At this point, superpowers have become a plot device or thematic tool beyond the confines of the comic book film genre. In pop culture, we’ve seen them used as a form of social commentary in films like Fox’s X-Men franchise or in Amazon Prime’s The Boys web series. They’ve been parodied for comedic effect in films like Ryan Reynold’s Deadpool 2, Kick-Ass and Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs the World. And most recently, it’s been utilized to flesh out familial dysfunctions and toxic expectations in The Umbrella Academy‘s second season. The point is, the application of superpowers within a film’s premise can be versatile, creative and even at times, groundbreaking. Enter Netflix’s Project Power, a film that depicts its superpowered elements through the lens of inner-city street culture and the drug game. So, does Project Power have anything new to offer the ole trope? Or is it yet another stale rehash of cliches better seen elsewhere? Let’s find out.
In the near future, a new drug called “Power” hits the streets of New Orleans. One that gives its user fives minutes of metahuman abilities, from superspeed to pyrokinesis to enhanced strength and endurance. When Jamie Foxx’s Art shows up to New Orleans to find out the truth behind Power, a massive conspiracy is unravelled. One that involves his kidnapped daughter, Tracy. Now Art, alongside a cop played Joseph Gordon Lewitt and a street punk played by Dominique Fishback, must work together to discover the origin behind the Power and free Art’s daughter from the clutches of an evil pharmaceutical company.
I don’t know about you guys but I’m starting to get pretty sick of the whole evil-corporation angle in superhero films and TV series. The most recent use of this cliche was found in Netflix’s last comic book film, The Old Guard and it was by far the weakest link in the film’s plot. Sad to say, this sentiment rings true here as well. How many times will you subject to this dull, uninspired villain trope? By now, we all probably know their whole schtick by heart. Whether it’s the Umbrella Corporation, Venom‘s Life Foundation or Marvel’s Oscorp, they all want to “unlock humanity’s full potential”. It’s always the same crap, really.
Project Power is at its best when it focuses on the ground-level conflict and high-octane action of the streets. The premise of a city running around with superpowered junkies is a fairly intriguing one. With plenty of room for social commentary on poverty, substance abuse and street violence. It has all the makings of a classic but there just isn’t enough meat on the bones to cement its novelty. What it does lack in substance though, it makes up in style and flair. There are some pretty cool actions sequences on display with Project Power. One particular chase involving a lit-up (quite literally) Machine Gun Kelly chasing Foxx’s Art across a dilapidated apartment is pretty dope. It all leads to some pretty explosive results.
Where Project Power does excel is in its visuals. If the film’s visual artists were trying to mirror bodily degradation through substance abuse with the volatility of superpowers, then they have definitely accomplished that. For every scene exemplifying the extraordinary capability of Power, there are two showing its horrific side effects. I’m talking about people’s skin melting off and their beings disintegrating before their very eyes. I simply wish the film had more time to flesh out Power and its effects on gang violence and the community. If the film does have a follow-up, it should carry on its body horror streak but this time, in greater frequency.
Paper-thin premise aside, the film doesn’t deliver much in the acting department either. Jamie Foxx’s Art is about what you can expect. Calm, cool and collective with Foxx rocking with his signature swagger and macho delivery. Occasionally, Foxx will put on his best action hero face with the obligatory tough-guy speech but they often come off as flat or hammy. Look I love Foxx but I’ve come to realize that the quality of his performance is often dictated by the material given to him. Sometimes, we get a Django Unchained and Collateral. Other times…we’re saddled with Sleepless. His role here leans more into the latter.
It’s nice to see Joseph Gordon Lewitt finally getting back to work. That being said, I don’t think his role in Project Power is going to be a catalyst for the actor’s career revival. Like Foxx, the writing does nothing for his character. He’s a loose cannon who doesn’t play by the rules with a heart of gold. He does get a few moments to shine and show off his acting range but what potential was on-screen was quickly undermined by the film’s relentless pacing. For me, the highlight of Project Power was Dominique Fishback’s Robin. Don’t get me wrong, her character isn’t particularly well-written but some of the lines given to her are ironic gold.
It feels as if the writers googled “smart-mouth woke inner-city kid” and pieced together her lines using an algorithm. There’s even a cornball musical scene with her rapping against a teacher who derides her in class. Only to have the entire class explode with uproarious cheer. It’s utterly ridiculous and cheesy but it’s the first real spark of life in the film’s actors, so I’ll take it. Speaking of the film’s cast, there’s also a special appearance in the film made by a certain popular YouTuber. Be sure to let us know who in the comment section, once you’ve spotted him.
Project Power is a bit of a hot mess. If you can look past its tonal discrepancies, underwhelming plot and performances, there’s some fun to be had here. Nothing more, though, seeing that the film fails to expand on its more compelling elements. The experience of watching it was utterly frustrating because there were clear signs of greatness in the film. Somewhere hidden beneath the pile of endless bygone plot beats, generic villains and dull characterization. It goes without saying, Project Power should have spent longer in development.
Project Power is a bit of a hot mess. If you can look past its tonal discrepancies, underwhelming plot and performances, there's some fun to be had here. Nothing more, though, seeing that the film fails to expand on its more compelling elements.