Reel Rating: 2 out of 5 reels
Over the past few years Netflix has been vigorously pursuing the genre of hard sci-fi/fantasy with movies including Bright and Birdbox. Now comes Project Power, an R-rated mashup of superhero and crime drama tropes. It does a decent job of checking off the necessary elements: big name actors, complicated actions scenes, blending gritty realism with high end special effects, and trying (at least in some vague way) to speak to the tensions of the times. Project Power is certainly entertaining in how it proceeds with its narrative but does little else.
In a near future New Orleans, a mysterious underground organization begins to push a free drug to dealers around the city. This new substance is dubbed “Power” and retails for $500 a pill, and it gives the user a unique superpower for five minutes. Unfortunately, the user is never sure what ability he will get until the drug enters his system. Some users fly. Others get super strength. A few blow up (I’m assuming there are no refunds).
Since the drug is distributed through the black market, it makes sense that most addicts use it for crime. Invisible men rob banks. Perverts use X-ray vision. Police Officer Shaver (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) uses the drug, claiming it ”levels the playing field” in his attempt to thwart super criminals. Through a series of mishaps, he meets Art (Jamie Foxx), an ex-soldier who has a connection to the original source of Power. Together, they work to expose the creators’ true intentions and to bring peace to the city.
It should be noted that, like Netflix’s previous efforts in this genre, Project Power is a ton of fun. The action scenes are brilliantly directed and insanely entertaining. One can never be sure what will happen each time someone chugs a pill. My favorite scene involved Art chasing a man made of magma. The perp falls through floor after floor as he sets fire to everything he touches, like a pyro King Midas. As a wildfire burned out of control just a few miles from my door and filled the air with smoke and ash, forcing me to stay inside, such cinematic excitement was a welcome distraction.
Being a great popcorn flick, however, is about all this film has going for it. The narrative is standard and predictable, drawing upon fears of shadowy government conspiracies. While the acting is above average, the dialogue and writing continues to be the weakest elements of these sort of films. Like Bright, the film occasionally tries to bounce off cultural ideas—such as police adopting criminal elements to defeat criminals—but these themes are never fully explored and are lost in a messy mythology that becomes increasingly confusing and annoying as the film progresses.
One of the few benefits of R-rated superhero fare is that it allows us to consider how the reality of superheroes would be messy and ultimately undesirable. Probably the best series to address this issue is Amazon Prime’s The Boys, but it is too graphic and offensive to be efficacious. There is a reason that God created a predictable natural order and only occasionally and mysteriously initiates and allows supernatural actions. Humans are not able to handle these powers appropriately. After all, mankind has not proven capable of handling even ordinary abilities and talents without sin, so forbidding angelic gifts is ultimately in man’s best interest. God gives natural laws to encourage community effort and humility. It also makes genuine miracles proof of His glory.
Project Power is a fun movie and, frankly, we sometimes need a fun film. It doesn’t advance any social agenda or demand direct action against any group of people. I always enjoy movies that are just good guys vs. bad guys—and the good guys win. I can watch Challenger: The Final Flight, Unwell, or The Social Dilemma when I don’t have to worry about evacuating.
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!