08/04/2014 05:19 pm ET Updated Oct 04, 2014

Lucy: Highly Evolved

Luc Besson's "Lucy" is Batman Diogenes, wandering through the world seeking truth, knowledge and fighting for justice. Unlike her male counterparts, she is unencumbered by the heavy load of testosterone. She is able to see more clearly. She doesn't get side tracked by the blandishments of sex or power. She is on an evolutionary mission.

It doesn't diminish her quest that it occurs by accident. The victim and beneficiary of a drug deal gone wrong, Lucy is subjected to a drug dose which expands her mental capacities. She takes us on the stages of this journey even as she fights to protect herself and others from the evil cartel.

Lucy is the latest in a string of strong outsiders created by writer, director, producer Besson - Jean Reno as "Leon: The Professional," Bruce Willis in "The Fifth Element," Anne Parillaud (Besson's wife) as "Le Femme Nikita," Jason Statham in the "Transporter" films and Liam Neeson in the "Taken" films. They are all flawed anti-heroes. Each confronts seemingly superior forces of malevolence. Each is armed with intelligence, tenacity and a strong code of ethics which propels them forward to confront overwhelming opposition. At odds or at least angles with the society around them, these protagonists are not looking for rewards as much as a way to order their universe so that they may come to terms with it.

Make no mistake about it: Lucy may be Besson's creation. But Scarlett Johansson breathes life into the character, carrying us along on her fevered mission. Johansson is riveting, beautiful, dangerous and unpredictable. A superb actress, she makes Besson's scientific premise and the action plausible, holding dramatic tension throughout. Unlike Angelina Jolie in "Salt" or the cartoonish Tomb Raiderettes or Saoirse Ronan in "Hanna," she sketches a complex character projecting intelligence, growth and vulnerability. She builds on the great women action heroes in Soderbergh's "Haywire" and Besson's own "La Femme Nikita." It's a wonder that the evil men in these films aren't cowed into submission. There is certainly ample precedent, though not as fully realized. What is the matter with these villains . . . haven't they been to the movies in the past few years?

But Besson gives us more than just another outlier heroine. He boldly places her in the history of human development - relating her to science and evolution. This is no right wing revenge fantasy but a tale of progress. In the war on women, one would certainly not want to face Lucy! Besson seems to be suggesting that the woman hero's particular role is advancing civilization beyond its male created quagmire to a higher stage of development through acquisition of knowledge, rather than conquest. Sure Lucy fights bad guys. But her gift to us is not so much the Batman given triumph over criminals or the comfort of wealth, but the promise that knowledge will protect and advance humankind. Is evolution's next stage accessed through an action heroine? As Diogenes, the ultimate critic of a corrupt society tried to show: the social good is often better revealed through action than mere theory!