Lucy is a 2014 English-language French science fiction thriller film written and directed by Luc Besson and produced by his wife Virginie Besson-Silla for his company EuropaCorp. The film was shot in Taipei, Paris, and New York City. It stars Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Choi Min-sik, and Amr Waked. Johansson portrays the title character, a woman who gains psychokinetic abilities when a nootropic drug is absorbed into her bloodstream.
The film was released on July 25, 2014, and became a box office success, grossing over $463 million, 11 times the budget of $40 million. It received positive, but also polarizing, critical reviews. Although praise was given for its themes, visuals, and Johansson's performance, a number of critics found the plot nonsensical, especially its focus on the ten percent of the brain myth and resulting abilities.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Luc Besson|
|Produced by||Virginie Besson-Silla|
|Written by||Luc Besson|
|Music by||Éric Serra|
|Edited by||Julien Rey|
|Box office||$463.4 million|
Lucy is a 24-year-old American woman living and studying in Taipei, Taiwan. She is tricked into working as a drug mule by her new boyfriend Richard, whose employer, Mr. Jang, is a Korean mob boss and drug lord. Lucy delivers a briefcase to Mr. Jang supposedly containing paperwork, but it actually contains four packets of CPH4, a highly valuable synthetic drug. After seeing her boyfriend shot and killed, she is captured and a bag of the drug is forcibly sewn into her abdomen and that of three other drug mules who will also transport the drug for sale in Europe. While Lucy is in captivity, one of her captors kicks her in the abdomen, breaking the bag and releasing a large quantity of the drug into her system. As a result, she begins acquiring increasingly enhanced physical and mental capabilities, such as telepathy, telekinesis, mental time travel, and the ability not to feel pain or other discomforts. Her personality also changes into a more ruthless and emotionless one. She kills off her captors and escapes.
Lucy travels to the nearby Tri-Service General Hospital to get the bag of drugs removed from her abdomen. The bag is successfully removed and Lucy is told by the operating doctor that natural CPH4 is a volatile substance produced in minute quantities by pregnant women during their sixth week of pregnancy to provide fetuses the energy to develop. Lucy is fortunate to have survived with such a large amount introduced into her body. Sensing her growing physical and mental abilities, Lucy returns to Mr. Jang's hotel, kills his bodyguards, assaults Mr. Jang, and telepathically extracts the locations of the three remaining drug mules from his brain.
At her apartment, Lucy begins researching her condition and contacts well-known scientist and doctor Professor Samuel Norman whose research may be the key to saving her. After Lucy speaks with Professor Norman and provides proof of her developed abilities, she flies to Paris and contacts a local police captain, Pierre Del Rio, to help her find the remaining three packets of the drug. During the plane ride, she starts to disintegrate as her cells destabilize from consuming a sip of champagne, which made her body inhospitable for cellular reproduction. Only by consuming more CPH4 is she able to hold off her total disintegration. Her powers continue to grow, leaving her able to telepathically incapacitate armed police and members from the Korean drug gang. With the help of Del Rio, Lucy recovers the drug and hurries to meet Professor Norman. Alongside Professor Norman and his colleagues, she agrees to share everything she now knows after Professor Norman points out that the main point of life is to pass on knowledge, something for which she now possesses an infinite capacity. Jang and the mob also want the drug and a gunfight ensues with the French police.
In the professor's lab, Lucy discusses the nature of time and life and how people's humanity distorts their perceptions. She tells the scientists that time is the only true measure of human life and of existence. At her urging, she is intravenously injected with the contents of all three remaining bags of CPH4. Her body begins to change into a bizarre black substance which behaves like nanites, spreading over computers and other electronic objects in the lab, as she transforms these into an unconventionally shaped, next-generation supercomputer that will contain all of her enhanced knowledge of the universe. She then begins a spacetime journey into the past, eventually reaching the oldest discovered ancestor of mankind, implied to be Lucy. She touches fingertips with her, then goes all the way to the beginning of time and witnesses the Big Bang. Meanwhile, back in the lab, after an M136 AT4 anti-tank weapon destroys the door, Jang enters and points a gun at Lucy's head from behind. He shoots, but in the instant before the bullet strikes, Lucy reaches 100% of her cerebral capacity and ascends within the spacetime continuum, where she explains that everything is connected and existence is only proven through time. Only her clothes, Louboutin shoes, and the black supercomputer are left behind.
