Does a film need to be based on a comic book to be a comic book movie?
Not anymore! The genre has become so ubiquitous on-screen that original flicks are snapping up its capes-and-world-domination tropes to tell new tales.
Netflix’s enjoyable “Project Power,” which is not inspired by any graphic novel, joins the club with a plot about superpowers that come from taking an illegal pill.
Favored by thugs, the underworld drug affects each person differently for five-minute bursts: some become invisible, a few turn into flame or ice, the unlucky ones explode.
Yet more comic book-like, the film also centers around a bloodthirsty vendetta, as former soldier Art (Jamie Foxx) tries to rescue his daughter Tracy (Kyanna Simone Simpson) from the same evil drug-pushers that performed cruel experiments on him. The heightened action sequences have an illustrated quality to them.
But there is enough detail and psychological nuance in Mattson Tomlin’s clever script to make “Project Power” more intriguing than most of what Marvel and DC have to offer, even if it could barely match their catering budgets.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, for instance, plays a New Orleans cop named Frank who pops the pill discreetly during shootouts. Street-smart and hungry, Frank knows the only way he can clean up his city is by getting on an even footing with its criminals. His power is strong, bulletproof skin.
Early on, he meets Robin (Dominique Fishback), who is a young dealer — and aspiring rapper — who leads him to a local supplier that, in turn, reveals a plot to make a pill with permanent effects.
Art’s mind, meanwhile, has been warped by his experience, and he’s plagued by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), losing sight of reality and flashing back to past traumas. Foxx is the rare actor who can bring his acting prowess to genres that don’t outright demand it. Not every Oscar winner can do that. (*Cough* Brie Larson *Cough*)
Regrettably, Foxx and Gordon-Levitt spend less than half the movie together, so there is no buddy-cop dynamic. While their characters have a mutual goal — bring down the drug — they arrive there via separate paths.
Which brings me to an unexpected twist. There isn’t really a core villain — a big kahuna, if you will — but rather a series of suppliers and wannabe kingpins with foreign accents. Frank and Art aren’t fighting Thanos or Blofeld, but the drug itself and the havoc it wreaks: crime, bodily harm, crumbling neighborhoods.
In a move that no one would deem in vogue in 2020, “Project Power” would seem to be a rallying cry for the War on Drugs.
And it’s a hell of a lot more fun than D.A.R.E.