At the height of the world struggling against a backdrop of racial injustice and the ravaging of the coronavirus, Netflix provides light-hearted entertainment in the form of Project Power.
Project Power is the birthchild of Mattson Tomlin. Tomlin, a newer screenwriter whose fantastic concept work for this film (called initially Power), spurred a multi-studio bidding contest for the rights to produce the script. These contests are usually directly proportional to how well the industry perceives the potential success of a film. Equally often, do not occur with projects written by “mostly unknown” writers. Project Power comes in at the height of an industry dominated by superhero narratives. This is partially the reason why multiple studios became excited. The development and pre-production sections of filmmaking can only take us so far into understanding what the film is. So, what is Project Power?
“The next evolution of the human species.”
The daughter of Art (Jamie Foxx) is kidnapped by an organization that is mass-producing a new drug called Power. The drug temporarily gives its users a random superpower or randomly causes them to explode. In this film, Art is exacting revenge against this organization while also searching for his daughter; meanwhile, Robin (Dominique Fishback) is a teenage drug dealer who begins peddling Power. Robin is an intelligent aspiring rapper who deals drugs to help take care of her mother.
Frank (Joseph Gordon- Levitt), a police officer who relies on Robin for his supply of Power, is attempting to even the playing field as criminals begin to use Power to conduct crimes. In this gritty crime thriller meshed with the genre tropes of a superhero movie, we witness this concept realized in surprisingly heartwarming ways and attempts to provide a unique voice for a genre criticized for lacking particular distinctions between films.
“If there was a pill that could give you 5 minutes of pure power, would you take it?”
The casting for this film is astonishing since we have seldom seen Fishback nor Gordon-Levitt in a movie like this before. The last time we saw Jamie Foxx in a superpower-infused universe was The Amazing Spiderman 2 in 2014. Nevertheless, the cast delivers a relatively meaningful performance and are the highlights of nearly every scene. Additionally, the special effects and cinematography are, by definition, amazing. The task visual effects artists have in realistically portraying superpowers is daunting in and of itself. It is a breath of fresh air that they do so in a way that matches the grittier nature of the film.
A person who emits fire from their pores or can camouflage into their surrounding environment will not look like a human being that we are used to seeing. The former has visibly burnt flesh. The latter has scaley skin and does not entirely mesh with their environment. Much like how animals perform camouflage in nature. The scenes themselves, action sequences or not, are shot beautifully. I could sing many praises for the costume design, set design, the misé-en-scene (how a frame of the film looks), and the general “look” of the film itself. On the other hand, there is a rather significant problem with the film.
“There are no laws on this drug. They don’t exist officially.”
While the story concept is enticing, and the final product looks impressive, the final script feels unfinished. As riveting as the cast performances are, their characters do not have the depth one would expect from a crime thriller or a movie with superpowers. Frank is a prime example of an initially appealing character but is never developed past his introduction. In this case, the audience is introduced to Frank. Then they forget he exists in the film until he appears again almost 30 minutes later.
On the other hand, Robin is in nearly every scene of the film; however, it becomes apparent that she has little to do in the majority of these scenes despite the role her character is meant to play in the narrative. She’s often relegated to a character who runs around scared or stays in one place. This begs the question as to why she’s even there. The film’s narrative line is by no means terrible. The audience is engaged in the movie, and it is enjoyable to watch; but, rewrites of the script are necessary to provide the depth to characters to elevate the film from pleasant to overtly memorable.
Project Power is a fine film, very competently produced and competently written. Ultimately it pales in comparison to other, more memorable superpower films of its kind.