Netflix’s latest attempt at conquering the superhero genre shows it can’t yet rival major studio blockbusters.
Popcorn with Zenger: ‘Project Power’ Disappoints
Finding a good movie in 2020 is like finding an antique in a crowded storage locker. Surfing Netflix since movie theaters have shuttered feels like searching for a Frank Gutierrez painting in your local dumpster.
Netflix has a sizable content library, but hopes its latest original film, “Project Power,” which cost a cool $85 million, will lure even more viewers.
The Story: “Project Power” is a superhero film set in New Orleans. A new drug is sweeping the Big Easy — but instead of giving you a high, this drug gives you special powers. For five minutes, the “Power” drug unlocks different superpowers in users, who get every addicted to the rush.
A teenage drug dealer named Robin (Dominique Fishback) gets herself caught up in an underground power play. The creators of “Power” are running an illegal experiment on the city and the supply is running out. With dangerous individuals becoming increasing desperate for their next fix, Robin must rely on her two allies, street cop Frank Shaver (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and former test subject Art (Jamie Foxx), to find the supplier and shut down the experiment before “Power” can become a worldwide addiction.
Bright spots: Credit “Project Power” with an interesting premise that will initially intrigue. The film starts out hot — a magic pill that can turn ordinary people into heroes or villains, depending on the user. The special effects are impressive for a Netflix film, even considering the Hollywood-style budget.
Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman have vastly improved from their dreadful 2016 film “Nerve,” a movie about people doing dangerous stunts for money. Rapper Machine Gun Kelly makes a strong cameo in “Power.”
Weak Spots: The problem with social commentary in sci-fi movies is the progressive pandering takes viewers out of the fantasy realm the film creates. One of the biggest knocks on “Project Power” is that it drops the ball on a killer concept. There are no colorful villains, no compelling heroes, the conflict is painted by numbers and the resolution is cliche.
Instead of a villain from the Batman rogues gallery, like Bane or The Joker, who could deliver some highjinks, the villain in Project Power is “the system.” Much of the film is told through the lens of Robin, a poor black teen who sells drugs and aspires to be a rapper. Subtlety is absent. The film tells its main character that because she is young, black and female, the system won’t let her succeed, a mantra she expresses in her rap freestyles.
In the world of professional wrestling, the saying “Giving someone the rub” describes when a big star works with a lesser-known actor in the hopes of raising their profile. That’s clearly the plan here — pitting novice actress Dominique Fishback with big-name stars such as Fox and Levitt.
Fishback, who looks young enough to play a teenager despite being almost 30, has chemistry with Jaime Foxx as his de facto daughter. But the way they come together feels shoehorned at best. Levitt’s character could have been removed altogether. He seems to disappear for 30 minutes at a time until the plot conveniently needs him to reappear. The script needs a touch up. If this is a preview of what screenwriter Mattson Tomlin plans for the upcoming “Batman” movie with Matt Reeves, let’s hope Reeves weighs in.
The Takeaway: While “Project Power” is arguably the best Netflix original film in months, it comes with a caveat: Without more plot specifics, an entertaining superhero movie missed an opportunity to be better.
See or Skip: Netflix’s latest attempt at conquering the superhero genre shows it still has a ways to go before rivaling major studio blockbusters.
(Edited by Fern Siegel and Allison Elyse Gualtieri.)