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Movie Guru: ‘Project Power’ a fantastic spin on superhero genre

"Project Power" features Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Leavitt and Dominique Fishback.
Netflix

I love superheroes, I do. But there are better ways to do a superhero movie than leather bodysuits and character arcs that make no sense.

Proof of that can be found in “Project Power,” which premiered Friday on Netflix. Featuring fantastic performances by Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Dominique Fishback, the movie brings both grit and heart back to the superhero genre. There are more genuinely tense moments here than in the last four superhero movies to hit the big screen, but there’s also a lot more emotional satisfaction. They might not look like they belong on a poster, but you actually care about these people.

The movie starts with the introduction of a new street drug that gives people random superpowers for five minutes. A teenage drug dealer is caught up in the middle of it, and a local cop is trying to keep the resulting crime wave from taking over his city. When a mysterious figure arrives in town with his own dangerous agenda, truth and lies collide as everything comes to a dangerous head.

For a long time, it doesn’t even feel like a superhero movie. It’s just a really good, slightly gritty action movie, except this time the main character is actually a woman. Because yes, Foxx is featured more prominently on the poster, but it’s Fishback who’s the center of the movie. It’s her finding her own power that’s the major arc of the film, and she does it without ever once popping one of those little pills in her mouth.

“Project Power” premiered on Netflix on Friday, Aug. 14.
Netflix

The backstory to those pills, and the powers they create, are slipped into the movie well enough to suggest an entire prequel we just didn’t see. The idea behind how these powers happen and how the whole thing started is well done, but how they effect the people who have them are the most interesting. You can do this big amazing thing now, but what do you do with it? What are the consequences for you? For other people? The movie could go far more deeply into this, but what we do see is fascinating.

Besides, “Project Power” cares more about its characters than it does the superhero game. It’s a buddy cop movie with two different sets of buddies, and Fishback delivers different but oddly sweet friendships with both men. She and Gordon-Leavitt make for a particularly funny duo, and there’s a sweetness to it I wouldn’t have expected. I had no idea that Gordon-Leavitt needed to do more roles where he was secretly an old man in a young man’s body, but “Project Power” showed me the truth.

The movie is actually relatively subtle about the inevitable sequel tease, but unlike certain bigger-named franchises I was excited to see it. It’s been a long time since I’ve gotten to hang out with superheroes I really like.

Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at themovieguruslc@gmail.com

Project Power

Rated R for violence, bloody images, drug content and some language

  • Written by Mattson Tomlin
  • Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman
  • Starring Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dominique Fishback, Rodrigo Santoro, Courtney B. Vance, Amy Landecker, and more
  • Grade: Three and a half stars (out of four)

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