Del Rio enters and fatally shoots Jang. Professor Norman takes a star-filled black, presumably highly advanced, flash drive offered by the advanced supercomputer, after which the computer disintegrates. Del Rio asks Professor Norman where Lucy is, immediately after which Del Rio's cell phone sounds and he sees a text message: "I AM EVERYWHERE." With an overhead shot, Lucy's voice is heard stating "Life was given to us a billion years ago. Now you know what to do with it."
Speaking of Besson's "interest in making the film one about the way we interact with our environment, and socially as well," Silla said that one of the goals was to bring together a diverse cast to show the planet's diversity and a mixture of the different cultures. She stated, "So we have Scarlett Johansson, who is Caucasian, Morgan Freeman, who is African-American, Min-Sik Choi, who is from Korea, and Amr Waked, who hails from Egypt."
Besson stated that he intended for the first part of Lucy to be like Léon: The Professional (which he also wrote and directed), the second part to be like Inception and the third part to be like 2001: A Space Odyssey. He was intrigued by the brain capacity of Lucy, a female Australopithecus afarensis, stating that her brain size was only 400g, and modern human brains weigh in around 1.4 kg. "I was very interested with all the science," he said. "When I learned one cell can send 1000 messages per cell per second and we have 100 billion cells in our body, for me, it's gigantic." He did not want to make "a documentary about the brain," and so he focused on making an entertaining film with scientific and ethical aspects, which he cited as "quite rare today." He said, "That was my goal: an action film with a purpose. When I was younger, the purpose I had was smaller. Basically, this is about us, our legacy and what we learn."' A computer-animated version of Lucy Australopithecus being in the film, "modeled on the dawn of Man sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey," is one of several of Lucy's homages.
"I live in a country of food, and you can't have a third star in a restaurant (the top Michelin rating) without risk, invention or creativity," Besson said. "I'd rather take some risks, and maybe some people will say, 'What the fuck is this film?' But some others will embrace it. I totally understand that we can't take this kind of risk on every movie, but at the same time, you can't progress if there is not risk and novelty." He added, "I guess the film has the possibility to be a hit with the American audience. Of course, I would rather that it perform and the people are happy with it."
Lucy was the second largest budget French film production in 2013, with an estimate of 49 million euros. It is also one of the biggest productions for EuropaCorp, the company founded by Luc Besson in 2000. According to EuropaCorp CEO Christophe Lambert, this film had the highest budget in the company's history.
Principal photography started in September 2013 at the Cité du Cinéma, a new megastudio located on the outskirts of Paris. On 5 September 2013, scenes were shot at the cliffs of Étretat in northern France. Filming in Taipei, Taiwan, began on October 21, 2013 and lasted for eleven days. One of the locations filmed at was Taipei 101, one of the world's tallest skyscrapers. Select footage was filmed with IMAX cameras.
On October 23, The Hollywood Reporter stated that Besson had become enraged by all the media attention the shoot was getting that day. Besson was reported to be so frustrated with the constant disruptions that he considered leaving Taipei to film elsewhere. Meeting reporters in Taipei a day after he finished shooting the Taiwan part of the film, he stated, "We don't want pictures with new dresses of Scarlett. Sometime [sic] I lost a bit of my concentration because I'm bothered by that." Because of constant paparazzi intrusions he said that "shooting at night time was a nightmare". Besson singled out two unnamed agencies from Hong Kong for special condemnation. News reports emerged that he wanted to leave Taiwan early to register his disapproval of their actions, but Besson labelled these as incorrect.
