Posts Tagged ‘Scarlett Johansson’

Lucy

Posted: September 3, 2014 in Film reviews
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Directed by Luc Besson. Starring Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman.

A young American student named Lucy is in Taiwan, ostensibly studying but mainly partying. She’s been dating a man named Richard for a week and doesn’t trust him when he asks her to deliver a briefcase to a businessman. After he tricks her into delivering the case her fears are proven correct as Richard is gunned down in front of her and it turns out the businessman is a gangster named Mr Jang.

The suitcase contained four packets of blue powder, a new drug that Mr Jang is exporting to Europe. Now his prisoner, Lucy, along with three others, has a bag of the drug sewn into her stomach and the plan is to use her as a mule to smuggle the drugs into Europe.

Before she can be put on a plane however one of Jang’s henchmen kicks her in the stomach, rupturing the bag. A massive overdose of the drug doesn’t kill Lucy though, instead it works on her brain, forging new connections and allowing her to access more than the 10% we (apparently) use.

Overpowering her guards she heads for Europe on the trail of the remaining three bags of drugs, but as her powers grow exponentially, and she begins to use an increasing percentage of her brain, the question becomes; what happens when she hits 100%?

Luc Besson + Scarlett Johansson, a film that marries high octane action with existential thought, Lucy should be absolutely great. Unfortunately it isn’t.

The film starts well, with Johansson doing a bang up job as the terrified girl completely out of her depth surrounded by men who really don’t care if she lives or dies. Unfortunately as her brain power increases, my interest decreased in direct correlation.

Part of the problem is that Lucy becomes too powerful too quickly, and whilst her initial scenes kicking arse are fun, as she becomes more and more adept at using her powers the drama ekes out of the story. Suddenly she can change her hair colour just by thinking about it, and control TVs, computers and mobile phones, and she can render people unconscious with the flick of her wrist, so any time someone pulls a gun you don’t worry because there’s no way to harm her.

It’s hard to decide what kind of film Besson thinks he’s making but I think it boils down to “a film that isn’t nearly as clever as it thinks it is.” Using stock footage of animals being stalked, or mating to highlight what’s going on the film isn’t a terrible idea, but given the film has a sparse runtime anyway you do have to consider how much of the film is either lifted from National Geographic documentaries, or just involves Morgan Freeman spouting reams of exposition whilst some pretty pictures go by.

Some of the action set pieces are good, and the car chase through Paris is well put together, even if it’s essentially pointless, and this does at least show that Besson still has an eye for action. Johansson has proven herself a more than capable screen presence this year alone with both Captain America 2 and Under the Skin providing excellent showcases of her abilities, and she undeniably looks good in high heels wielding two guns, and she plays both the terror stricken young woman, and the superior, almost alien, woman equally well, the trouble is she doesn’t have enough to get her teeth into. She had more action in Captain America 2, and as the lead in Under the Skin she portrayed an emotionless superior being, yes, but one that showed glimpses of something else beneath, whereas with Lucy all she’s required to do is surface.

By the time the film enters its final third Besson proves he’s watched 2001 and Altered States as he takes Lucy on a metaphysical journey through time and space before he cribs from the Lawnmower Man and leaves Morgan Freeman holding the world’s least convincing looking USB stick…

A good director and a great star can’t rescue a film that’s short on ideas, and short on minutes to expound on them. As a more straightforward action film, or a more cerebral thriller it might have worked. Instead it falls between two stools and cracks its head open on the floor. And don’t even get me started on the “we only use 10% of our brain” malarkey.

It’s not terrible but if you want to watch a popcorn film about what happens when the human mind is expanded then I’d suggest you watch Bradley Cooper in Limitless. It’s not a great film, but it’s better than Lucy.

Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo. Starring Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L Jackson and Robert Redford.

It’s several years since Steve Rogers, aka Captain America (aka Evans!), was woken from deep freeze to find himself in the modern world, and several years since the battle of New York (see Avengers Assemble) and since then the good Captain has continued to serve his country as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

He’s having doubts however, doubts fuelled during a mission to rescue hostages from aboard a S.H.I.E.L.D ship that’s been captured by pirates, when he discovers that the Natasha Romanoff , aka Black Widow (Johansson) has a different mission, one that potentially puts the hostages in jeopardy.

