Project Power is set in an specified near future New Orleans, where a new drug, Power, has been unleashed onto the streets. This new drug promises to unlock a person’s hidden superhuman abilities, but only in five minute bursts. This could be anything from the ability to blend into your surroundings like a chameleon, to become bulletproof, or even manipulate your temperature to such extremes to produce fire or ice.
Power is making policing the streets of the city more and more difficult, and has even resulted in entire police precincts being wiped out by super-powered criminals. One of the cops who’s trying to fight back against this new menace is Frank Shaver (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who’s buying Power from teenage dealer Robin (Dominique Fishback), an aspiring rapper who’s having to sell it in order to raise the money for her mother’s surgeries.
In the midst of this chaos comes a new player, a mysterious figure known as The Major (Jamie Foxx), who is killing his way to the centre of this drug network in order to put a stop to this deadly new product, and rescue his missing daughter. When his path crosses with Shaver’s and Robin’s, the three of them come together to put an end to Power.
Project Power is being marketed as a superhero movie, and it’s obvious why, as the very inclusion of people who can burst into flame or punch through steel doors means this isn’t exactly a film that’s grounded in reality; however, it fits much more neatly into a police action movie style instead. You could replace the drug giving people powers with a fairly standard drug, and the story would still be very much the same. That being said, the film did at times remind me of some comics like District X, a superhero comic focusing on powered police, and the Power drug is similar to the Mutant Growth Hormone pills in Marvel Comics.
Project Power manages to weave together the fantastical and the mundane in really good ways though, and this feels like a story that could be at home both in the real world and something like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is probably down to the fact that the characters and their stories come first, with all of the leads having very clear motivations that the audience can understand and relate to.
Robin is probably the best of the characters on offer here. She’s a young woman trapped in a system designed to grind her down. She’s trying to do whatever she can to help her mother to survive, but thanks to the horrific US healthcare system, systemic racism, and wealth inequality, the only way open to her is to sell drugs on the street. The film seems to make a point to show that she’s a sympathetic character, a person who we could all end up being in bad circumstances outside of our control. Sadly, the film fails to make anything of a point on this by not only having the people behind the drug being a big shady organisation only out for money, but by having a cop as one of the heroes.
Considering the film does so good by Robin it’s shocking that Gordon-Levitt’s Shaver is so one dimensional. He’s a cop who want to do good and protect the people of New Orleans, but is prepared to use any means to do so. Considering the mass levels of police corruption in the US, and the systemic racism in those organisations I’m a little shocked that the filmmakers chose to make his character in this fashion, especially with the civil unrest against police officers still happening (yes, there are still protests happening right now, even if the press won’t cover it). In this climate a hero white cop coming in to help save the two Black leads just doesn’t feel too good anymore.
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Jamie Foxx’s character isn’t given a huge amount of development, but his motivation and mission is made pretty clear to the audience, and you quickly get on board with him, and he plays the role with so much charm that you quickly forget this man is willing to kill the bad guys and genuinely begin to like him. The relationship between him and Robin that develops is a particular highlight.
The film manages to pack in a good number of action sequences, and some great super power effects across the run time, and never feels dull because of this, moving with a good pace and keeping your attention throughout. Project Power takes what is becoming a fairly standard genre of superhero films and gives it something fresh and new; yes, it’s still a fairly standard cop action movie, but by marrying the two together it’s an enjoyable and entertaining movie all on its own.
Project Power is out now on Netflix.