Having gone for more than a year without a new Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, and with the last two DC comics-based films being based on villains (Joker and Birds of Prey)—much like the characters in the new Netflix action crime drama Project Power—the world has had to get its fix of powered people in small doses. We’ve had streaming series and subpar features like Bloodshot, which got an abbreviated theatrical run just as the pandemic was taking hold in the United States. But between Netflix’s other semi-superhero success The Old Guard earlier in the summer and now Project Power, audiences are getting a few fairly worthy, somewhat silly, and ultimately entertaining placeholders until the studios return in full force and dominate the conversation once again, for better or worse.
Set in New Orleans, Project Power exists in a world that I assume is meant to be in the immediate future, where a mysterious new drug shows up in small doses that unlocks superpowers that are unique to each user. Without ruining the source of the transformative pill, there are actually a finite number of possible options as far as powers go—super strength or speed, invisibility, bulletproof skin, and a few others with much deadlier consequences; and sometimes you just blow up. The kicker is that said mystery power only lasts five minutes, like set-your-watch-to-it (and many people do) five minutes. The drug, called Power, is about to be mass produced and shipped in bulk around the country after a round of street-level testing is done. Those results are impressive enough that the manufacturer’s representative (Rodrigo Santoro) attracts some high-level money people to fund his operation.
To no one’s surprise, the people who seem to get addicted to Power first are criminals who use their abilities to rob and destroy, causing “Power crime” to escalate quickly. A local detective named Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) decides to fight fire with fire and use his powers to fight crime, with the help of teenage drug dealer Robin (Dominique Fishback of The Hate U Give and HBO’s “The Deuce”), who keeps him supplied in exchange for him not arresting her. (She also raps, I guess because she’s a Black teenager, and that’s what the filmmakers think Black teenagers do.) For a time, Frank is setting his sites on the same supplier as Art (Jamie Foxx), a clandestine former soldier with his own reasons for wanting to find the supplier (Amy Landecker) and for never taking the drug himself. But is he attempting to take over the Power cartel, or is he trying to stop it before it begins?
The directing team of Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (Nerve; Viral; and Paranormal Activity 3 & 4), working from a script by Mattson Tomlin (who co-wrote the upcoming The Batman with director Matt Reeves), seem to have carved out a niche in high-energy, higher-nonsense action movies, and while the plots don’t always hold together, there is something highly enjoyable about the vibe they bring to each of their movies. The way they visualize each new power, the sheer volume of destruction, and the junk science that often forms the backbone of their stories is all on full display here. And because the players are so game and talented, it comes together just enough to pass the time plesantly.
As I said in my recent review of Gordon-Levitt in 7500 (and as I’ve said for years), I could watch the actor in pretty much anything. In Project Power, he displays a toughness and moral ambiguity that makes his character far more interesting than it probably was on the page—he is no hero cop in the traditional sense. But in his scenes with Fishback, she almost always controls the moment. Robin is a kid just trying to survive, both in school and on the street, and the street is winning. Foxx is a little less focused, but that may be because his character is underwritten when frankly, he needs to be explored the most. When his secret motivations are finally revealed, it’s somewhat anticlimactic. More interesting is when we find out what his power is and why he opts to never use it again (spoiler alert: he uses it again!).
The action sequences are pretty solid, even if a few of the moments aren’t exactly groundbreaking. At least the super-power element to fights make them unique and eye-catching. I’ll likely never watch Project Power again, but I dug what I saw when I saw it, and you’ll likely know when that’s all you really need out of a movie.
The film is now streaming on Netflix.
Did you enjoy this post? Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by becoming a patron. Choose the amount that works best for you, and know how much we appreciate your support!