The concept of the Netflix ‘blockbuster’ is something we’ve become increasingly accustomed to in recent years – and in the absence of a real blockbuster season on the big screen this summer, the streamer has really taken up the mantle when it comes to new big-budget movies. Early on in lockdown we saw Chris Hemsworth action thriller Extraction, which posted record numbers for the platform, while more recently it was Charlize Theron’s turn to star, playing the lead role in new superhero flick The Old Guard.
Many of these Netflix releases have a few things in common: they’re fronted by bonafide Hollywood stars, for one, but the majority of them also seem like they would be fairly unremarkable releases if they were actually released on the big screen (although depending on who you ask, The Old Guard may be a slight exception here). The latest film to fulfil those criteria is Project Power, another ‘blockbuster’ which seems destined to be enjoyed by millions of subscribers in the week after release and then promptly forgotten about forever.
The film kicks-off in crime infested New Orleans, where we learn a new pill is in circulation that gives anyone who uses it superpowers for five minutes. These powers can include super strength, super speed and, as we see in one early chase sequence, invisibility – but, of course, taking the pill also carries a huge risk, as it could just as easily cause your death. It quickly becomes apparent that the pill is being developed by a shady organisation who are using the public of New Orleans as a human testing ground for their product, while it’s equally clear that the experiment has already had drastic repercussions for crime rates in the city.
In the opening sections we are introduced to the various heroes and villains of the piece, including Robin (Dominique Fishback), a teenager who is dealing the pills and who daydreams about defeating her arrogant teacher in a rap battle, Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) a rogue cop who likes to consume the pills to aid him in his crime-fighting endeavours, and Art (Jamie Foxx) an ex-soldier who is determined to stop the production of the pill – in large part because his daughter is being held against her will by those producing it.
It’s a decent enough set-up and the action plays out at a good pace, albeit not in a particularly unpredictable or tense manner, hitting most of the beats you’d expect in any mainstream thriller of its ilk. The performances are enjoyable without ever being especially outstanding – Foxx is effortlessly charismatic as always in the lead role, while Fishback excels in the role of Robin, clearly relishing the moments in which she is given the opportunity to showcase her rapping skills (a scene in which she freestyles for a shocked-but-impressed Art is a highlight). The dialogue, meanwhile, is often a bit flat and on the nose, packed full of action movie clichés – with a running gag relating to Clint Eastwood coming across as particularly forced and inorganic.
It can be fun watching the various super-powers on display, with some entertaining action sequences scattered throughout including one early scene involving a human fireball, but I was also left with a sense of missed opportunity – that the creators could have really pushed the boat out with some more exciting and unusual new powers, rather than opting for versions of the largely obvious ones we’ve seen a million times before.
It’s probably not fair to say that the film takes itself entirely seriously, but with a concept which is, let’s face it, a little bit silly, I can’t help but feel that some more fun could have been had if they’d just made everything that little bit more outlandish and ridiculous, rather than going for a more po-faced approach.
It all adds up to something that will clearly pull in audiences, and which will perfectly pass the time for those that choose to watch it, but which is unlikely to linger too long in the memory. In short, Project Power is the latest in a long line of perfectly fine, nothing-to-write-home-about style movies that will keep subscribers happy until the next one comes along – and it’s probably not too cynical to suggest that this is precisely what Netflix will have wanted.