It comes as no surprise that Netflix seem to be gradually offering their own entries into the obscenely successful Superhero genre. With recent release The Old Guard proving successful, Netflix aim to capitalise on their momentum with the release of Project Power. Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schuman (Catfish) and starring Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Dominique Fishback, Project Power tries to the flip the coin on an arguably worn out genre with some fresh new ideas.
The film’s premise is pretty interesting, if a little simple. There’s a pill going round the streets of New Orleans that potentially grants users a five minute window with a random superpower. It’s essentially like Limitless on superheroic steroids. One slight side effect of this magical drug, aptly-named Power, is that it can also instantly kill the user. Project Power’s plot revolves around a young Power dealer Robin (Fishback), her Cop friend Frank (Gordon-Levitt) and the mysterious Art (Foxx), all chasing the shady corporation behind the drug’s creation.
Whilst Project Power does offer a lot of promise, ultimately it is a film with a number of rather frustrating contradictions. The script, written by Mattson Tomlin (The Batman) is littered with some funny moments and hits its emotional beats well, yet includes some heavy-handed politics and over-exposition that makes it feel rather clunky. The film’s modern-day New Orleans setting works well with the film’s political themes and provides a lively, ever-changing backdrop. However, the delivery of these themes don’t always hit the mark. On the nose remarks about systemic racism, police-corruption and the government’s widely documented failed response to Hurricane Katrina are made with the best intentions, if a little too obvious. The story and character arcs are generally resolved well and the film ends with an obvious setup for a seemingly inevitable sequel. Frustratingly, though, there are few questionable developments that spark confusion.
Notably this is with the initial intersection of Jamie Foxx’s character Art and Robins’ stories. Art is vicious and threatening and it’s sometimes uncomfortable watching, though once things calm down a little he’s suddenly a father-figure for Robin. This is a wholly rushed character development that needed more time to feel authentic. By the film’s end, partly down to Foxx’s effortless charisma and likability, you come round to root for Art and appreciate the resolution to his story. This is a film with great actors and good performances in a genre where this can often be scarce. Joseph Gordon-Levitt adds another eclectic performance to his career as the tough-talking, softie Cop Frank, where his chemistry with Fishback makes for heartwarming scenes. He also delivers the majority of the film’s comedic elements, a big achievement considering Foxx’s ability as a funnyman.
This film belongs to Dominique Fishback, though. As Robin she leads the film with heart, humour and tenacity that gives the audience much of its emotional connection to the story. She exudes on-screen confidence in a character that suffers from shyness, especially in the rap scenes. Written by Chika, these are reminiscent of Blindspotting and the best way in which the film is injected with politics. Musically speaking though, the film also finds itself with needless problems. The score, by Josh Trapanese, works excellently throughout the whole film. It’s synth-heavy sounds inspired by Trapanese’s own collaboration with Daft Punk on Tron: Legacy are a treat and accompany the visuals brilliantly. Where Project Power does fail, similarly to The Old Guard, is the use of on the mark needle drops. These songs take you out of the film and are just wholly jarring.
Technically speaking, again this is a film seemingly operating at opposite ends of the spectrum. There is some very neat editing throughout, boosted by some very satisfying VFX and solid stunt work. On the other hand, the cinematography is bland, there’s incidents of painfully obvious VFX and like many superhero films, is too darkly lit. The highlights are the Power pill itself which combines visuals and sound to gorgeous effect and the fight scenes, precisely choreographed and visually fluid. Unfortunately, these high points are let down by some inexplicably naff CGI that’s inclusion makes little sense.
There are lot of very solid elements found within Project Power. A host of talented actors, an interesting premise, a great score and some sublime VFX make for a mostly entertaining watch. Unfortunately, the film consistently shoots itself in the foot with bad needle-drops, politics lacking nuance and some colourless, formulaic cinematography. A missed opportunity for Netflix to stake their claim on the Superhero genre and a bit of a disappointment.
Words by Elliott Jones