Netflix is no stranger to the superhero genre. Their TV collaborations with Marvel, like Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, laid the groundwork during the last decade before The Umbrella Academy built on that success. But until last month, the streaming juggernaut hadn’t tried to make a superhero movie. Led by Charlize Theron, The Old Guard was a hit, as sophisticated as it was silly. There was knockout action, cheesy dialogue and slow-mo fight scenes, but this spandex-free adventure about a team of immortal mercenaries never prioritised thrills over character. Sadly, Netflix’s newest comic book blockbuster – the first of 12 currently in production – isn’t quite as fleshed out.
Set in a world where illegal pills can give anyone short-term superpowers, Project Power benefits from a novel concept. Robin (Dominique Fishback) is a local teen who deals to support her family, but she’s kept a close eye on by Frank, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s rogue cop who tries to clean up the mean streets of New Orleans. Elsewhere, ex-soldier Art (Jamie Foxx) is desperate to track down the drug’s creator and make them pay for kidnapping his daughter. When they eventually join forces, it all climaxes in an explosive showdown on a boat where past deeds come home to roost.
For most of our on-screen heroes, their powers are god-given. So it’s refreshing to watch a movie which democratises that process – in Project Power, even the least privileged can be Superman or Captain America for five minutes. Of course, a price must be paid, and directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman do a good job of setting up the film’s central question. If it’s a choice between hopeless addiction and missing out on the fun – which would you opt for?
Beyond that, however, there’s little to sustain a habit. Breakneck chase sequences (by land, water and air) look flashy but most of the characters lack enough backstory to create sufficient tension. Project Power opens with a bang, but after watching Jamie Foxx wrestle a man made out of fire (Machine Gun Kelly), it’s difficult to worry he might snuff it at a later time. Elsewhere, Gordon-Levitt continues his comeback with a solid-if-slightly-tame performance, which sees him get most of the funnier lines. Dominique Fishback, meanwhile, is a revelation. Her streetwise heroine is a young Black woman with hopes of becoming a rapper, and when she spits bars to Art during a rare quiet moment it feels sincere and emotional. Set to star alongside Daniel Kaluuya in Shaka King’s upcoming Black Panther Party biopic, 2021 looks like it could be a breakout year for the rising actress.
Ultimately, Fishback and Foxx are Project Power’s greatest assets. Netflix has made it clear there’s plenty of cash to splash, and its struggles to attract big names are a distant memory. You do get a feeling though, given their recent tendency to misfire – Netflix Original isn’t the indicator of quality it once was – that more of that cash might have been spent on the script. Let’s hope the streamer’s anti-Avenger movement rebounds with a more powerful project soon.
- Directors: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
- Starring: Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dominique Fishback
- Release date: August 14 (Netflix)