There was a period of time where Luc Besson's name on the poster was a cause for much excitement, coming off the back of Subway, Nikita and Leon, and - for me - culminating in 1997's glorious eccentric sci-fi blockbuster The Fifth Element and then took something of a tumble with Joan Of Arc in 1999 (not a bad film by any measure, just a muddled one).
That film seemed to effect Besson as well, he took 6 years off, made two more films then announced a retirement from directing, which lasted three years. Things picked up with the utterly daft The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec, but more recent fare such as Robert De Niro's caper The Family has seemed closer to Besson's work creating stories for his production company Europa Corp.
Besson has always supplemented his directing career with one producing and writing popcorn efforts, this can be seen in the - pretty poor - action movie Taxi way back in 1998, and it continued through a number of Jet Li and Jason Statham vehicles, as well as the recent Taken franchise.
His latest film as director straddles a strange line between the projects he seemed to save for himself and this simpler fare.
Scarlett Johansson plays the titular character, a little hungover and holiday, she's got mixed up with a disreputable character who needs a favour. All she has to do is deliver a suitcase to a man in a hotel. Forced into assisting Lucy finds herself a drug mule, but worse, a mysterious blue crystalline designer drug is sewn into his stomach to avoid detection, but thanks to an unfriendly goon's boot the drug spills out and into her system.
This drug begins to unlock the full potential of Lucy's brain, going up in increments from the 10% we normally use (a misnomer that Besson has acknowledged). Still, as Lucy edges towards 100% the concept has some wonderful potentiality, with the film cutting back and forth to a lecture being given by Morgan Freeman's Professor Norman that coincidentally fills in the exposition.
However the rules and uses of Lucy's powers are a little vaguely drawn, in one scene she knocks a room full of gun toting policeman unconscious, yet later we're supposed to be worried about her facing a hallway of guards. There's a lot of fun to be had with the idea, but the film seems to take itself awkwardly seriously as the wrong moments, for instance, a car chase in oncoming traffic falls short of a similar scene in The Bourne Idenity.
Additionally the antagonist - Mr. Jang played by Oldboy's Min-sik Choi - seems to only really be there for convenience, hounding Lucy across the world in order to create a sense of menace, when an earlier scene aboard an aeroplane establishes a much more interesting body-horror threat that is quickly, disappointingly discarded.
Throughout all of this though Johansson is fantastic, heaving the film up onto her shoulders and dragging it towards the finish line. Her distant glacial expression when she realises what she's becoming conveys a wonderfully God-like curiosity towards the now feeble humans around her, and yet, manages to maintain your empathy as she becomes super-human. It's just a shame that the film lets her down by not delivering any punch on its gloriously barmy premise.