Back in the US Rogers confronts Nick Fury (Jackson) the head of S.H.I.E.L.D, demanding to know why he wasn’t aware of Black Widow’s mission, and the two men clash over how they see the world, with Rogers’ old fashioned, if naïve, nobility at odds with Fury’s world weary pragmatism. Rogers’ is even more worried when Fury shows him S.H.I.E.L.D’s three brand new helicarriers which form Project Insight. When launched they’ll have the potential to eliminate threats, before they happen.

Fury takes on board Rogers’ concerns, and asks Alexander Pierce (Redford) a senior S.H.I.E.L.D official to hold fire on the launch of Project Insight. Pierce agrees but soon after Fury is attacked by a group of armed assailants led by the mysterious Winter Soldier, a merciless assassin who seems to have been around since the 1950s. The next day Pierce demands to know what Fury told Rogers. Although Fury gave Rogers a flash drive full of information Cap refuses to divulge this to Pierce, who in return has Captain America declared a fugitive.

Suddenly on the run from S.H.I.E.L.D Captain America finds he has few allies left, aside from Romanoff and a veteran soldier he’s befriended named Sam Wilson. As the net tightens around them, Rogers and his allies realise that some old enemies of Captain America could be about to topple S.H.I.E.L.D from within, and that the Winter Solider might be a foe that Captain American can’t bring himself to defeat…

There aren’t many sequels that continue the story of an original film whilst still doing something completely different. Too many sequels are just more of the same, so you have to give Marvel kudos for going from a World War 2 period piece to a 1970’s style political thriller that’s bang up to date with its allusions to drone warfare. This isn’t a blockbuster that plays it safe, given than what happens during this 2 ¼ hours will radically alter the Marvel cinematic universe.

It continues to surprise me that I like Captain America as much as I do, because usually American patriotism and tub thumping are guaranteed to turn me off, yet for some reason Captain America is a hero I find myself rooting for. Maybe it’s Evans’ earnest yet vulnerable performance, maybe it’s the fact that his straight arrow, boy scout naiveté is kinda refreshing after so many heroes who are shaded grey in recent years. Don’t get me wrong, I like characters who have flaws, and Rogers’ definitely does, When he debates with Fury you can see both sides of the argument and it isn’t like Captain America is right and everyone else is wrong, but his man out of time/ World War 2 heritage allows him to play the noble hero in a way that perhaps a 21st Century character can no longer believably do.

Whatever the reason, you can keep Iron Man and Thor and the Hulk, Cap is probably my favourite Marvel cinematic hero, though I have to say Black Widow isn’t far behind, and it really is about time she got her own movie. It’s easy to focus on the cat suit, but Romanoff is more than just a sex symbol, down in no small part to Johansson’s performance. She makes her a believable character, both as a human being and as an insanely acrobatic killing machine (although it’d be nice if she had a hint of a Russian accent given her origins.)

Jackson really was inspired casting as Nick Fury, and though he is just channelling that Bad Mother F**ker shtick he can probably do in his sleep, here it’s perfect for the role, and when you see him sharing the screen with an icon like Redford you realise just how much screen presence he has, because he’s never overawed when he goes toe to toe with Redford’s quietly domineering Pierce.

Redford is wonderful casting, granting the film heft as well as harkening back to an era of political thrillers that, though they might have been lacking flying aircraft carriers and laser guns, still share some DNA with this modern day blockbuster.

Some will say it’s too long, but really compared to anything Peter Jackson makes these days it’s practically a short, and some will complain that there’s too much running jumping and explosions, but at the end of the day this is a superhero film, a big budget blockbuster. It wasn’t going to end with Captain America and the Winter Solider having an earnest debate in the rain. What makes this a great film is that it does balance the spectacular with the thoughtful, and whilst it might not be quite as clever as it thinks it is (you’re never really in any doubt who are the good guys and who the bad) it would have been so much easier to make this a by the numbers action flick, which it most assuredly is not.

Yes if you’ve not seen the other Marvel films (and maybe even if you have) you might be slightly confused at times, and the swell of new characters and plot points might be a touch overwhelming, though Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson/Falcon is a nice addition to the Marvel family (and no offence to Jeremy Renner but he’s far cooler than Hawkeye), but these are really minor criticisms.

The only question for me is whether I prefer The Winter Solider to The First Avenger, and it’s a tough call, First Avenger was a great period piece and origin story, but the film did limp a little towards the end, whilst The Winter Solider is far better paced, but lacks the more original setting of the first film. I’ll probably go with the first film, but only just.

Great cast, great set pieces, thoughtful and funny, and downright melancholic in places, this might not be Avengers Assemble, but it’s pretty damn close.