This year is a bonanza for singularity movies, starting with Her (great), Transcendence (fun, but didn’t deliver on expectations), and now Lucy.

Overall, I liked a lot of things about Lucy although it has a few shortcomings.

Lucy spoilers ahead. Spoilers. Did you hear that? Now is your chance to stop reading.

The basic plot from Wikipedia: Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is a woman living in Taipei, Taiwan who is forced to work as a drug mule for the mob. A drug implanted in her body inadvertently leaks into her system, which allows her to use more than the “normal” 10% of her brain’s capacity, thus changing her into a superhuman. As a result, she can absorb information instantaneously, is able to move objects with her mind, and can choose not to feel pain or other discomforts, in addition to other abilities.

I was expecting two things from this movie:

Great action scenes. This is a Luc Besson movie. Think Fifth Element, Taxi, District 13. Great action scenes and car chases are staples. Delivered as expected.

Good movie visualizations of posthumanism. The movie description and trailer indicates that Lucy gets super human ability, starting with the ability to control her own body, then other humans, and then basic matter. I think this was done great. The progression over the course of the movie feels logical, and the ending in particular, was spectacular. What happens to Lucy after she meets the professor felt spot on.

Those are the strengths. There are a few weaknesses.

10% of the brain. Lucy stumbled when it chose this concept of “humans only use 10% of their brain” as a way to describe what was happening as Lucy progressed to greater and greater capabilities. We know this is scientifically false. A freak nanotechnology accident would be more plausible.

However, I think it’s more useful to see this as metaphor: I’m guessing Luc Besson wanted an easily-understood gauge that ran from human to ultimate-posthuman. And what we got was a percentage number to stand in for that. So ignore the scientific correctness, and just think of it as a power gauge.

Philosophy. But there’s a bigger area in which the movie fell down. That’s in the philosophical underpinnings, which take up a significant amount of time, but don’t make a lot of sense. io9 described it this way:

When you’ve got a badass superhero with evil futuristic drug lord enemies, you’d better have a damn good theory about the meaning of existence if we’re going to take lots of time out to talk about it. And Lucy doesn’t. It’s like Besson read about the superintelligence explosion and the singularity, then decided to slather some soundbytes from What the Bleep Do We Know?! on top of what would otherwise have been a really compelling superhero story.

By comparison, The Matrix does plenty of philosophy about existence, but it’s tightly woven into the story and conflict. In Lucy, the philosophy has nothing to do with the conflict (e.g. the drug lords chasing her), so it can only be taken as a commentary on our world, and in that context, it fizzles out.

In Rolling Stone, Luc Besson said he wanted to do something more than just the usual shoot ’em up:

The bait-and-switch aspects of Lucy — make viewers think they’re watching a trashy action flick, then thrust them into 2001: A Space Odyssey territory — shows the evolution of the 50-year-old Besson, who says he’s grown tired of the shoot-’em-up genre. “I’m not the same moviegoer or moviemaker as I was 10 years ago,” he says. “There are action films made now that are really well done, but after 40 minutes, I get bored. It’s all the same.”

Overall, Lucy was a lot of fun, and what happens to the character Lucy at the end is more plausible than what happened to Dr. Will Caster in the end of Transcendence.

Now I can’t help but imagine Luc Besson directing The Last Firewall.