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PROJECT POWER (2020) – A FUN PILL TO SWALLOW
For the last decade or so, the Superhero genre has dominated the cinemas. It felt like every couple of months there was some new Marvel or DC property coming out that would be the only thing worth talking about in the world of cinema. This year was meant to be no exception, with movies like Black Widow, Wonder Woman 1984 and The New Mutants scheduled to drop roughly three months into the ongoing apocalypse we’ve decided to have instead.
With those (and so many other) movies seemingly not turning up this year, or at least not until the very end of it if we’re incredibly lucky, looks like the big superhero movie of the moment is a Netflix Original film called Project Power and… I mean, it’s not as great as it really should be but it’s definitely a lot of fun.
Project Power asks the question what would happen if someone invented a drug that gave you actual superhero powers for 5 minutes, but you wouldn’t know what those powers were until you took them. Effectively they’ve taken a movie about a cop trying to break up a drug ring and replaced meth with superpowers, a simple swap if ever there was one.
Throughout Project Power we follow three main characters, The Major (Jaime Foxx) is on the hunt for his missing daughter which leads to him running into Robin (Dominique Fishback) who sells the drug/superpowers who, in turn, works with Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who is a police officer trying to deal with the rise in superpower related crime.
For the vast run of the film it follows a lot of beats one would expect in a film that focuses around a drug ring, from the scene where they sneak into a meeting in a hideout and get instantly discovered to the big gunfight one expects at the end. It runs the risk of being a little boring or predictable but by throwing in the idea that, at any point, someone could pop a pill and become the Human Torch it gives the movie a spark that keeps the audience on their toes… when they use the powers element well.
The big trick of Project Power is that the powers that people acquire can end up having a serious side effect. We’ve moved past “With great power comes great responsibility” to “With great power comes the probability that you’re going to burst into flames and die”. In an elaborate overdose metaphor, some people’s superpowers just don’t agree well with them and can lead to some disturbing sequences.
We’re so used to seeing superheroes who defy the laws of physics and live to tell about it but in the world of Project Power every pill runs the risk of giving you too much power for the human body to handle. Admittedly the overdose metaphor is only really touched on in the early scenes during the 15 minutes where the film just sets everything up, but it’s a brilliant way to broach the topic.
With this big metaphor looming over the film though, there are several moments where they don’t quite use it properly. Things like Frank using the superpower pills to help him fight crime is all well and good, but then they almost completely drop the drug metaphor because he never seems to be addicted to it or really have any negative reactions to it, at worst he has to hand in his gun and badge for about 30 seconds before promising to go find the real bad guys.
Honestly, even though Joseph Gordon-Levitt is amazing in the movie (and is in general just having an amazing year, if 7500 is any indication) his entire character could be excised from the film and it would actually remove some of the issues that hold the film back.
Where Project Power is at it’s best, when it’s not engaging in some elaborate fight scenes, is when The Major and Robin are sharing the screen together. The two of them bounce off each other wonderfully and there’s a great dynamic between them that makes their scenes stand out. You root for both of them as they’re the ones who have the biggest stakes here (Major has to find his daughter, Robin’s trying to provide for her mother) and most of the film really leans on them to give it the emotional weight.
While the film could go a lot further, where it goes is still interesting. It’s a fun ride that takes on the most popular genre of the moment in an interesting way that I’m curious to see more of if we ever get a sequel.