This format is a shorter, more to the point, off-shot of the normal review/op-eds I normally do. A ranking will be given at the end from a scale that starts at (from the lowest to the highest): Bad – meh – fine – good – great. Anything not appropriate for these “scores” will likely warrant a more in-depth discussion, which is what I normally do, so this range does not cover all movies, just the ones that I think are suited to this format.
For those keeping track, Netflix released 2 major blockbusters this year with Project Power being their third; that’s an insane amount of investment in action blockbusters and they are not half-assed attempts at cashing in on various trends. All three movies have an interesting concept, they are headlined by A-list actors, and they are competently produced and shot. Extraction was a pleasant surprise that I really liked; The Old Guard had some excellent ideas that didn’t explore as much as I would have liked, but was good enough that I hope we see the teased sequel; Project Power is…not as good.
Directed by the duo behind Paranormal Activity 3&4, as well as 2016’s Nerve, and starring Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Project Power ticks all the boxes of Netflix’s recent blockbusters: It has an interesting concept, it has a strong cast, it has competent action scenes. However, it fails in pretty much everything it sets out to accomplish; its concept is not utilized in an interesting way, its themes and exploration of them is at best messy, its cast does a decent job, but the action is dull and generic at best and at worst it is aggressively inadequate and poorly edited. Although the staff do their jobs at the bare minimum and the concept is still ripe for a great action movie, third time’s the curse for these Netflix blockbusters and Project Power should be erased from memory as quickly as possible.
I say the concept is a keeper, because it is a genuinely great idea: A drug that gives people super-powers that are random in both their usefulness and power. However, while the movie starts with that concept it quickly devolves into something much more generic, and lame, as the movie goes on; it adds a generic “father must rescue daughter” plot and he must team up with this sassy teenager, who is friends with a cop who is on the lookout for the teenager. This is not the deal breaker for me; the fact that the pills are not random and are based on animal powers (apparently) that may end up being bad powers, is though. This great idea that could add stakes to each action scene with the knowledge that if someone is pushed to their limits, they could take the risk and swallow a pill that could make them invincible or kill them, is immediately replaced with “I guess you have the invisibility power from that animal we all know can turn invisible” and it was boring. This also means that, from an action perspective, the filmmakers relied heavily on cheap-looking CGI and scenes that – regardless of how creative they were – felt like something that I saw before and done better; also there are these weird moments were the movie dials the gore up to 11 for a few scenes and then is back to mostly PG-13 standards, but in general the action was not as readable as I would have liked and not as exciting to sweep me in with its momentum.
By far the biggest problem is the narrative, or more accurately, the narratives; the movie just does not pick a subject and explore it thoroughly, it instead tries to tackle many different themes all through the “pills” analogy. At first it is clearly drugs; pills that can make you feel invincible or kill you, sold by dealers, handed to them by rich, tattooed, cartel-looking guys. Then, the randomness is removed and there is a bigger focus on the social status; people selling these pills need to do so to survive and deal with hardships, those using them are always doing so to get away with crimes like stealing, and the movie makes explicit references to how these pills give more power to the top classes, while lower classes keep getting worse. Now, it could still be seen as drugs, but it muddles it a bit, before making the villain a maverick doctor who doesn’t care about the lack of ethics in her experiments, and the animal powers plot point, which has nothing to do with anything preceding it; let’s not forget that these pills gave someone the ability to be on fire like that animal we all know from the Gold edition Pokemon game Hu-oh. It becomes so convoluted and unfocused by the end that it became annoying to think about and I haven’t even given you half of it – like Gordon-Levitt’s character being a cop who uses these pills to “level the playing field” which is so messed up I don’t want to spend 10 pages dissecting.
All these problems just made me more susceptible to all other less obvious shortcomings, or problems I wouldn’t normally talk about, like the awful continuity in many scenes and the generic music that blends in with your boredom. At the same time, I have to give some props; the cast is actually decent, especially Dominique Fishback as Robin, and the directors do have a few great shots that stood out to me. For some this will be a decent enough movie, but for me it is, without a question, a MEH experience. I hope Netflix do keep trying these blockbusters with these interesting concepts, young creatives, and star casts, but I also hope they learn from the plentiful mistakes made in Project Power and do better next time.