Project Power Review

The latest original blockbuster to land on Netflix since The Old Guard took the streaming service by storm last month, Project Power once again proves that the big screen feel can be condensed into your living room.

For many years now some of the highest grossing films every summer have been those featuring heroes with spectacular superpowers. In 2020, however, there has been something of a drought. You won’t find this film in a cinema near you, nor will you find anyone in it particularly heroic when compared to their genre competition at Marvel Studios and Warner Brothers. Their powers do not come from a radioactive spider or the radiation from an orange star either, instead being the byproduct of a dangerous new drug flooding the streets of New Orleans. The only thing standing in its way? An ex-military Jamie Foxx in search of his daughter, a vengeful Joseph Gordon-Levitt looking to level the playing field for the NOPD, and an out-of-her-depth Dominique Fishback caught up in the middle of this drug war as she tries to provide for her and her disadvantaged mother.

From the very beginning Project Power is all flash, and thankfully for the viewers at home there is also a healthy dose of substance to go along with it. Impressive CGI aside, the story opens with a mysterious benefactor gifting large quantities of Power to local drug dealers, a pill which grants the user a random animal-based superpower for just five minutes. From bulletproof armadillo skin to chameleon invisibility, the possibilities are endless. So, too, is the potential for chaos on the streets of New Orleans.

Officer Frank, about to survive a gunshot to the head after taking a Power pill

Enter high schooler Robin who is one of the locals enamoured with the money on offer for pushing this new product, conscious of the fact that it is just her and her mother against the world and that she needs an avenue out of her current life to greater things. Rounding out the trinity is the mysterious Art, who the police believe to be the source of Power but who is instead out to take it off the streets and find his kidnapped daughter in the process. If anyone has any doubts as to how Jamie Foxx can take on a superpowered drug dealer then look no further than poor Newt, temporarily portrayed by rapper Machine Gun Kelly.

Nothing good happens when it turns out that The Human Torch isn’t actually fireproof

Straddling the fine line between thrilling action and heartfelt character moments, Project Power manages to juggle the best of both worlds and produce a well-balanced narrative. Just when it feels like the story is getting bogged down along comes a new scene-stealing superpower, and when it all gets just a little bit too gratuitous another layer is peeled back on a main character to further our emotional attachment to them.

That isn’t to say that the film is without its flaws. The elements of Art’s background concerning the government conspiracy behind Power sometimes descends into tedium, and not all of the special effects are as gorgeous as the trailer would have you believe. One instance of extreme gigantism borders on the ridiculous and is more akin to the CGI you would find on network television rather than a Hollywood production. Nevertheless, the shortcomings are little more than nitpicks and are soon overlooked as soon as the next scene enthrals the viewer once more.

The worldbuilding present adds a lot to the narrative. Every television report and newspaper article about a superpowered attack makes the world feel that much more lived-in. Joining the ranks of The Old Guard and Bright, this is another Netflix Original film which would benefit greatly from either a straight sequel or even a television series follow-up.

Art and Robin, the dual emotional heart of proceedings

In conclusion, Project Power is another impressive arrow in the quiver of Netflix’s catalogue of original content. Balancing a cast of A-listers and relative unknowns, impressive set pieces and intimate character moments, and contrasting the allure of superpowers against the sometimes-horrifying consequences, this is one film which fans of the genre dare not miss.

Final Score: 8/10

Cursed Season One Review

Putting a feminist spin on Arthurian legend as the fabled Lady of the Lake takes centre stage, Cursed dismantles expectations and builds a new mythos that satisfies and excites.

Nowadays it comes as no surprise to hear that media giant Netflix have commissioned yet another comic book adaptation, however this time around there is not a superhero cape in sight. There are, however, a collection of mythical figures who all come together to form a pantheon of legends. Its original source material written by Tom Wheeler and illustrated by Frank Miller is toted as a reimagining rather than an adaptation, and that assertion could not be more appropriate. Building off the skeletal framework of English mythology a new story emerges for a new generation, and unlike previous failed attempts in live-action this one has left us wanting more.

In this series we meet Nimue, the legendary Lady of the Lake. She is our protagonist and at this stage in her life she is far from the fabled figure found in dusty old books. Instead she is a young woman who is still mastering the destructive powers which are afforded to her by the Fey blood which runs through her veins.

