Most movies with characters that have superpowers deal with people who either innately have their powers, like Superman or Thor, or who inadvertently gain powers through experimentation or an accident. The new Netflix film Project Power imagines a world in which getting a superpower could be as easy as taking a pill — and just as dangerous as other illicit drugs.
Robin (Dominique Fishback) is one of a group of people who’ve been recruited by a shadowy organization to sell a new drug called Power, which claims to give its users temporary superpowers. The trouble is that a user’s power isn’t known until they actually take the drug, and many people have adverse reactions, including death.
Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a New Orleans police officer who’s trying to track down the leaders of the organization. He also happens to be taking the drug as a method of fighting the crime instigated by other users. And Art (Jamie Foxx) is a father on the hunt for his daughter, Tracy (Kyanna Simone Simpson), who was kidnapped by the organization for reasons that become clear as the film goes along.
Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman (Catfish, Paranormal Activity 3 & 4) and written by Mattson Tomlin, the film deals with thornier issues than your usual superhero movie. Power as a drug is usually a metaphorical idea, but here it’s a literal one, and the concept is scary to contemplate. Few would be able to resist trying it, and — if they survived — the addiction to the resulting power would be more formidable than almost anything else imaginable.
The characters at the center of the narrative are relatively principled, as Robin is one of the few dealers who doesn’t partake in the drug, and Frank and Art are trying to stop its distribution despite having both tried it. They appear to be rare individuals, though, with the influence of the organization being wider and more far-reaching than even they suspect.
The action sequences mostly live up to the idea of ordinary people suddenly developing superpowers, although the impact strangely diminishes when the film goes too heavy with the CGI. One of the best sequences occurs when a woman with ice powers is stuck inside a glass enclosure as she watches a massive fight happen outside. The creativity of what’s shown and not shown during the scene is impressive.
Fishback, Gordon-Levitt, and Foxx essentially trade off being the lead throughout the film, and each of them does well in their respective roles. Fishback is a rising star thanks to roles in The Deuce and The Hate U Give, and she shows why in this film. Neither Gordon-Levitt nor Foxx go too far afield from their usual roles, but they make the most of their time on screen.
Project Power is the opposite of wish fulfillment of the idea of gaining superpowers. Instead, it’s a cautionary tale about what can happen if power is unchecked, and perhaps an idealization of some people always being willing and able to do the right thing.
Project Power is available exclusively on Netflix.