvious for the moment, and I think we're supposed to be moved or something, but I just felt a bit irritated at the presumption. Besides, it's not like Lucy was about to go propagate her new species. That would have made sense. Nope, she immediately came back and then sort of died.

I guess what I'm saying is that I was expecting to love this movie, to find a few problematic race elements, to address them, and then to go back to loving this movie. It has all the things I should love. A kickass female protagonist, a weird but potentially cool concept, great actors, a predominantly non-white cast and international locations, and a director who's done very well by me in the past.

But I didn't count on this weird metaphysical crap, and I don't like it. Not because I dislike science or don't believe in evolution, either. I love science, and I believe that God created the evolutionary process because that's just super rad. I don't like all this weird crap because it's inaccurate and also metaphorically void. It means nothing. Blech.

So, very long story short: don't go see this movie. It's not fun enough to be bad fun, and it's not deep enough to be engaging it's just terrible. It's truly depressing to watch so many talented people try so hard and make such an awful movie.



  1. Between this and Under the Skin, it's great that Scarlett Johansson is getting leading roles, but I just wish she wasn't getting rubbish ones.

    Arguably, the point of the movie is the idea that the point of human life is to pass on knowledge. While that's a super lame and boring point

    I can see potential in it, if it were compared to DNA, which is essentially a molecule with exactly that nature (which isn't quite the same thing as purpose) - and to human evolution, where passing on knowledge is one of the keys to our success as a species - and if she were to *choose* to have her life follow that path, rather than being subsumed into a "purpose." But rather than a flashdrive, in some way seeding herself into the way that chemical is made in the body, so that from now on, everyone will be born with some of the insight she's gained. Becoming a prophet of a particularly visceral sort. Bit twee, but giving of herself to the whole human species is better than giving of herself to one guy.


    It made sense to assume that a movie where this happens, and then where the heroine gets superpowers, would be a rape revenge flick.

    There's no reason this can't happen too. And presumably someone was planning to take this shit and get superpowers/-knowledge - and is presumably pissed off that this woman he no doubt deems unworthy has ended up with it instead. And she gets to tear him a new one about men who think they get to decide what's "meant to be."

    It felt like we were about to get a timely piece on the overwhelming anger that most women feel about the state of our bodily autonomy in the world.

    Because men deciding what's meant to be, and according themselves the right to impose purpose on women, is what's at the heart of all this shit. So she beats down the men who did this to her, and then chooses to use the power she's gained in a way they'd never think of in a million years. (It wouldn't even need to turn her to goo or stars, either).

    1. That's a good point. They should have found a way for her to actually pass on her knowledge. Or, maybe, do a Flowers for Algernon thing and had it start to wear off, but leave the implication that this is where society is headed. That would be cool.

      And yeah, Lucy acting out against the patriarchal powers trying to use her body for their own benefit would be stinking amazing. That's what I thought I was getting. Can someone please make that movie already?!

    2. And yeah, Lucy acting out against the patriarchal powers trying to use her body for their own benefit would be stinking amazing.

      Also interpretable - given how they're defining the origin of this chemical - as usurping a process that takes place in female bodies. Which is another reason I'd favour her passing it back into the genome/that process.

      It's irritating that the story changes needed to avoid this crap are so often easy, obvious, and small.

    3. Word. Giving actual story weight to the whole "this is only physically produced by women" thing would be amazing. Sort of like Leekie's synthetic womb in OB. Man trying to synthesize what woman creates with horrific effects. I want more sci-fi about that.

  2. I've been meaning to see this, but the reviews are just so bad. And "plot bad" on top of "yellow menace trope bad". I thought this would be a chick version of Crank, but that's not what happens. Why isn't that what happens?! that is what I want!

    1. I wanted to to be good so so so much. One of my friends told me I was yelling during the whole movie. Chick version of Crank sounds so good and I want it so much!

  3. What happens when you take every hallucinogenic drugs in existence, make a hallucinogenic cocktail, drink it and then read a biology book? This shitty film happens...
    This film is nothing but delirium to me... It's not scientifically reliable, it has a veeeeery simple linear plot, it doesn't really teach you anything...and Scarlet Johansson is pratically impassive for 4/5 of the film...where's the acting? (ok that is a real question because i can't really say if she acted well or not ^^ also i'm from italy so i watched it dubbed)

  4. I was annoyed by this movie so much that I wanted to see people talk shit about it. But I noticed that every critic, including you was just like this movie. Annoying. Both wanted to sound witty and smart. Now don't get it twisted I agree with you that this movie was HOT GARBAGE! But you couldn't take the time to let these guys know that the guy who sniffed the drug started laughing hysterically? That shit was funny. Instead you go on about...well only god knows, I didn't read all of it. Too long for my taste. But fuck it. I'm gonna go listen to some eminem...

  5. Sorry. Forgot my Keys. *looks for them* Oh and One more all looked into this movie way too much. It's just a need to bring out the big wordsFOUND THEM SONS A BITCHES! Ok I'm out.