Look, let’s get this out of the way: yes, the whole “we only use 10% of our brains” thing is an urban myth. It’s one of those things that gets said a lot, and seems to be accepted by some people, but it’s not true, and really doesn’t make much sense. And so, yeah, I suppose you could dismiss Lucy based off the fact that its entire premise revolves around that – it tells the story of a young woman who is tapping into her brain capacity more and more, giving her powers beyond any explanation.
And look, I guess I can’t argue with you if that’s your hang-up with the film, but in the end, the brain thing is a MacGuffin of sorts. No, it’s not what everyone is after, so it’s not a literal MacGuffin, but it’s a plot device – an excuse to let the film unfold, a hook to make things work. And whether it’s the 10% of our brain or a magical drug that gives her powers, it doesn’t really matter that much to the film around it. Well, more accurately, it shouldn’t matter that much. Because, really, Lucy is a pretty dumb movie. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily bad, mind you; it’s just a gleefully silly movie that wants to make a fun action flick, and needed an excuse to make it work.
And work it often does, if you can give yourself over to the silliness. Luc Besson knows what he’s doing behind a camera, and his staging and pacing of Lucy is generally a joy every time he lets the action unfold. There are scenes here that feel like what we kind of wanted The Matrix to be – a world where rules could be re-written – and every time Lucy goes for broke, the end result is silly, over-the-top fun, from a destructive car chase to a series of ineffective gun battles.
The problem, ultimately, comes in the disconnect between Lucy‘s best parts (the action) and the weakest – a part of the film that could charitably be called “technobabble”. In the best version of Lucy that exists in some alternate world, Besson lets the absurd premise dictate the film, and lets the gleefully weird action shine. Instead, Lucy takes itself oddly seriously at points, and as Lucy herself becomes more and more godlike, the film gives itself over to bizarre abstractions that feel like 2001 if it were…well, if it were filmed as a really dopey action movie. (Here’s a helpful guide to watching Lucy: if Morgan Freeman is in a scene, it’s because Besson needs him to keep everything from seeming as stupid as it is. Nothing against him, but every scene with Freeman is successively dumber than the ones before it.)
It’s hard to hate Lucy that much – it’s just a dopey, goofy movie that takes itself a bit too seriously, and feels, to steal a phrase from Matt Singer’s review, “like 2001: A Space Odyssey as reimagined by a pothead college dropout”. It’s entertaining and silly, to put it mildly, and it takes itself a bit too seriously by the end. (I really can’t express easily the weirdness of the ending, which I kind of loved as a gonzo filmmaking choice, even while I was baffled by using it as a way of ending this story.) That doesn’t mean it’s not fun, and it doesn’t mean it’s not entertaining; it just means that it’s pretty dumb, and ironically, doesn’t make the most of its potential.