Superheroes are all the rage these days and it is hard not to notice the intense race to adapt and acquire stories about superhumans, and all that comes along with it. We are mostly aware of the superheroes with name recognition and the classic hero’s journey, but every once in a while a project comes along that challenges or shakes things up. In the Mattson Tomlin scripted Project Power, superhero-ing is a sinister plot and more short lived than it normally is.
There have been a number of satirical or subversive takes on superheroes and powers and in Netflix’s new original film power is acquired, but only for five minutes at a time. In the city of New Orleans, a new drug has been leaked onto the streets. The pill imbues people with superhuman abilities for five minutes, or the taker will suffer unintended consequences. Colson Baker a.k.a. Machine Gun Kelly’s brief appearance as Newt showcases that to greatly gruesome effect. In this story, this pill brings together a young drug dealer Robin (Dominique Fishback), a police officer Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and an ex-soldier Major (Jamie Foxx). All three have their own relationships with the drug: Robin sells it to better her life, Frank wants to save his city, and Major wants to end the people at the top for personal reasons.
One of the key things that makes Project Power an interesting and exciting watch is that it understands the conventions of stories about superhuman people and plays with it without being entirely beholden to it. There are no overt explanations about the world or setting up a heightened reality that we have already become accustomed to within this expanding genre. So, the film is free from the usual exposition-heavy scenes and is able to move at a brisk pace without ever stopping to breakdown the whos and whys. It is instantly understood that if there is someone or some shady organization selling powers to defenceless and helpless people then their intentions or reasoning don’t need to be explained. In fact, we don’t need the names or faces of the villains, or a deep dive into how they managed to create this pill. Project Power‘s strength is in what motivates our heroes and how they interact with each other.
Similar to another superhero property recently released by Netflix, The Old Guard, this film wisely divides its time between developing honest and interesting characters, the world they inhabit, and the action that tethers everything together. Project Power is given texture and edge by crafting dynamics between the characters that ground the exaggerated environment around them. It also helps that our three leads are all exceptionally cast and have incredible chemistry with one another. Of course, Foxx and Gordon-Levitt are expert professionals. They tap into their characters and stories with such ease that it is impossible to separate them from their roles. Dominique Fishback is the soul and heart in the film. Her drug dealer act could have been played as a cliche, but there is a sincerity to her performance that melts one’s heart. Her one-on-ones with Gordon-Levitt and Foxx showcase a depth and nuance to her performance that gives Robin the advantage as the best character in the film. She walks away as the true hero of the story.
As for the film as a whole, directors Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost have a real talent in heightening the intensity and emotions in every scene. They never settle down the camera for too long, constantly moving and giving the film a sense of momentum, a drive. The sets and production designs also depict a New Orleans that is interesting and pops on screen. The city has character and is almost reminiscent of the Gotham City depicted in Birds of Prey. Major credit should be given to Michael Simmonds whose cinematography pumps life into New Orleans. The team behind the camera are all at the top of their game crafting a world and atmosphere that excites and thrills, and the cherry on top is the music cues which just keeps the good vibes flowing from beginning to end.
All in all, Project Power is a stark contrast from the usual noble tales of superheroes. It’s a story with a little bit of edge, fun characters, killer performances, and is just a fun ride. Nothing is taken too seriously, but there is enough heart and soul to keep you engaged. If this remains a standalone film, so be it. However, these characters and this world can certainly live on.
Project Power is available to stream on Netflix on August 14
by Ferdosa Abdi
Ferdosa (she/her) is a lifetime student of cinema. Three of her current favourite films are: Addams Family Values, Cinderella (2015), and Emma. (2020). On Twitter you can see her support women-led cinema, her ongoing love/hate relationship with Disney, her totally healthy obsession with Eva Green, and her great admiration for Guillermo del Toro.
Categories: Anything and Everything