Superheroes are all the rage, there’s no doubt about that. Everything from Marvel to DC, and even more niche stuff like Amazon Prime Video’s The Boys and most recently, Netflix’s own The Old Guard movie adaptation. Now, Netflix is going the next step with its own original comics-style movie with the star-studded Project Power.
It’s based on a script from relative newcomer Mattson Tomlin, who is also currently co-writing the script for Matt Reeves’ The Batman in 2021. The premise is familiar and familiar to anyone well-versed in any related to superheroes; in the world of Project Power, there is a drug that gives anyone a superhuman ability for five minutes.
Project Power starts with a benefactor distributing a new and mysterious drug on the streets of New Orleans. What’s weird about the entire affair is that the drugs are being given away for free and that they bestow a superhuman ability to anyone who consumes them. There’s a catch, they only gain access to that power for five minutes, but there’s always a risk of overdosing and going boom as well.
There are three main protagonists in Project Power, all three of whom have simple names that are easy to remember: Robin (Dominique Fishback), Art (Jamie Foxx), and Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Without spoiling anything, Robin is a schoolgirl who gets wrapped up in dealing this new Power drug, Art is a man on a revenge quest and is looking to find the makers of the drug, and Frank is a police officer of the NOYD who has to take the drug in order to equal the playing field with newly-arrived superpowered criminals.
Despite its familiar setting, Project Power managed to hold my intrigue and attention throughout the duration of its one-hour-and-53-minute runtime. The plot is pretty straightforward with not much in terms of genuine surprises, but the pacing is almost perfect with a mix of action and even sprinklings of humour.
In fact, that humour is where the writing shines the most, and combine that with the great performances of the lead actors, there was nary a boring moment in Project Power. Even though I could see a lot of the narrative choices coming from a mile away, they didn’t take anything away from this movie.
The action is better than average for a Netflix original movie as well, following a welcome trend from The Old Guard, which featured great action scenes as well. My absolute fave is this one chase scene between Frank and a superpowered bank robber, which is made unique and memorable due to the nature of the band robber’s powers (I won’t reveal it though).
A lot of the elements that did surprise and entertain me as a long-time ardent comic book fan is how Project Power smartly portrays the superpowers given by the drug. As a way to inject more realism into the movie, these powers aren’t glorified or awe-inspiring as they would often be in other conventional superhero movies. They’re quite often depicted as the opposite; usually harmful to both the user and the people around them.
If you’re tired of glorified superheroes, Project Power is the perfect movie for you. That said, it’s still not as cynical as Watchmen or as over-the-top as The Boys. While there are meta comic book references here and there, Project Power is no Deadpool or Doom Patrol either. This movie is a meant to be blockbuster and it’s a good one.
Holding Her Own In A Star-Studded Cast
What surprised me most about Project Power is that the highlight and MVP of the movie aren’t even Jamie Foxx or Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but Dominique Fishback. Yes, this 29-year-old actress impressively manages to hold her own amongst the two biggest stars of the movie.
Fishback exhibits her own charm as the teenage Robin, who is forced to deal the new Power drug to make ends meet for herself and her mother. They live in a poor and ghetto-like neighbourhood, and she portrays a believable teenager who lives in the hood with dreams of becoming a rapper.
She actually raps several times in the movie, and they’re some of the best parts in the movie. When Fishback’s Robin raps in a scene with Foxx’s Art, it feels like Foxx is genuinely impressed by her amazing rapping skills. Speaking of Art, Jamie Foxx is incredible as usual, and best of all, he’s intense as hell in Project Power.
Joesph Gordon-Levitt is another highlight as the NOPD cop Frank, as he’s the one who viewers usually see in superhero movies; the overzealous cop who would stoop to the level of the bad guys and use the same Power drugs to give himself powers. While his character is probably the least complex and developed compared to Fishback’s or Foxx’s, Gordon-Levitt never fails to steal the show in every scene that he’s in.
Supporting characters like real-life rapper Machine Gun Kelly’s Newt and Rodrigo Santoro’s antagonist Biggie do the best they can with what little material they had, though they’re ultimately not in the movie much to leave as much of an impact as the lead actors and actresses.
In addition, I’d also like to praise directors Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost for not ending this movie with a tight and satisfying conclusion. Project Power doesn’t succumb to the same mistake of having a sequel-bait ending like the recently-released The Old Guard, which makes this movie more refreshing. Still, there was still a bit of ambiguity left in the ending that leaves the room open for a sequel, should Netflix order one.
A Blockbuster For The Summer
Project Power is a hell of a good time; a summer blockbuster you can watch from the comfort of your own home or mobile phone. With the summer of 2020 turning out to be non-existent (due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic), Netflix is there to fill the gaping void with blockbuster-worthy movies like this one and the recently-released The Old Guard.
Netflix original movies have never had the reputation of their TV series counterparts, thanks to the difference in overall quality. However, that’s slowly changing. Project Power is clear proof of that, and traditional Hollywood studios should probably start getting afraid.