Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt star in a new-ish take on Superpowers.
In the near future, next Sunday A.D., a new drug has hit the streets of New Orleans: Power. As the name itself implies, whoever takes the drugs is given a random superpower for five minutes. Some people can become invisible, some become bulletproof, some can only see in the dark, and some blow up. Frank Shaver (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an officer in the New Orleans Police Department, has been investigating the drug, and using it in the process. His dealer is a young girl named Robin (Dominique Fishback), who gets the drug from her cousin, Newt (Colson Baker). At the same time, another man, called “The Major” (Jamie Foxx) has been in town tracking down the source of the drug. After Newt gets killed in a fight with The Major, The Major abducts Robin to use as an informant. It’s revealed that the Major is a former soldier named Art who was used as a guinea pig by a private defense firm to manufacture superpowers, and the firm kidnapped his daughter, Tracy (Kyanna Simone Simpson). Eventually, Art and Frank have to work together to stop this super plague upon the streets.
This movie attempts to make a grittier and more grounded style of superhero film in the vein of Code 8 or Upgrade, but doesn’t quite push the envelope as much as you would hope. It does contain some original uses of superpowers and some fun imagery and fight sequences, as well as some realistic side effects of using such powers, but the film feels to me like it lacked some depth. Maybe it’s because Netflix required it to be a little more palatable to everyone, or maybe I was just reading into it too much. All of the pieces are there for a solid superhero film, although the dialogue can be a little slow in any scene that doesn’t have Jamie Foxx. That man can make almost anything sound interesting. The problem is that I felt like they seeded a bunch of themes, but ultimately only touched upon them lightly.
The power sets in the film range from the standard (Bulletproof, invisibility) to the weird (bone weapons, hyper jointedness), which keeps the fights interesting. The five minute time limit is basically a way to force fast action set pieces, because if you waste another second before you lose your invulnerability or superspeed, the game is over. Everyone gets their own power, the same one they will get every time they take the drug, which means that you can have people who have thought about the limits of their abilities and worked around them. One of the fight scenes uses creative powers and some clever camera work to particularly great effect.
The characters in the film are very generic. You have the cop who plays by his own rules in order to get the job done and the dad who is willing to go to almost any length in order to get his child back as the leads. If they weren’t played by actors who can maneuver a line as well as Foxx and Gordon-Levitt, the characters would be mostly forgettable, but sometimes that’s enough. Robin, played extremely well by Dominique Fishback, is probably the most interesting character, because she doesn’t fall into any narrow trope. She’s a drug dealing kid, but it’s because her mom is sick. She’s an aspiring rapper and has pride in her skills, but has stage fright. Her moments bonding with the two leads are some of the better non-action scenes in the film.
My biggest problem is that the movie is about a company with government ties conducting what are essentially unsanctioned clinical trials on an unsuspecting population of mostly impoverished and minority people, but nothing more is said of that. That’s a thing that has happened, multiple times, throughout the history of the US in various capacities. The government and private companies have used the poor as guinea pigs without their knowledge on multiple occasions, ranging from the Tuskegee Experiments to paying doctors in poor areas to distribute oxycodone, and I think the film should have drawn these comparisons a little more directly. I know that’s a nitpick, but it was right there.
Overall, still a pretty solid movie. Yeah, it’s not going to blow any minds, but it was fun.
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