There are a lot of superhero movies out there at the moment. Everyone knows Marvel and DC have been churning them out over the last few years as if the cinemas were suddenly about to close, but these two studios only account for around thirty three of the seventy or so there must have been in the last decade.
Obviously, with this deluge of capes and masks, it is a challenge to do something different. The greatest successes here have been when they have taken people you don’t normally see as the hero and built the stories around them, but we have also had things like Rise of the Guardians and Captain Underpants where the powered people were Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny or school principals in their tighty whities which shook things up a little.
Project Power joins this crowded gene pool and tries again to show audiences something new. Oddly, originality in this case seems to come not from the generation of fresh ideas but from the repackaging of old ones as the film works on the premise that a quick dose of medication, in this case in pill form, can briefly give you your enhanced skills. It certainly negates the need for any lengthy origin stories but it is essentially the same conceit as that used in Limitless, Lucy, The Boys, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and the all of the Asterix books. Still, it’s done effectively enough.
In a shaky attempt to ground all of this in some kind of plausibility it is suggested that every power given to you by these colourful little capsules comes from somewhere in the animal kingdom. Swallow a magic lozenge and suddenly you might be able to display the attributes of a chameleon, or a rhino, a jaguar, a frog, a shrimp (these last two are actually among the most impressive), and apparently an ankylosaurus, a Stretch Armstrong or the phoenix from Dumbledore’s office (but not a spider, a bat, a wolverine, an ant or a turtle for legal reasons). It’s silly for sure but it’s all rendered with some pretty special effects and whizzy action sequences.
Curiously every person has a power that is exclusive to them which does not make a huge amount of sense. For this to work either these abilities are lying latent in them already for the meds to activate, or each pellet contains the untapped potential of every creature, in which case why aren’t the effects more random? Maybe the tablets give you certain powers once and then something is left behind that triggers the same reaction each time but that’s another thing, why do the pills only last five minutes? Who has ever taken any altering substance that only lasts five minutes, apart from maybe some helium from a balloon? Exactly five minutes every time as well, irrelevant of how big you are or what you’ve eaten that day. It doesn’t seem likely does it.
Anyway, the science is no more made up than any of these types of films and it is fun to explore a world where everyone can be special so no one is (to quote another superhero film) and the real strengths are fortitude, ingenuity, loyalty, bravery, duty and dropping cool lyrics.
That last one might sound odd but it works. Robin, the youngest of the films three protagonists played by Dominique Fishback, is an aspiring rapper and this is the power that’s going to save her. The film almost becomes a musical in a couple of scenes as the sixteen year old Robin demonstrates what she can do and it gives the film another nice angle. Also yes, the teenage sidekick of the main hero guy is called Robin, which the movie references at one point. Interestingly the screenwriter Mattson Tomlin is also working on the new Robert Pattinson Batman film so this may or not be a coincidence.
Definitely a coincidence but similarly linked to this same thing is Joseph Gordon-Levitt who pretty much plays the same character here as he did in The Dark Knight Rises when he turned out to be that movie’s version of the Boy Wonder. Once again he is a young cop prepared to do what is necessary to save his town, even if that means breaking a few rules.
The Caped Crusader in this film then is Jamie Foxx’s Art Major (which are the two names he goes by not his chosen subject at university). Driven by the classic genre motivation of the loss of a family member he is a brutal man on a mission.
This dynamic trio is ultimately what holds the film together. The story and action scenes are captivating but the movie is driven by your ability to get behind these three. It gets pretty overblown in places and probably doesn’t quite realise the potential of its set up but it gives you characters that you care about and in the end like all the best superhero films, like the MCU movies, like Christopher Reeves’ Superman and Bale’s Batman, like The Incredibles, Spiderverse and Kick-Ass, this more than any plot details is its greatest power.