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Project Power (2020) - Review

Film: Project Power (2020)

Director: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman

Writer: Mattson Tomlin

Genre: Sci-Fi and Action

General Thoughts

Project Power is the birthchild of Mattson Tomlin, a newer screenwriter whose fantastic concept work for this film (called "Power" initially), spurred a multi-studio bidding contest to produce the script. These contests are usually directly proportional to how well the industry perceives a film's potential success and, equally often, does not occur with projects written by "mostly unknown" writers. Project Power comes in at the height of an industry dominated by superhero narratives - this is partially why multiple studios became excited. The development and pre-production sections of filmmaking can only take us so far into understanding what the film is. Overall, this is not a terrible film by any means – it is quite enjoyable, and the concept engages immediately. The broader issues stem from a general lack of exciting narrative arcs and character developments, i.e., the script itself. In many action films of this kind and this size of the budget, it has become mostly a given that the film will look great…but fails to intrigue viewers enough to continue watching due to the narrative itself (let alone to rewatch the film). Frankly, this is an excellent example of a rather enjoyable film on many fronts, but the narrative fails to support these elements well.

Edit: This film (and this review) comes at the height of protests for substantial police reform. This film features a white police officer who uses superpowers to fight against drug regimes, a black ex-military officer who is constantly under the police officer's radar of suspicion and a black drug dealer in high-school who is "friends" with this cop. This movie is unintentionally tone-deaf with regards to how they portray the racial politics of a city dealing with a new drug on the market. Historically speaking, Black individuals are coded as criminals - subsequently, the fact that the only two Black characters in the film being cast as a violent vigilante worthy of suspicion by police and a drug-dealing youth with dreams of becoming a rapper is especially irritating. Avoid the film if you've been avoiding films featuring this level of carelessness regarding racial politics. Black Lives Matter.


Criterion Review

Narrative – 4/10

The daughter of Art (Jamie Foxx) is kidnapped by an organization that is mass-producing a new drug called Power that temporarily gives its users a random superpower or randomly causes them to explode. In this film, Art is exacting revenge against this organization while also searching for his daughter; meanwhile, Robin (Dominique Fishback) is a teenage drug dealer who begins peddling Power. Robin is an intelligent aspiring rapper who deals drugs to help take care of her mother. Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a police officer who relies on Robin for his supply of Power, is attempting to even the playing field as criminals begin to use Power to conduct crimes. In this gritty crime thriller meshed with the genre tropes of a superhero movie, we witness this concept realized in surprisingly heartwarming ways and attempts to provide a unique voice for a genre criticized for lacking particular distinctions between films.

While the story concept is enticing, and the final product looks impressive, the final script feels unfinished. As riveting as the cast performances are, their characters do not have the depth one would expect from a crime thriller or a movie with superpowers. Frank is a prime example of an initially appealing character but does not develop past his introduction. The film introduces Frank; he is then promptly forgotten and ceases to exist until he appears again nearly 40 minutes later. On the other hand, Robin is in nearly every scene of the film; however, it becomes apparent that she has little to do in most of these scenes despite the role her character plays in the intended narrative. She becomes a character who runs around scared or stays in one place, which begs the question as to why she is even there. The film's narrative line is by no means terrible. The audience is engaged in the movie, and it is enjoyable to watch; but, rewrites of the script are necessary to provide the depth to characters to elevate the film from just pleasant to something more significant.

Cinematography – 7/10

The scenes themselves, action sequences or not, are shot beautifully. Even in the handful of action sequences of the film, the camera's movement serves its role well in providing useful juxtaposition between the winners and losers of fights. Outside of fighting and superpowers, there is mostly nothing out of the ordinary for Hollywood – shot/reverse shots during dialogue, wide shots introducing new settings, and shakily tracking action sequences. Nothing of particular note.

Editing – 7/10

Editing is the combination of cinematography, logic, and narrative – cohesively tying and gluing these elements together. In Hollywood-style movies such as this, editing is meant to appear invisible to maximize the immersion an audience member feels – allowing the film to live up to the escape film was initially meant to be. Project Power follows this relatively well: the placement of shots is not overtly prominent, and the sequence of events makes logical sense. As is often the case with Hollywood action films, though, fight sequences are often edited very sloppily, and deciphering what is happening on the screen can be an imprecise endeavor.

Film Design – 8/10

The special effects and cinematography are, by definition, amazing. The task visual effects artists have in realistically portraying superpowers is daunting in and of itself, but to do so in a way that matches the film's grittier nature is a breath of fresh air. A person who emits fire from their pores or can camouflage into their surrounding environment will not look like a human being that we are used to seeing. The former has visibly burnt flesh. The latter has scaley skin and does not entirely mesh with their environment (much like how animals perform camouflage in nature). There are many details like this, not just in the flashy superpowers, but also in set design. There was a moment near the beginning with a wide shot of an apartment complex where my jaw audibly dropped. The film can be quite the beauty on many fronts.

Performances – 7/10

This film's casting is astonishing since we have seldom seen Fishback nor Gordon-Levitt in a movie like this before. The last time we saw Jamie Foxx in a superpower-infused universe was The Amazing Spiderman 2 (Webb, 2014). Nevertheless, the cast delivers a relatively meaningful performance and are the highlights of nearly every scene despite what little interest the script gives their actions and behaviors.

Cumulative Rating: 33/50 – Painfully Average

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©2019 by Ethan J. Wheeler