Lucy has the most visual effects in a film directed by Besson, with over 1,000 effects shots under senior visual effects supervisor Nicholas Brooks. The majority of visual effects were done by Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), with a team headed by supervisor Richard Bluff. Bluff described Lucy as "really fun because it wasn't a thousand shots of robots or things we typically do," instead relying on short sequences "that required a lot of new ways to problem-solve and to visualize them." ILM began work on the project in July 2013, based on concept art provided by Besson’s Europacorp, such as Lucy sprouting the black tendrils and Lucy's disintegration effects. Among the material ILM studied as reference for the effects were chemical reactions, laser lighting displays seen at raves, and the work of artist Perry Hall, who had previously worked with Brooks in What Dreams May Come. Another major contributor was Rodeo FX, responsible for the Paris chase scene, Taipei matte paintings, and the visual representation of cell phones' radio waves seen by Lucy's enhanced vision.
|Lucy (Soundtrack from the Motion Picture)|
|Soundtrack album by Éric Serra, Various Artists|
|Released||22 July 2014|
|Genre||Film soundtrack, film score|
|Label||Back Lot Music|
|Éric Serra chronology|
Several print and digital posters were issued by the distributor Universal Pictures for Lucy, with the theatrical release poster including the tagline: "The average person uses 10% of their brain capacity. Imagine what she could do with 100%." On August 15, 2014, Universal Pictures released two advance posters for the upcoming comedy film Dumb and Dumber To that spoofed the theatrical release poster for Lucy, also a Universal Pictures-distributed film. The two spoof posters were made public via Tweets from the Twitter accounts of Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels.
On April 2, 2014, the first trailer for Lucy was released. It was described as having "hit the Internet with the force of a punch to the head," with reviewers stating that it is "promis[in]g a wild ride with Johansson rendering people unconscious with a flick of her wrist," "awesome" as "the girl who was once exploited becomes very, very dangerous," and "wonderfully insane as Johansson goes from a drug mule at the mercy of her captors to a superhuman with remarkable control over her body and a diminishing capacity for mercy." James Luxford of The Guardian described a common theme evident in the trailer that has run through Johansson's past three films: characters who "evolve, mutate or vanish altogether". After the film premiered, however, its trailers were categorized as being starkly different than how the film actually plays out; for example, the film not being as action-packed. A behind-the-scenes preview of the film was released on July 10.
In his 2014 book titled Great Myths of the Brain, Christian Jarrett quotes directly from the film poster, dismissing it and the film's portrayal of the potential for "mastering all knowledge and hurling cars with her mind" as being fully speculative fiction.
Lucy grossed $126.7 million in North America and $336.7 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $463.4 million, against a budget of $40 million.
On July 25, Lucy opened at 3,172 theaters in the United States. It opened with $17,088,110, placing it in the top spot for the box office opening weekend, ahead of the competing film Hercules, which debuted in the number two spot with $11,058,454. Lucy, described as "bringing a needed boost to the ailing summer box office," did financially better than expected, as early box office estimates for the film placed it "on track for $14 million to $15 million on Friday, including $2.7 million from 2,386 late Thursday screenings." It earned $43,899,340 at the domestic box office for the opening weekend, with Hercules remaining at second place with $29 million. Globally, Lucy debuted at the number one box office spot in all markets it was released in outside of U.S. and Canada, as of August 8. In Taipei, the film's performance has been credited to roughly half of the film having been shot there, and it having "boost[ed] Taiwan's popularity amid the country's efforts to bring itself to the world stage." It opened at twenty two Taipei theaters, grossing NT$14.3 million (US$478,000) from 57,900 admissions, and, after two days there, made NT$25.6 million (US$854,000) in the capital, later earning over NT$38 million (US$1.27 million) from seventy five locations nationwide, making it the fourth best opening day in Taiwan, after Transformers: Age of Extinction, Iron Man 3 and The Avengers, the best opening day for United International Pictures (UIP), and the best August opening day of all-time. Lucy is also the second most successful debut for a French action film.
