Project Power is one of them grim and gritty and splatter ultraviolent takes on the superhero genre. This one at least distinguishes itself by throwing in a unique analogy for why all of this superpowered chaos is happening and the direction is very visceral and punchy. Two of the leads are fantastic although the sidekick is more annoying than likeable, and the script rather simply copied and pasted some pieces from Marvel comics mythology. But, hey, this does rather awesomely feature Jamie Foxx beating the bejesus out of a flaming Machine Gun Kelly which doesn’t happen in too many movies.
A new super-drug is hitting the streets of New Orleans, Power, which gives users a five-minute burst of superpowers (or the unlucky ones just explode), which is causing pandemonium. Major (Foxx) is on the hunt for the suppliers of Power, leading him to a high school student/wannabe rapper/Power pusher, Robin (Dominique Fishback). Major forces her to contact her suppliers which ends up causing a big old brawl and people hunting for the dynamic duo. A street-smart detective, Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is trying to figure out who is poisoning the population with super-powers, however since he constantly pops Power to make himself bulletproof, his morality is a bit problematic. Now all three try to find the power behind the Power but constantly yelling superpowered goons may stop them.
Project Power’s big idea is using superhero powers as a metaphor for the drug epidemic and a conspiracy about who is supplying the streets. The conspiracy behind Power ultimately is kind of a Men in Black cliché drag, basically just as an excuse to supply endless henchmen for Our Heroes to bash in the face. The notion that one takes a drug and gets a burst of superpowers isn’t exactly original, the concept itself has basically been in Marvel comics “Mutant Growth Hormone” for years. Heck even the name “Mutant Growth Hormone” sounds much cooler as the writer of Project Power apparently just shrugged and named their superhero drug “Power”. But even though Project Power is blatantly ripping off Marvel, the superpower drug remains a cool concept. The transformation scenes are very intense and there is also an unlucky sap who pops a Power pill and blows up which is satisfyingly messy.
The superpowers usually involve a lot of hollering but there are multiple different powers, some people turn into flame, some people turn into ice, one dude turns into a deformed rampaging mutated monster, one dude pops bone claws. One can see superhero templates being ripping off, that’s Human Torch, Iceman, Hulk and Wolverine, but the powers keep things changing up for inventive action scenes. Foxx in a showdown with rapper Machine Gun Kelly (not actually playing himself but why quibble) starts like a drug raid and except of getting high on coke the trapped guy gets high on Power which immediately causes him to light up. The battle with the dude who gets huge is very freaky although the FX for the mutated form isn’t as good as some of the other effects. Rodrigo Santoro plays the Power pushing pill popper and he has a few speeches about the goods of doing superpower pills and then turns into the Sorta Hulk. The best superpowered fracas is when Gordon-Levitt’s bulletproof copper takes on an invisible bank robber who like a chameleon his skin keeps changing to blend into the background. Basically, the superpowered battles are good guys vs. meth tweakers except the tweakers can shoot fire and stuff. The direction by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman keeps things lively with some cool bits, like a single take shot action scene that happens from inside the perspective of a locked glass room.
Foxx as Major starts an inscrutable badass but his motivation gets duller as more is revealed, basically devolving into Taken with superpowers as Major is out to find his daughter. It is also revealed that he is the main man who came up with the formula for Power which, frankly, adds nothing. Still the movie makes a point to hold back Major popping a Power pill until the climax which works. Gordon-Levitt puts great spins on everything, often fast talking his way out of jams. Robin does a lot of rapping which his mostly awkward and eats up precious screen-time that could have been devoted to punching superpowered freaks in the face. Although there is a funny bit when Major tells her to rap based around the word “Seismograph” and later Frank passes on a message to Major from her barking she told him “Something about a seismograph! It was long, man!” A big misstep is introducing the concept of the daughter when Robin basically becomes Major’s surrogate daughter, leading to a climatic moment when Major has to risk it all to save Robin, even though he had previous mere seconds ago risked it all to save her daughter. It feels redundant and should have been more Logan than Taken.
Project Power is more worthwhile than expected due to the gripping intensity and hard-hitting feel of the action. Bits of it are shamelessly stolen from other more successful superhero franchises, but the messiness of the action and the thespian skills of the two leads make this a successful spin on the well worn superhero genre.
Directors: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Dominique Fishback