Film Review: Project Power
Directors: Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost
Streaming on Netflix: 08.14
It was 20 years ago this summer that the superhero movie was changed forever with the release of Bryan Singer‘s X-Men, a bold, smart and socially conscious picture, with genetic mutation and superhuman abilities presented as a metaphor for LGBT+ issues. Singer is persona non grata in Hollywood these days—and with good reason—but the influence of three of his four X-Men movies remains. With The Umbrella Academy and now Project Power, it is abundantly clear that if you want to create an edgy story about superpowers, it’s the model to follow. The latter is a gritty new Netflix thriller film that tackles the exact same concepts as X-Men, but this time as a metaphor for drug addiction and drug trafficking.
On the streets of New Orleans, word begins to spread about a mysterious new pill that unlocks superpowers unique to each user. The catch: You don’t know what will happen until you take it. While some develop bulletproof skin, invisibility or super strength, others exhibit a deadlier reaction. But when the pill escalates crime within the city to dangerous levels, teenage dealer Robin (Dominique Fishback, The Hate U Give) gets caught up with a local cop (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and a mysterious stranger (Jamie Foxx) with a hidden agenda, and banding together just might be that the only way to track down and stop the group responsible for creating the pill.
Directors Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost (Paranormal Activity 3, Paranormal Activity 4, Nerve) do a bang-up job helming this small—at least by superhero hero standards—action flick, and the much-sought-after spec script by Mattson Tomlin was enough to land him a gig co-writing The Batman with Matt Reeves. This film isn’t quite as clever or groundbreaking as it wants to be, but it’s an absorbing crime story that is filled with heart-stopping sequences, impressive visual effects (especially an eye-popping sequence featuring a bank robber with chameleonic camouflage that easily ranks among the most memorable I’ve seen in a superhero film in years) and thrilling performances from its three leads. Foxx is in top form, and whenever that can be said, you have one of the most intense and exciting presences on film. And I might be dating myself here, but since the early days of 3rd Rock From The Sun, I was saying, “Forget French Stewart: that kid who plays Tommy is a great actor and he’ll be huge someday.” But Fishback’s Robin is really the main character, and she’s more than up to the task.
The similarity to X-Men is undeniable, and some Marvel purists may be put off by that. There are also some logic flaws that require a certain suspension of disbelief, and with the level of graphic violence, this is very definitely not for kids. Project Power may not be anything influential enough to have a major impact on the moviegoing landscape, and it would be a mistake to try to turn it into a franchise. But it’s a lot of fun to watch this genre zig instead of zag, and it’s a perfect wrap up—and metaphor—for a strange movie summer that was forced to adapt and evolve in order to survive. –Patrick Gibbs