Lucy is a superhero movie that doesn’t know it’s a superhero movie, so it’s the most interesting superhero movie of the year. Lucy’s “origin story” is a kick to her stomach and a zero-gravity seizure, and in one scene Scarlett Johansson scarfs down a bunch of blue rocks like her life depends on it. (Lucy pays homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey and Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam—at the same time.) Without mythology to reference or fandom to service, Lucy is free to surprise you.
“Surprise” is something comic-book movies used to do. Think of The Dark Knight, filtering Batman Begins’ epic sweep into a Michael Mann- inflected scuzz-pulp crime thriller. Or The Avengers, transforming a Mega-Icon Mash-up into a delicate, delirious work- place sitcom. Back in April, Captain America: The Winter Soldier sure looked like something new: a spy thriller sequelized from a war movie. Yet I’m hard-pressed to say what actually surprised me. Black Widow and Captain America almost had a thing, didn’t. Nick Fury almost died, didn’t. Deck chairs were almost rearranged, weren’t.
Then came summer’s two big superhero films: X-Men: Days of Future Past and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, both adapted from decades-old comic-book plots. X-Men felt like one of Irwin Allen’s 1970s disaster films: a goofy romp classed up by stars paychecked into an attention-deficit cameo carousel. So what if you knew that nobody would stay dead? The ride was fun.