Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is a student in Taiwan, and after a night of party hard celebration she is looking forward to getting back to her apartment and winding down for a few hours, then getting back to her studies. But Richard (Pilou Asbæk), her short-term boyfriend, has other ideas, he's a bit dodgy and as they stand outside a hotel he insists she go in with a locked case and hand it over to somebody within. Lucy may not be a genius, but she can sense when something isn't quite right with the vague excuses for not doing it himself Richard is concocting, and refuses - but then he snaps a handcuff onto one of her wrists, the other end attached to the case. She is furious, but the only way to rid herself of it is to go inside and hand it over...
What's in the case, then? As our heroine quickly finds out, it's nothing anybody should be messing with, in a film from director Luc Besson which apparently had him seeing all those superhero flicks proliferating at the box office and thinking, hey, I could have some of that. Actually this began from his amusement at the idea we humans only use ten percent of our brain capacity, widely known to be an urban myth but the sort of thing that can spark off all sorts of ideas in the creative mind, the most obvious being what would happen if we managed to reach one hundred percent? The answer to that left science behind and ventured into the spiritual, as if to say once we advance to a certain point we become one with the infinite.
But before we reached that stage we had the story to be getting on with, and the hapless Lucy is kidnapped by the bad men led by Choi Min-sik who wanted the case (and shoot Richard dead) because they wish to use her as a drugs mule. Not the best start to her day, and she hasn't even been to bed yet, but as you may have guessed it was drugs the case contained - a very special brand which in a science fiction manner not unlike that used in then-recent hit Limitless will boost the mental ability of all who take it. Yet whereas Limitless was more a self-help course in movie form, Besson preferred to go as far with the concept as he could, and that meant mixing gangster violence with Akira-style psychic powers and eventual cosmic commentary on superpowers.
One thing was for sure, Marvel would not have gone as far with their characters as Besson does here, for the most part they had to stay family friendly and the world Lucy moves through may have been over the top fantastical, but it didn't represent some simple wish-fulfilment concoctions as most of the conventional super-blockbusters were doing. Not unless you yearned to be a deity, which some may view as blasphemous, yet in this context was more wacky and outrageous as Lucy finds she holds the power over the universe simply thanks to having a pack of that drug sewn up inside her. When she is given a few boots to the stomach by one of the South Korean gangsters, the pack splits and she begins to ingest an overdose of the substance that, as a counter on the screen keeps telling us, is gradually widening her horizons.
Now she is hyperintelligent, and Johansson depicts this not entirely unlike the way she interpreted her alien behaviour in her other sci-fi effort of this year, Under the Skin. But more than that, she can use vast psychic powers that are growing in strength, so what to do with this? How about seek out Morgan Freeman, a scientist who acts more or less as one of those white coated boffins from a nineteen-fifties giant monster movie, there to impart the pseudo-science to offer a sheen of repsectability to the preposterous goings-on. It's here Besson hits a problem, fair enough now Lucy can shoot people (not always bad guys, either) and get into car chases, but once you are the most brilliant person on the planet, what do you do with that? Increasing the sum of your knowledge to fit everything in is all very well, but what next? This is why, after less than ninety minutes entertainment, the ending comes as an anticlimax - weird, isn't it? You become God and there are no worlds now to conquer, an issue superhero movies would to well to take heed of: you can do anything. Now what? Music by Eric Serra.