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Project Power is the most recent Netflix project featuring a great cast, but the attention-grabber for me is the screenplay debut for Mattson Tomlin (also co-writing The Batman with Matt Reeves). It's the closest to a superhero movie any viewer is going to get for the following months, but at the same time, it couldn't be more different than the usual flicks from said genre. I barely knew a thing about the film besides the synopsis and the cast, so I was open to everything Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman cooked up. The concept definitely intrigued me, the cast convinced me, and the movie itself... didn't reach half of its potential, unfortunately.
Let's start with the positives. Even though Dominique Fishback had a part in The Hate U Give, this is her first big role in an also big film, and she's probably the best thing about it. She delivers a pretty good performance, especially for someone who has to share so much screentime with two experienced actors, but her rapping skills steal the show. Not only the improvised lines fit her character, Robin, but the way that she raps elevates every single rhyme. As expected, Jamie Foxx is remarkable as Art, as well as Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Frank. Both incorporate their characters seamlessly, performing their dialogues and action sequences with ease.
Character-wise, Robin and Art receive generic yet quite efficient arcs. Both are driven by cliche motivations connected to their own families, but the actors do a fantastic job making it all feel realistic and emotionally compelling. Mattson Tomlin's script for each character also helps with captivating conversations and memorable lines. However, both the story and the remaining characters lack depth. Frank doesn't have any sort of backstory or unique motives, being merely a cop who wants to protect his city. The "bad guys" (Rodrigo Santoro, Amy Landecker) represent the most formulaic aspect of the whole movie: just the usual greedy, egocentric, power-driven drug dealers, version #271837 put to film.
The movie's concept is fascinating, and its first half does an excellent job of exploring and expanding that premise. Sadly, the main focus eventually switches to the supposedly more entertaining, action-heavy plot. The "supposedly" wasn't written by chance because the action scenes are rather disappointing, to be honest. Sure, there are a couple of unquestionably eye-opening sequences, which contain decent visuals. Nevertheless, most are so filled with CGI and hard-to-follow, choppy editing (Jeff McEvoy) that I could rarely see an entire sequence clearly. Michael Simmonds' cinematography employs way too shaky camera movements as well.
There's even what I think was supposed to look like a one-take action set piece, but due to the aspects referenced above, it just doesn't seem like it. In addition to this, the powers displayed could use a bit more creativity. Having in mind that everyone has a different power, superstrength, superspeed, or the ability to create fire aren't exactly groundbreaking skills. With so many superhero films released in the past few years, Project Power could have delivered something unique (granted, there's one underrated power taken from an animal that's pretty badass), but it stayed in the safe zone.
Overall, the action and the editing are so inconsistent that I can't really fault them entirely. The most disappointing aspect of all is how little development the primary narrative gets. I firmly believe it's a fantastic premise to create a TV show out of it, but Joost and Schulman could have done a better job with Tomlin's screenplay, which could have taken a much more detailed approach with a more experienced writer. Taking everything into account...
Project Power boasts a talented cast, featuring a badass Jamie Foxx and a remarkable Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but it's Dominique Fishback who steals the spotlight. Demonstrating not only her acting abilities but also her rapping skills, Fishback shines in her first significant role. Her character and Foxx's are the heart and soul of the movie, which possesses a genuinely intriguing take on the superhero concept, but that, unfortunately, fails to reach its potential. The remaining characters are extremely undeveloped, especially the cliche, power-thirsty villains who I even struggle to remember their names. Some action sequences might deliver what viewers are looking for, but most are packed with an incomprehensible amount of CGI, uncontrollably choppy editing, shaky camera movements, and a lack of imagination regarding the powers shown. If the focus stayed in telling a more detailed narrative instead of the disappointing action, maybe it would have been quite a nice surprise. As it is, it's far from being a bad film, so I recommend it to anyone who wants a generic yet remotely entertaining action-packed Netflix flick.