The audience for Lucy was split evenly between men and women, with 65 percent being over age 25. Nikki Rocco, president for domestic distribution at Universal Studios, said, "To have a female lead in an original property absolutely made a difference. Scarlett is a star, and her presence [in the film] made it a lot more appealing for women." Michael Bodey of The Australian commented that women having comprised half the audience is "a seemingly new precedent for an action film" and that, because of its box office performance, Lucy is the film out of all of Besson's film work "likely to have the greatest cultural impact."
Thewire.com's David Sims stated that Johansson's success with Lucy at the box office would be "no mean feat given that it's a European R-rated action movie opening against a PG-13 epic with a more proven action star" in Dwayne Johnson (The Rock). "She's obviously had supporting roles in Marvel blockbusters but [Johansson] has never opened a blockbuster as an above-the-title star," he stated, adding that The Island was her first real attempt at doing so, but was a flop, and that if "tracking holds, Lucy will solidify this new phase in Johansson's career as a marquee name."
In U.S. and Canada, Lucy earned $61 million in ticket sales in 3,173 theaters, and attracted 7.6 million viewers in its opening week. Rocco said that widespread interest from ticket buyers indicated that Lucy brought "a different side to an action film," and that Universal Studios "had maintained high hopes for the 'R-rated original concept female-driven action movie.'" Leading in the weekend's ticket sales on online ticket service Fandango, Lucy outsold action thrillers Oblivion, Elysium and Edge of Tomorrow "at the same point in the sales cycle." It additionally outsold The Bourne Legacy ($38.1 million) and Salt ($36 million), compared to their opening weekend spots, but failed to surpass the opening weekend grosses for Wanted ($50.9 million) and Taken 2 ($49.5 million). Ray Subers of Box Office Mojo stated, "The fact that it even came close, though, is a fairly remarkable feat for this moderately-budgeted original action movie."
Subers said that there are a few contributing factors to Lucy's success, commenting, "First, the movie had an intriguing premise (what if we could use more than 10% of our brains?) that was front-and-center in action-packed, visually-stunning advertisements." He said that this helped Johansson's lead role of Lucy appear to be "a natural extension of the butt-kicking brand she's built" as Black Widow in The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and that "recognizing that audiences were connecting with the material, Universal made the savvy decision to move Lucy up from mid-August," where it instead would have been competing with Guardians of the Galaxy, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and The Expendables 3, a contrast to "this less-competitive late July date." Oliver Gettell of Los Angeles Times commented similarly, citing five reasons for the film's successful opening weekend: A catchy sci-fi hook (the ten percent of brain myth), Johansson as an action star, Besson as a crowd-pleaser (known for films that please audiences, especially ones that craft strong female characters), a summer of strong women (previous successful female-driven films in the year being Maleficent and The Fault in Our Stars), and a slick marketing campaign (the trailers for the film emphasizing a high concept narrative, action and mayhem while de-emphasizing "philosophical and metaphysical pontificating").
Early reviews for the film were positive and mixed, and later generally positive. Lucy was categorized as entertaining and silly, but also polarizing, by critics. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, it holds a score of 67% based on 197 reviews; the rating average is 6.1/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "Enthusiastic and silly, Lucy powers through the movie's logic gaps with cheesy thrills plus Scarlett Johansson's charm – and mostly succeeds at it." On review aggregator Metacritic, the film has a score of 61 out of 100, based on 45 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film a "C+" grade on a scale of A to F. Based on 14 press reviews, French website AlloCiné gave the film an average rating of 2.8 out of 5, while the audience response gave it an average rating of 3.2 based on 8064 responses. The film received a score of 84% on French website Cinémur.
