Project Power 2020
It’s already August and I’ve only just been able to watch the second 2020 superhero movie of this year. Of course it’s from a combination of things, both from lack of actual movie watching as well as lack of actual movies. This brand new movie was released straight to Netflix this past Friday and it’s a different take on superheroes and super powers, taking a more visceral approach with drugs and crime in a backdrop of New Orleans. For its part, it takes an interesting approach to the material and while it was lacking in a lot of areas, it handles things well enough to be an entertaining distraction in this absence of entertainment.
The overall concept of the world of this movie is one of the most interesting things about it. There’s this new street drug called Power that gives the user five minutes of super powers. But it’s not one where you get to pick and choose which super power you get, instead it’s a bit more like Marvel’s mutants where each person has their own potential super power that the pill just unlocks for that five minutes. You might get impervious skin, or you might just randomly explode. It’s that thrill of the unknown, and if you have a good power, then it’s pretty easy to get addicted to that extra power. Of course, this movie doesn’t quite get into that detail of the drug, instead it just looks at the face value of getting super powers. There are some downsides other than potential spontaneous dismemberment as the more extreme powers can affect your body during the two transitional periods. One of the early characters Newt basically becomes the human torch, but he’s only impervious to his flames when the powers are fully activated. Meanwhile, his face is covered with the burns he suffered during his many transitions back into normalhood.
The second best thing about this movie is the sound design. There’s one action scene later in the movie that is a clever cost saving technique that really works. It’s reminiscent of the opening of Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 where the majority of the action scene it taking place outside of the full view of the audience. Instead, the focus is placed on a woman injesting Power for the first time, giving herself Elsa-like ice powers that she is unfortunately unable to fully control. And while she is freezing herself to death inside this giant glass tank, the action it taking place outside full of muffled hits and grunts while we are treated to the crackle of frost forming, liquid freezing and cracking, made all the more gruesome by the fact that the liquid is the woman’s bodily fluids. There are also other moments where the sound drops out. There’s also several moments that focus on the main character’s rapping with and without musical accompaniment.
Where the movie falters is the fact that it’s more or less a standard investigative action movie. We have a sympathetic Bruce Willis-esque main character Art, played by Jamie Foxx. He’s a military guy and the source of Power, something that’s told to Joseph Gordon Levitt’s cop character early on in the movie and while that statement is true, it’s not true in the way that it’s meant to be interpreted. Art is a man on a mission to find his daughter, and anyone who gets in his way is likely to get killed. Jo Go’s character is the slightly crooked cop with a heart of gold. He breaks the rules that need to be broken, taking Power just to level the playing field, then eventually working with Art when he realizes what’s really going on. But while there appears to be a giant conspiracy involving the government working with the police, that corruption angle really disappears in the climax. We get a big action sequence on a giant cargo ship, but the bad guys all seem to be just that: generic bad guy drug dealers. The story isn’t fully formed.
Even with a story that’s not fully fleshed out and characters that are a little one note, there’s enough to this movie for an enjoyable experience. Dominique Fishback’s Robin is a great window to view this world through. She’s a typical street-smart teen with a sick mother. Again, it’s a fairly standard character archetype but there’s also the addition of the rapping that helps give her something unique. The powers themselves vary quite a bit, both in execution and special effects. This is a hard R rated movie with plenty of violence and a bit of gore. We see a hulk-sized arm fall onto a car after an explosion. The best moments are the more subtle ones. Power itself is an extremely large swallowable pill that you have to twist to activate which creates a high pitched whirring noise as well as a strong glow that can be seen through the skin as it goes down the character’s throat. There are also a few moments of imaginary/hallucinatory sequences both from Art involving his PTSD as well as Robin initially imagining standing up for herself before ultimately being able to stand up for herself in real life by the end of the movie.
There’s a lot of worldbuilding in this movie and a set up that could expand to something interesting in a potential sequel. Both for several of the characters, but especially for the concept of the Power drug itself. The setting of New Orleans doesn’t really add anything to the story or the characters. Levitt brings a muddled accent that doesn’t add anything to his character and the majority of the other characters aren’t even from the area. The characters are decent, the action is good, but it lacks a clear direction and cohesion to bring everything together. It’s perfectly fine for a Netflix distraction, and it could go somewhere interesting in a sequel to help flesh out some of the confusing and underdeveloped elements. But it’s not much more than a binge and be done with it. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.