Nimue and Pym, best friends and the catalysts for two intertwined narratives

She and her friend Pym are desperate to get away from their relatively sheltered life at home, but for Nimue it is significantly harder due to the deep-seated discrimination which is rampant throughout England. This is a result of the religious zealotry practiced by the Red Paladins who hunt and kill her kind, a group who serve as the main villains of the series. After a vicious attack on their village she is forced to flee and barely escapes with her life thanks to the formidable force that is her family’s Sword of Power, otherwise known as Excalibur by Arthurian myth aficionados.

The sword’s power is both tempting and corrupting

The first episode of the series makes excellent use of its time and introduces us to a world that already feels lived in. For a non-HBO television series it boasts striking cinematography and set pieces, although the premiere itself contains the odd jarringly-different shot which can take you out of the moment. This issue does not persist throughout the rest of the series, however, and it makes up for it with fantastic use of both CGI and practical effects.

It is not long before the action revs into high gear and a collective of Arthur, Merlin, Sir Gawain and many more join the fray. Uther Pendragon and Morgana also round out the known figures of myth, with a few more hidden throughout the series that are only revealed to those with season-long patience.

In the world of Cursed the order of things is at a tipping-point. Pendragon is hoping to seize power with the aid of a washed-up Merlin, meanwhile the Red Paladins and the ferocious Weeping Monk leave devastation in their wake wherever they go. Early on in the series Nimu and Arthur join forces in a relationship which initially leaves them at odds with one another, but over time develops into one of mutual respect and compassion.

This powder keg is eventually ignited as the walls close in around Nimue’s Fey found family and she is forced to make a choice which changes the course of her life. Now the beloved Fey Queen, the appointed leader who will lead them against their oppressors, Nimue takes this appointment in her stride at first, but becomes increasingly reliant on the sword’s power which brings complications of its own.

The main power couple of the kingdom

By and large the series is a thoroughly enjoyable watch which quickly diverges from the assumed course of events that an Arthurian legend story would pursue. The premise is intriguing and its execution is on point, with a brilliant performance from Katherine Langford in the starring role carrying the show at times. The ten episode order allows the narrative to progress at a steady pace while never feeling rushed, and by the end of the series a satisfying conclusion has been reached which will leave fans clamouring for a potential second season. One major criticism is that at times the character of Nimue stagnates, leaving the viewer occasionally far more interested in the character arcs of Pym, Merlin, and Arthur, who all have much less screen time.

A compelling interpretation of Merlin who is hopefully given more to do in future seasons

Performance-wise this series knocks it out of the park with everyone involved putting on a stellar show. Gustaf Skarsgård is particularly impressive as the morose Merlin, who after a long life full of tragedy and regrets is almost ready to call curtains on his role on life’s stage before crossing paths with Nimue. Devoid of his powers for the majority of the series save for the odd stunning outburst he is by far the most interesting member of the eclectic cast. The Weeping Monk comes in at a close second although ultimately it is Nimue who is developed the most, and rightly so.

By the time the credits have begun to roll in the finale the stage is set for a much more ambitious and thrill-fuelled sequel. Looking good on paper, in reality this is the television equivalent of a monkey’s paw. Yes, excitement for the future is high and everyone will be talking about those final five minutes for a long time to come. The flip side of this situation is that those final five minutes gave us a taste of what this fledgling season could have been like, and the widened scope for season two which the writers clearly have in mind makes what we have just watched feel just a little bit irrelevant. When the screen fades to black it is almost as if the viewer has just finished watching a prequel written after the fact rather than the beginning of a new series.

Nevertheless, it cannot be overstated how enjoyable the series is once you become invested in its horde of characters. With so many different subplots unfolding it can at times be difficult to keep track of things, but once events start to overlap and the gang finally forms everything starts to fall into place. From a technical standpoint the series is applause-worthy, from its cinematography to practical effects to the charming animated transitions.

Daniel Sharman channeling his inner Victor Von Doom for The Weeping Monk

In conclusion, Cursed is the YA fantasy series which Netflix needs alongside The Witcher to compete in a post-Game of Thrones world where every streaming service is trying to fill the void left in its wake. Its technical and performative achievements outweigh the occasional lull in proceedings, and with a bit of fine-tuning in the interim a prospective second season is sure to wow both fans of the series and also its initial nay-sayers.

Final Score: 8/10

The Old Guard Review

The latest sci-fi offering from the film division of streaming behemoth Netflix is equal parts engrossing and expertly assembled.