In France, the film received 14 press reviews. Regarding the positive reception, Danielle Attali wrote in Le Journal du dimanche that "Luc Besson's thriller shows a successful talent to entertain and keep in suspense". In Voici, the reviewer also appreciated the work of Besson, stating that he "returns to action films with this wacky cross between a superhero film and film about Asian gangsters, amped up by the always sexy Scarlett Johansson". In Le Parisien, Magali Gruet stated, "Some have called this a feminist film, and though we will not go that far, it would be wrong to deny that a woman is portrayed as the source of solutions intended to save the world." Libération wrote, "Beyond the success or embellishment which adorns each new scene with a spectacular swagger of violence and improbable turns, there is a strong feeling that Luc Besson now makes films from a position beyond merely marketing considerations." Le Nouvel Observateur wrote, "It was unclear how such a contrived portrayal can delude audiences once the novelty becomes dissipated."
Among U.S. reviews, Justin Chang of Variety called Lucy "a slickly engineered showcase for a kickass heroine whom we instinctively, unhesitatingly root for" and an enjoyable, "agreeably goofy, high-concept" speculative narrative devoid of self-importance because "it pays deft, knowing homage to any number of Hollywood sci-fi head-trip classics, embedding its ideas in a dense labyrinth of cinematic references that somehow end up feeling sly rather than shopworn." Jordan Hoffman of The Guardian called the film "mindless and mixed up, but propulsive and fun" and added that "Scarlett Johansson shines in this pseudo-intellectual action flick that represents Luc Besson's finest work" since the film The Fifth Element; he gave Lucy 3/5 stars, while IGN's Jim Vejvoda rated the film a 7.2 and said "this movie is all about Johansson, who's in almost every scene. She ably plays the title character as she transforms from average person to omnipotent entity" and "ultimately, more of Lucy works than doesn't. It's a fun movie even if its 'science' more than strains suspension of disbelief. It's a credit to Besson's style and Johansson's performance that Lucy isn't a train wreck." The San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle said, "You can scoff at Besson's philosophies and hypotheses, but to do that would miss what's in front of you. Lucy is an impeccably realized vision of Besson's view of things."
By contrast, John DeFore of The Hollywood Reporter stated that "plenty of films and novels have envisioned what would happen if we gained conscious control over our entire brain," but that "it's hard to recall one whose ideas were more laughable than this one." He stated that the audience may "roll with the film" as Lucy does things beyond human capability, but that the film does not justify "Lucy's increasingly godlike abilities, which soon include time travel and levitation. Every now and then, a nugget of real philosophy is dropped into the screenplay, but it's surrounded by so much blather that even a generous viewer has trouble using it to justify what Lucy experiences." Writing for LA Weekly, Amy Nicholson stated that Besson "must think the audience is operating with even fewer synapses [than the capacity of ten percent]. Here, his style is slick but hand-holdingly literal" and "as the newly bionic Lucy seeks vengeance, Besson even tries to convince us she's a strong female character, which to the majority of male action directors simply means a sexy, silent badass. The real females in the audience may wonder why a genius would limp across a multi-continental gunfight in five-inch Louboutins."
Among the main criticisms of the film were the ten percent of brain myth, Lucy becoming less empathetic and more robotic as her brain capacity increases, her invincibility, and the use of animal imagery to convey "obvious points." Ralph Blackburn of Belfast Telegraph called the notion of only using ten percent of the brain an "often-quoted idea" that "has obvious Hollywood potential," but, according to leading neuroscientists, is "nothing more than an urban myth." He cited neuropsychology professor Barbara Sahakian, quoting that "it's impossible to work out how much of our brain we are using quantitatively. However, it is definitely much more than 10 per cent." Chang stated that because Besson "seems more interested in engaging, playfully yet seriously, with the various biological, philosophical and metaphysical riddles that [the film] raises," the story is lacking as an action film and is not "much of a thriller – it's virtually an anti-thriller, devoid of suspense or any real sense of danger due to the fact that its heroine is more or less invincible," and that "at times it's hard to shake the sense that a smarter, more unbridled picture might have found a way to slip the bonds of genre altogether." Like Chang, DeFore felt that one of the flaws with the film is Lucy's invincibility because it "nullifies much of the drama to come." Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune said that the first twenty minutes of the film are good, but that by half an hour of runtime, the audience will realize that Lucy has no limits, which makes the film dull after a while with a "limited payoff". The Boston Globe's Ty Burr, on the other hand, stated of the criticisms: "who comes to a Besson movie seeking logic? Lucy stays true to its own invented physics." Besson said he knew of the ten percent myth, and that the film uses it as a metaphor, while Robbie Collin for The Daily Telegraph concluded the film is based on the Kantian model of transcendental idealism, where the human mind imposes order on the world to make sense of it, and without it all relations between objects in space and time would cease to exist.
