The trailer for Luc Besson’s Lucy arrives with Scarlett Johansson tearing up Taipei as a super-strong, hyperintelligent meta-human. Johansson plays the title character: a young woman forced into being a drug mule for the mob. A violent encounter leaks the substances she is carrying in her stomach into her system, where it sets about expanding her brain capacity, bestowing her with superhero-like powers and granting intelligence that far exceeds the greatest minds (including Morgan Freeman’s bemused professor).
It’s another interesting career choice for Johansson. She’s started toying with her image — using her stardom to win parts that deconstruct it. Her last three starring roles have shared a similar theme — the characters are people, or beings, who evolve, mutate or vanish altogether. In Her, Johansson’s self-aware OS develops in intelligence, ascending to an intellectual plane far above the humans she interacts with. As an initially dispassionate alien in Under the Skin, the human body her character occupies begins to affect how she views the humans she hunts down. In Lucy she’s the future human with access to 28 per cent of cerebral capacity (beating the rest of us by a good 18 per cent). She can stop and reverse time, unlock secrets beyond our universe. And throw people around a lot too.
A trio of flourishes may also be just the thing Besson needs, after veering in a quite different direction with his recent work. His last three films as a director have failed to capture the imagination of audiences or critics, and seen him stray from the action-led work that made his name. Animated film Arthur 3, mafia comedy The Family, and ambitious Aung San Suu Kyi biopic The Lady all disappointed, with many observers commenting that the Parisian seemed unsuited to projects so radically different from what he has done before. Lucy suggests he is back in an action frame of mind. But the casting of Johansson injects just enough class into a trashy concept to transcend his recent work (and the competition).
We’ll have to wait until the film’s August release to see if this is the continuation of Johansson’s success, and marks Besson’s resurgence as a director.