Project Power – A Familiar story with only Half a Twist

Rating: 3 out of 5.
Project Power': Everything You Need to Know Before Watching - What's on  Netflix
Drugs are bad M’kay Credit: Netflix

Anything can be a superhero movie nowadays right? That is a little bit how you feel after watching Project Power, the latest original from Netflix, which despite starring some big names never quite packs the super powered punch it was intended to.

Last week I wrote about Umbrella Academy Season 2. A superhero story that whilst at the odd end of the spectrum, is packed full of enough quirky characters and, solid action and well tuned story telling to make an unusual superhero premise into something more than the sum of its parts. Saying that I mentioned just how close we are to the bottom of the barrel with the superhero genre. With just about every well known idea played out, filmmakers turn to a mixture of remakes, niche comics and in some cases, just shoving superhero stuff into unrelated scripts. Wonder where I am going with this?

Not a Powerful Plot

The basic premise of Project Power isn’t anything revolutionary – a new drug is given out to dealers by a mysterious professional outfit, who clearly have nefarious motives beyond what they will say. All we know is the drug “Power” does what it says on the tin. For five minutes, the user will gain a random power, from super strength to invisibility or even if you are unlucky, exploding in a ball of flame.

We follow Robin (Dominique Fishback), a dealer with a hard life just trying to make ends meet, whilst Frank Shaver (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is the New Orlean’s cop trying to keep the streets safe. Add into the mix the driven Art (Jamie Foxx) who will do anything and go through anyone to find the source of Power.

Project Power is not a bad film, far from it. The three protagonists turn in good performances, if not a little by the numbers, and visually the cinematography is stellar, with some really interesting perspective shots that’s even I can appreciate. The action isn’t terrible either; good action set pieces involving Foxx and a couple with Gordon-Levitt, the best of which is very early on when Foxx fights a dealer hopped up on Power in a run down apartment building.

The drama is decent too. All characters struggling with some aspects of their lives. Fishback’s Jordan is the emotional centre of the film, as she struggles to balance a difficult home life with expectations of school and the life as a dealer she maintains to take care of her family. Jordan does a great job of projecting emotion into these challenges, making her journey believable. It’s a level of depth and complexity one wouldn’t expect in a super ‘hero’ movie, and that does lead to the films most fundamental drawback.

With Great Power…

The premise where a drug that makes you super powerful could have some really interesting ideas to play with, like how it will affect people’s morale and ethical choices – will it create heroes or villains? Instead of that, we get a fairly standard crime drama, with the odd dose of comedy and a typical helping of polished 2020 action. In short, the film’s big draw is almost entirely wasted.

Throughout the two hour runtime the actual powers come into play a few times. Though one or two moments make for a decent action sequence, even here where you would expect super abilities to change the dynamic, they really don’t add much. Most fights boil down to hand to hand combat or some gunplay, with the most frequent use of powers seeming to be the generic “he hits harder” or “he is harder to kill.” Whether it was budget restrictions (which at $85M it shouldn’t be) or no obvious ideas in the screenwriting department, it would have been interesting to see a little more diversity, or at least two different super powered individuals fighting each other.

This isn’t to say that a super power movie has to be a blockbuster film, with superhumans beating the crap out of each other with cars and dropping buildings down. Some of the better iterations recently have done well with a more subtle interpretation, such as Umbrella Academy or The Boys. But even though subtle, the powered element in those universes have significantly shaped the world and lives within them. Here however, the drugs could have just as simply made users immune to pain or a little stronger and the plot would have played out more or less the same.

A Movie that Movied

It’s a shame too as all the ingredients seem to be present to have made something a bit more special. There is a solid chemistry at play here between the leads, and the New Orlean setting allowed for a diverse cast that felt natural and believable in a time where diversity in movies can come across as forced and unearned. It is a positive step forward to see African American actors star in a mainstream action film together without said film being marketed on this basis or the movie ramming it down out throats. Long may this attitude to diversity in movies continue.

Despite this it Project Power flattered to deceive. It was marketed well, starred strong actors who did their bit. But at a base level, this is a run of the mill action flick that were it not for it’s well crafted 2020 visuals would not look out of place on the shelf of Blockbuster in the 90’s. It’s becoming a bit of a theme for Netflix, who have been spending a fortune on movie originals over the past few years. Properties are either critically acclaimed but not mainstay successful like Uncut Gems, The Irishman or Roma, or “OK” action movies like Extraction or Project Power.

It’s early days for Netflix, who have been operating in a studio like capacity since 2015. Whilst they may be searching for that first big hit, Project Power is an indication that though they have some work to do, they are heading in the right direction.

What did you think of Project Power? Let us know in the comments below!

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