Lucy has been compared to various films; common examples include Akira, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Matrix, The Tree of Life, Transcendence, and especially Limitless. Chang said, "Lucy's gradual rise to omniscience and omnipotence recalls Neo's own such journey in The Matrix, while her many black-suited Korean opponents suggest another army of Agent Smiths," and added that, when Lucy "uploads herself, Big Brother-style, to every computer and TV screen in the vicinity," the film suggests "a livelier, less ponderous remake" of Transcendence. Hoffman said, "The end of the movie goes completely off the rails, but in a way that is charming in its stupidity. It's like 2001: A Space Odyssey for those with short attention spans, and those people need to have their minds blown, too, I suppose." Matt Prigge of Metro New York, while calling the film "stupid, smart and awesome," stated that it "smartly goes in a wildly different direction than the amusingly amoral Limitless, in which Bradley Cooper's character abused a similar drug, but used it to gain success, money and power. He was selfish. Lucy is selfless." Prigge added, "If Lucy is Limitless, it's Limitless with more than a dash of The Tree of Life, and even a bit" of the film Under the Skin, which also stars Johansson. Burr commented that "where a fully juiced cerebellum just made Cooper's character really, really capable, Lucy undergoes a metaphysical makeover that, by the film's midpoint, has started to rearrange time, space, and her body." Comparing Lucy's powers to characters Professor X, The Doctor, Dr. Manhattan, Galactus, God from Bruce Almighty, Scarlet Witch, and Tetsuo from Akira, Hollywood.com's Jordan Smith stated that "Lucy may be the most powerful film character ever created," but indicated that Tetsuo's powers might match hers.
|2014||Nominated||Alliance of Women Film Journalists||Kick Ass Award for Best Female Action Star||Scarlett Johansson|
|2014||2nd place||Village Voice Film Poll||Best Actress|
|2015||Nominated||Saturn Award||Best Action/Adventure Film||Lucy|
|Nominated||Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards||Best Actress in an Action Movie||Scarlett Johansson|
|Nominated||Jupiter Award||Best International Actress|
|Nominated||MTV Movie Awards||Best Female Performance|
|3rd place||National Society of Film Critics Awards||Best Actress|
|Nominated||Visual Effects Society Awards||Outstanding Created Environment in a Photoreal/Live Action Feature Motion Picture||Richard Bluff, Stephen Bevins , Stephen DeLuca, Tiffany Yung|
Hollywood journalist Nikki Finke reported in a July post on her film industry blog that: "In August, a Lucy graphic novel will be released online with four chapters appearing every other day for one week." The first chapter of the semi-animated graphic novel was published on the international version of the movie's official website and features the same story material as seen in trailers with picture elements that move as scrolling takes place.
In an April 2014 WonderCon interview, Besson was asked about the possibility of a Lucy sequel and stated, "With Lucy, you'll see the end of the film. I don’t know how we can make a sequel, but if the film is huge, then I will think about it." In August, while promoting the film in Taipei, where scenes were shot, Besson commented further about the possibility of a sequel: "I don't see how we can do one. It's not made for that. If I find something good enough, maybe I will, but for now I don't even think about it." In June 2015, it was announced a sequel is in development. In October 2017 it was confirmed that Besson had completed the script.