Warning: very spoilery article. (You can read my review and watch the trailer here.)
Hidden superpowers – we all have them. I apparently have a third arm visible only to my children, which miraculously appears at school pick-up when they chuck everything at me. If you don’t, then try pretending you do. It’s amazing what people will believe, especially if they’re under 5 and you’ve told them you have eyes in the back of your head and a direct line to Santa.
Project Power is a big, easily-digested metaphor about power, and how society is stacked against many of its members; who need to discover their own talents and powers and use them to carve a space, hold the line, and even fight back in order to survive and progress.
Though it’s also about, simply, drugs: their usage, their unregulated inconsistency, the different and sometimes lethal reactions for different users, and how their ravaging of communities can play into the hands of those in power.
It’s always easy to read too much into a shoot ’em up movie. Project Power is great entertainment though it does also generate a lot of questions. (If you’re not interested in my musings, then go to the next paragraph where the spoilers are instead. I won’t be offended.) Maybe we will get a sequel, that delves more into how governments and cartels start using the drug? I’d like to see that – with more examples of unexpected superpowers.
I said in my review that the ending both ties things up nicely and leaves things open. In brief, the four (Art, Tracy, Robin and Frank) survive, but so does Teleios the company; the drugs, too, are out there. When Art and Frank take on and kill Biggie during a Power demonstration for South American Drugs Lady, she escapes with the cases of pills in the chaos at the end.
It’s at that demonstration that Art tracks down Biggie and makes him tell Art where Tracy is being held – on the boat the Genesis. Then Frank turns up, having been sent by his boss. Biggie uses the distraction to take a pill and changes into a hulk with a huge comedy hand. Frank and Art cause an explosion and Big Biggie dies. Art convinces Frank his bosses are in on it and explains that New Orleans is a test area to stabilise the product before it goes nationwide and international.
Art gets himself captured and taken onto the Genesis, Dr Gardner’s ship at the docks. He’s presented to Dr Gardner who gives one of those movie lectures about how they’re really a pioneer, but Art calls her a drug dealer. (What is it with villains and big speeches! Do a blog post and we’ll read it later.) Robin and Frank reunite and she directs him through the ship from the plans she finds in the bridge; he gets to Art who has talked the guard into freeing him. Robin realises where Tracy is and goes down to find her. Art, Robin, Tracy and Frank meet up and head for the lifeboat.
(Tracy’s reunion with Art at this point is the moment I mentioned in my review – we see them hugging and crying, and Robin is nearby, happy but aware she’s on the outside again. At the end of the day it’s always her and her mum Irene against the world.)
Robin, Tracy and Frank make it to the lifeboat, but Robin is captured and Gardner threatens to kill her if Tracy isn’t returned. Instead Art goes out there and takes a pill – we already know if he takes one the Pistol Shrimp-power he unleashes will be huge.
The shock wave is spectacular, taking out the guards all around and burning those nearest to him to nothing. A crane topples on Gardner. Robin emerges completely unscathed. I’m not sure how, but no matter – I’m delighted Robin lives to fight (back) another day, as she’s such a fantastic character.
Art is now dead and I honestly thought that would be it. We usually have someone sacrifice themselves in a film like this (I just wish it had been Frank. Sorry Frank!) But then Tracy brings her dad back to life.
They all escape in the lifeboat, and Tracy heals a gunshot wound of Frank’s. The next day, Art tells Frank that’s it for him. Frank meanwhile decides to look for a journalist and get the story out there. Art tells Robin he’s left her something in the boot of his other truck, and he and Tracy drive off. Hitting the open road, Tracy pulls off her lab wristband and throws it out of the window.
Robin goes to the truck parked in the city, and finds a bag of money there. So she can finally pay for her mum’s operation and doesn’t need to sell Power any more.
At the very end we hear a radio DJ announce a new track by new MC Robin Reilly.
Okay, back to my musings on Power! Biggie, when negotiating with South American Drugs Lady, suggests various ways they could utilise it. Personally, I could see Power being used in four ways: kept for an elite to enjoy, whether rich kids of Instagram or raging despots who like to imagine themselves superheroes; given to the powerless, so their new superpowers can be exploited; used to create super-soldiers; or used as a distraction tool to keep communities busy while the powerful get on with what you really want to do (religion used to be the opiate of the people, after all).
What will Teleios do without Tracy though? Maybe they have enough tissue from her to synthesise it, or maybe she will always be a hunted woman. Maybe Frank and others can turn the tables so it’s used for good.
With Dr Gardner believing herself to be expanding what it means to be human, there is plenty of religious imagery. The ship that houses her organisation and its laboratory – which Art, Frank and Robin rescue Tracy from – is called Genesis. Teleios (perfection, maturity, or here mankind reaching its apogee) is a term used in the New Testament.
By the way, if you hadn’t previously heard about Henrietta Lacks, she was a real person, a young black mother who was treated for (and died from) cervical cancer back in the 1950s. Some of her cells were taken without her consent and cultured. For some reason the cells would not die, and were repeatedly cultured to create more. Called HeLa (the first two letters of her first and last name), since then the cells have been used in vast numbers of experiments and have helped drive many scientific breakthroughs (Jonas Salk used them to test his Polio vaccine). Over the past few years her contribution has been recognised, and there’s been a conversation around consent and privacy (including that of her surviving family members).
Project Power is available on Netflix