If your expectations for The Old Guard do not extend beyond yet another middling Friday night B-movie offering from Netflix then think twice – director Gina Prince-Bythewood hasn’t just broken the mould, she has smashed through it with aplomb. Based on the much-loved Image Comics series penned by Greg Rucka, The Old Guard is about a group of immortal mercenaries who have done their best to make the world a better place throughout history. Now in the present day, the first new immortal warrior in two centuries has unlocked her abilities and the CEO of a pharmaceutical company is hell-bent on obtaining their DNA in order to give modern medicine the kickstart it needs to become future medicine. With so many spinning plates in this film there is certainly a lot to unpack and not a lot of time to do it.

Yet somehow during the span of a two-hour blockbuster enough nuance and character development is packed-in to make this the most emotional sci-fi action thriller to grace our screens in a long time.

The crew as they originally appeared in print

This is thanks to Prince-Bythewood’s expert handling of the impressive cast that has been assembled in front of her, as well as the heroic efforts of fight coordinator Daniel Hernandez and the tight screenplay provided by original writer Greg Rucka. All of these elements come together beautifully to give us a film which dedicates appropriate time to each character, allows them to gel onscreen as a unit, and contains some of the best fight choreography in recent years which does not need to rely on quick cuts to hide its shortcomings.

The particular strain of immortality which flows through the veins of our protagonists is akin to that of Wolverine’s abilities from the Marvel universe. Damage can be done to their bodies and kill them temporarily, however moments or minutes later they will recover and heal their wounds in suitably grotesque fashion. Putting a twist on the concept which prevents the stakes from being removed altogether is the drawback of this immortality eventually expiring. This is shown to have happened to other immortals within the history of this fictional world, and it is now happening to Andromache ‘Andy’ of Scythia, perfectly portrayed by Charlize Theron.

Andy sure does love that handheld weapon of mass destruction

At the beginning of the film Andy is cold and distant, having grown weary over the centuries of helping mankind and seeing the world still be a hive of villainy. She is then drawn back into the fold by the lure of a humanitarian crisis offered up to her by CIA agent Copley, the impressive Chiwetel Ejiofar. This is revealed to be a trap set to capture the group, which then goes awry as we get a violent glimpse of what they are capable of.

From the very beginning the film is at full throttle, and within ten minutes the concept has been explained, the premise is clear, a taste of the action has been provided, and the audience is ready to enjoy the next two hours of their evening. But make no mistake, seeing the damage that these characters can sustain and inflict is not the only allure of this film – the characters themselves are equally enticing. Andy herself is the cautionary tale, showing what happens when years have gone by and eventually humanity means little to you after closing yourself off from it. Booker shows that watching your children grow old and sick while you are still eternally youthful takes its toll, and sometimes you wish that it would all just end. Joe and Nicky embody the benefits of immortality after finding each other, and an impassioned speech by Joe in the face of danger conveys their love beautifully. Finally, Nile is the eyes through which we see the film as adjusting to this new life is both scary and exciting, before realising that you will outlive your family and friends.

Joe, Booker, Andy, Nicky, and Nile. Not quite The Famous Five, but close enough

That being said, there are some drawbacks to this film. While the fight choreography is stunning and a sight to behold, it has a habit of sometimes being accompanied by a jarring soundtrack which tends to ruin the moment. These odd musical choices also make their way into other scenes, which unfortunately distract the audience rather than set the mood. Additionally, the villain who is hounding our gang of warriors is rather unconvincingly played by Harry Melling, who does not quite suit the role he has been given although he does put in a good performance like everyone else in the cast. There are also a couple of head-scratching moments throughout the film, such as the gang’s aversion to wearing any sort of body armour or protection. Yes, they can heal from their wounds, but it has been shown that they are still easily incapacitated by live ammunition. Wearing protective gear would surely help rather than hinder them, and its absence seems like an excuse to show off yet again just how badass they are.

Nevertheless, these gripes are minor in comparison to the triumphs celebrated by the rest of the cast and crew and can be overlooked in the moment. It is only really upon reflection that they stick out and prevent this film from being a flawless blockbuster.

Merrick isn’t quite as intimidating as a gang of immortal mercenaries

The Old Guard manages to make its audience feel both compassion and exhilaration as its narrative balances both gory violence and heart-wrenching trauma. Although headlined by Charlize Theron and Chiwetel Ejiofar, the rest of the cast all rise to the challenge and come together effortlessly, making this an impressive ensemble action thriller which is certainly not expendable. With a satisfying conclusion and sequel-tease before the credits, The Old Guard will hopefully become The New Franchise to rave about.

Final Score: 9/10

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