It hits theaters on Friday before opening the Locarno Film Festival on August 6, and we begin with Variety‘s Justin Chang: “Following her mesmerizingly out-there performances as an artificially intelligent being in Her and a come-hither extraterrestrial in Under the Skin, Scarlett Johansson takes a logical next step into the title role of Lucy, an agreeably goofy, high-concept speculative thriller about the first human being to successfully harness 100% of her brainpower. In no other sense, however, does the word ‘logical’ apply to writer-director Luc Besson’s return to blockbuster form—which is to say, his latest aggressively stylish, self-consciously feminist, gratuitously globe-trotting pulp-trash extravaganza. Giddily recycling everything from 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Matrix to yakuza actioners and National Geographic documentaries, it’s a garish, trippy, wildly uneven and finally quite disarming piece of work.”
“Lucy plays more like a big dumb superhero flick than sci-fi,” writes John DeFore in the Hollywood Reporter. “The powers Scarlett Johansson gains when given full access to her brain quickly outstrip anything one can imagine three pounds of skull-bound neurons and synapses being able to do. Besson’s script offers neither the well-drawn character dynamics nor the clear motivations of a decent comic book origin story; and as it is quickly clear that no baddie has much chance of stopping Lucy, action sequences carry little weight.”
But for Indiewire’s Eric Kohn, Lucy‘s “a dumb movie that has a terrific time as it goes flying off the rails…. In the final moments, the entire enterprise literally collapses into a singularity of light, sound and action, as if even Besson himself can’t contain the cockamamie premise he’s dreamed up.”
Lucy “begins as your typical Asian tourism panic movie and ends with a cracked-out mental journey through time, space, and every plane of existence,” writes David Sims at The Wire. Besson’s “1997 masterpiece (don’t fight me on this) The Fifth Element had all the hallmarks of a big-budget American sci-fi epic, down to the cast, but thrown through a lunatic funhouse mirror. Besson’s subsequent work as a director, aside from last year’s forgotten mob comedy The Family, has tended towards the European, but with Lucy we finally have a spiritual successor.”
Updates: Johansson’s “mesmerizing performance is key to the film’s base delights, giving them a dash of extratextual frisson,” writes Abhimanyu Das at Slant. “After all, the act of casting her as a post-human entity whose first kill is facilitated by a sexual gesture could easily be interpreted as high-level trolling or, worse, distasteful fetishization. But if such intentions exist, they’re consistently undercut by Johansson’s canny reappropriation of her public image as predatory Other, a focusing of individual mystique into what adds up to nothing less than the fully realized female superhero DC and Marvel have proved reluctant to deliver on screen.”
“There’s a long single take of Johansson’s face as Lucy talks to her mother on the phone, channeling the last vestiges of her former humanity before her ever-expanding mind wipes them away, that’s as good as anything she’s ever done,” writes Sam Adams at Criticwire. And earlier in his review: “Lucy‘s smarts, such as they are, are not of the verbal variety, which may be what’s tripping some critics up. Sure, Morgan Freeman’s evolutionary biologist has a long speech, chopped up into pieces so as not to try the audience’s patience, about the way cells choose between reproduction and immortality, but even though it’s based on a real scientific concept, the notion is simplified to the point of unintelligibility.” But “from its opening image of an early hominid—perhaps the original Lucy herself—drinking water from a prehistoric pool, it’s clear that Lucy is a story in pictures more than it is words.”
“I can’t imagine that Besson actually believes this movie makes sense,” writes Jordan Hoffman for the Guardian, “but there’s an authenticity to his overreaching that adds a sparkle not seen in typical comic-book movie fare. Even with only 10% of my brain I can see that while this movie isn’t what I’d typically call good, it is, undeniably, enjoyable mindlessness.”
Updates, 7/25: “Buoyed by Ms. Johansson’s presence, Mr. Besson keeps his entertainment machine purring,” writes Manohla Dargis in the NYT. “He may be a hack, but he’s also a reliable entertainer, even when he’s recycling other directors’ ideas (a pinch of David Fincher here, a dash of Christopher Nolan there), or giddily engaging in slaughter and racist stereotypes. This is, after all, a movie that, stripped of its gimmick, comes down to a white woman being chased by hordes of Asian men.”
“Who could have guessed that two radically different Scarlett Johansson vehicles—released within months of each other—would both court comparisons to 2001: A Space Odyssey, and that one of them would be a brisk, ludicrous action fantasy directed by French wunderkind-turned-studio-puppetmaster Luc Besson?” At the AV Club, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky gives Lucy a B+.
Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir: “Does it make sense? Not at all. Is it boring? Not that either.” More from Nathan Bartlebaugh (Film Stage, B), Nicholas Bell (Ioncinema, 1.5/5), Shaun Brady (Philadelphia City Paper), Sean Burns, Paul Constant (Stranger), Richard Corliss (Time), David Edelstein (Vulture), Kate Erbland (Film.com, 5.2/10), Tim Grierson (Screen), Peter Martin (Twitch), Christopher Orr (Atlantic), Matt Zoller Seitz (RogerEbert.com, 3/4), Matt Singer (Dissolve, 3/5), Bob Turnbull, Keith Uhlich (Time Out, 1/5) and Alison Willmore (Buzzfeed).
Updates, 8/2: Besson “reaches speculative heights that are fascinating to ponder, thrilling to watch onscreen, and silly to throw away on a rickety story with clumsily pumped-up excitement and emptied-out implications,” writes the New Yorker‘s Richard Brody.
“Lucy is just the latest in a line of films tapping into the enduring fantasy of the quickie human upgrade, whether it’s magical, technological, chemical, biological, or just beyond human understanding,” writes Tasha Robinson in an overview of the subgenre at the Dissolve.