Anyone who knows me knows that I am a sucker for all things superheroes. Be the Marvel Cinematic Universe, its slightly lackluster big-screen counterpart over at DC or pretty much any other popular media that explores super-powered beings, there is a certain sense of escapism in diving into the psyches of those burdened with extraordinary abilities. I am also a sucker for when anything fairly new arrives to shake up the genre, much like what writer Mattson Tomlin attempted to do with Netflix’s latest big-budget feature “Project Power.” While the film, headed by big names like Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, might only scratch the surface of what it means to be a superhero, even temporarily, there was an inherent heart in its story that allowed the film to resonate beyond being a typical, high-powered action flick.
With 2020 being the year that it is, there has been a noticeable absence of the big-screen comic-book features that typically hallmark each new movie season. While February gave us DC’s favorable “Birds of Prey," and Marvel’s big players like “Black Widow” and “The New Mutants” are set to close out the year (for now), there remained a sizable gap of super-powered stories as the summer kicked off. Luckily, the scribe behind the upcoming “Batman” reboot had another story cooking, a story ideal for those seeking to get their action-heavy superhero fix. The premise of “Project Power” may not seem like anything fresh to seasoned comic-book or superhero fans — a world where black-market pills gift individuals with extraordinary powers for a slim five minutes — but the execution by Tomlin and directors Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost managed to offer more to the final product than expected.
While the world of “Project Power” might have been more interesting to explore through a multi-episode series rather than a feature film, the team of Tomlin, Schulman and Joost bestowed the film with not only its own distinct visual style but also a motley crew of enjoyable characters to fill its limited runtime. Despite its limitations in world-building, setting up its pill-popping premise of illegal “power” distribution but never mentioning how it came to be in the first place, the overall scale of the story aligned itself with something more akin to independent superhero endeavors like the 2012 film “Chronicle” rather than any of the major franchise features from Marvel or DC. Much like “Chronicle,” another story of young individuals gifted (and burdened) with extraordinary abilities, “Project Power” centered on three major characters as it sought to explore a superhero universe far more grounded in reality. Fairly quickly, like any other superhero narrative, the notions of what one should do with the sudden supply of incredible power are tested. While some abuse their power, to rather violent means, others strive to do good with it. The world the film’s characters find themselves in—a near-future New Orleans overrun by super-powered crime and other injustices—continually questions the paths individuals are willing to go down for more and more power.
That inherent struggle between good and evil and the “with great power comes great responsibility” notions of heroism were just some of the moral issues explored through the eyes of the leading players in “Project Power.” From Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s turn as a beat cop who uses the coveted pills to become a bulletproof enforcer of the law, to Jamie Foxx’s ex-soldier who seeks to save his daughter from an unimaginable fate, the corrupt realm of a crime-ridden city forced each character to take drastic measures to combat their reality. The two characters’ paths towards either preserving the law or enacting revenge intersected by way of Robin (Dominique Fishback), a young, street-savvy dealer caught in the middle of it all. Right away, Fishback’s character took the reins of the film’s story, with Foxx acting as a father figure to her as she worked to unearth her true potential. As the film teetered between its exploration of the violent consequences that five minutes of power could bring to those who abuse it and the vast potential it can also bring to those who society deems powerless, it situated Fishback’s Robin as someone who still has the capacity for good, not yet corrupted by the business she’s been exposed to. The comradery between Robin, Gordon-Levitt’s Frank and Foxx’s Art lent the film some heart as well as some humor as Fishback held her own against two Hollywood stars.
Making for a fast-paced, action-heavy narrative about the consequences of power as well as its limits, “Project Power” had enough heartfelt moments and humorous, self-aware charisma to sustain its potential. While some elements may have been left on the backburner, the inventiveness of the story and the moral implications it explored made me eager to see where the filmmakers could take us next.
“Project Power” is now streaming on Netflix. Watch the trailer here.