Project Power is mostly Limitless with a bit of Firestarter thrown in, but set in a seedier world. A gritty neo-noir superhero film on steroids. Yet surprisingly underwhelming. If it weren’t for the stellar performance of the lead actors, it would be nothing more than a parade of stunning but incoherent visuals.
To be honest, we watched Project Power primarily because the trailer promised a story similar to Limitless. And I looooove Limitless (the movie, not the series). While Limitless is about a pill that jacks up a person’s intelligence and emotional quotients, the pill in Project Power gives physical superhero power. And when you take it, you don’t know what power you’ll have. Maybe become a human torch or have the capacity to kill just by screaming.
It’s not a bad starting point, that premise. Despite Limitless having been around since 2011, Project Power‘s pill could still have been the source of a unique and memorable movie. But it didn’t.
What exactly went wrong is hard to pinpoint. It can’t be actors’ performance because Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon Levitt delivered wonderfully. Levitt, especially, who seems to have finally reached that stage of physical maturity to play adult roles convincingly. The grimy look suits him better, methinks, than the clean-cut appearance he usually has.
But it was Dominique Fishback as Robin who stole the show in pretty much the same way that Will Sharpe did in Giri/Haji. While my daughter correctly observed that Fishback looked too old for the role of a high schooler, well, I think it would be hard to find a real teenager who could have portrayed Robin as well as Fishback did.
I can’t fault the visuals either. Amazing production design and cinematography enhanced by a lot of computer work.
So what was lacking?
It bothered me endlessly that the story had to revolve around a pill. Limitless already used the pill in pretty much the same vein. And when you borrow a concept that closely, you need something far, far, far better and memorable so you don’t get remembered as THAT copycat.
It bothered me even more that what drove the story was The Major’s (Foxx) search for his daughter, Tracy, who was kidnapped because she possessed superhuman power that got passed on through the genes. The writer of Project Power might as well have named Tracy Charlie McGee.
And that ending where Frank Shaver (Gordon-Levitt) says he maybe he’ll “find a journalist looking for his next big story.” Charlie did that too.
Even if we concede that the “borrowing” was just in snippets anyway and the rest of Project Power consisted of original ideas, it would still fall short.
I think the real problem was that the story was told in the wrong genre.
There was so much social commentary and moral dilemmas woven into the storyline but they just got lost in the myriad of chases, fight scenes and explosions. And, in a superhero movie, that shouldn’t be surprising. It is, in fact, expected. Superhero movies are meant to be visually bombastic and highly entertaining. They aren’t exactly designed to inspire discussion, debate and introspection.
But that’s the whole irony. The story of Project Power and the superhero genre just belong in different universes. Had the story of Project Power been told as though it were a movie based on a political thriller (say, a Le Carre novel), there would be no gaps in the storytelling. And there would be none of that underwhelming feeling that we experienced as viewers.
You’re probably thinking that you can’t put superheroes in a political thriller, right? Well, actually, it can be done. It was done in 2018’s Black Panther and the result was marvellous.