In superhero fiction, superpowers are commonly gained through random acts of chance. A splash of lightning-enhanced chemicals or a burst of cosmic radiation is enough to grant ordinary people extraordinary abilities that can be used for good or evil.
These stories of average-people-turned-special excite audiences and lead many to daydream about their own chance at acquiring superpowers and the ways they would use them.
Project Power presents a world where one can willingly take their powers into their own hands, or more specifically their own mouth, and decide how to shape the world around them.
In New Orleans, a new drug has hit the streets and is taking the city by storm. Aptly named ‘Power’, those who take the drug either die instantly or are granted superpowers, specific to each individual, for five minutes. As the pills begin to find wide distribution among ordinary citizens, the streets of New Orleans grow more unpredictable and dangerous by the minute.
Robin Reilly (Dominique Fishback) is a teenage student and aspiring rap-artist who has taken to selling Power in order to provide for her mother Irene’s (Andrene Ward-Hammond) medical care. Though a bit young to resort to dealing drugs, she is supported by NOPD Officer Frank Shaver (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), one of her regular buyers. Shaver regularly watches her back, offering her friendship and protection from her more violent customers.
Weeks after the drug has taken root in New Orleans, a mysterious man known as The Major (Jamie Foxx) begins to tear his way through the city’s drug rings in an attempt to find the source of the drug.
After a deadly confrontation with a dealer who just happens to be Robin’s cousin, The Major tricks Robin into meeting him, abducts her, and forces her to assist in finding those responsible for Power.
It is soon revealed that The Major’s daughter Tracy (Kyanna Simone-Simpson) was forcibly kidnapped to be used as the source of the drug, which leads to The Major, Robin, and Shaver teaming-up to rescue Tracy and put a stop to the further production of Power.
One of the most common writing exercises in the world of superhumans is “What if super powers existed in the real world?”, a thought which has been explored numerous times to varying degrees, as seen in series such as Arrow, Misfits, or Heroes.
Project Power’s granting of temporary powers through the use of drugs is one of its strongest aspects, but the concept’s lack of exploration is conversely one of the film’s most glaring weaknesses. Only a handful of powers and their consequences are truly explored, which leaves audiences a built underwhelmed in the face of a city that is seemingly falling into chaos because of the drug.
Another particular issue with the film is the preference of directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman to film something “stylishly”. Certain scenes are bathed in atmospheric neon lights, others locked away in darkness, and one fight scene is filmed in a 360 rotation from the perspective of a woman inside a containment chamber, all with no linking theme or visual flair.
Unfortunately, these stylistic choices are so varied from scene to scene that they pull the viewer out of their immersion, and in the case of the aforementioned containment chamber scene, make it near impossible to follow the excellently-choregraphed action.
While the film is generally well-written, if not a bit generic in its story beats, there are two areas in which it falls to a questionable level of quality.
The first is it’s random moments of hamfisted attempts at humor, such as an extended back-and-forth between Robin and Shaver on being “awesome”, which will cause even the most forgiving of audiences to roll their eyes at their odd placements in the script.
The other is its general inconsistency, especially in relation to how the events of the film effect the characters: The Major is caught in a massive explosion and walks away with barely a singed arm, Robin walks away unharmed from being slammed against a glass case so hard it breaks, and the enemy’s head of security lets one of his soldiers walk away freely after being caught freeing The Major from captivity.
This staggering amount of plot armor blurs the film’s attempt at relating superpowers to the real world and also prevents audiences from ever feeling that the characters are truly in danger.
However, this is not to say that Project Power, aside from its unique and interesting concept, is without its praiseworthy qualities. The action scenes, underneath the style experimentation, are exciting and brutal.
Levitt is almost always a pleasure to watch, and the scene where he protects Robin’s mother from being harmed by the villains is charming and outright fun. The visual displays of the superpowers as the abilities of certain animals are translated into humans is also incredible, especially in the movie’s climactic action scene.
Though marred by some odd writing and direction choices, Project Power presents an overall entertaining and visually exciting take on the real-world-superhero genre whose unique concept is unfortunately held back by its limited run time. In a pandemic-ridden season that lacks any true blockbusters, Project Power serves as cinematic methadone. In the end, though it satisfies the urge for superheroes, explosions, and action scenes, audiences will be left asking for just a little bit more.
- Levitt’s performance, particularly in the scene with Robin’s mother
- The concept and use of Power
- The visuals and action scenes
- Slightly inconsistent writing
- Doesn’t take advantage of the true scope of the world it created
- Numerous moments of odd style experimentation