The superpowers in Netflix’s new movie Project Power did not come from a different planet, nor are they the result of a bite from a genetically mutated spider. Nobody inherited enough money from their dead parents to buy heroism. Instead, the superpowers come from a pill, one that’s being sold on the streets by kids like Robin (Dominique Fishback), pursued by cops like Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and the source of personal anger (not to mention the impetus for a monologue about pistol shrimp) for family men like Frank (Jamie Foxx). This here is a superpower origin story, sort of. More accurately, it’s the story of the origin of a product that works in mostly absurd and ridiculous ways.
From the backstory provided by Foxx’s Art, the pill — dubbed Power — was invented by a shady organization named Teleios, years before it hit the New Orleans streets. Teleios initially tested the drug on a group of Rangers, including Art, who passed whatever genetic damage done onto to him to his daughter Tracy (Kyanna Simpson), whom he helped conceive soon after taking the pill. Now she possesses power without the drug, prompting Teleios to kidnap her in an effort to harvest her DNA. Tracy could lead them to permanent Power (sequel alert!), according to Gardner (Amy Landecker), a scientist behind this operation, that envisions humans unlocking the kinds of evolutionary powers octopus, wolverine frogs and, yes, pistol shrimp have been harboring for years. The pill is now in “chemical trials” in different cities, and comes with a chip that tracks who takes them, what power they have, and whether they live or not.
The one constant about the pills in Project Power is that their effects only last five minutes, which means that wrist watches are officially back in style in directors Henry Jost and Ariel Schulman’s universe. We don’t know too much more about the product, except that it’s hilariously unpredictable — as Rodrigo Santoro’s main supplier Biggie cautions to buyers during a presentation about the pills, “results may vary.” You could be lucky like Gordon-Levitt’s cop character, whose pill-popping proves extra handy for whenever he gets shot on the job. Or you could be the cursed guy at Biggie’s big presentation, who twists the pill to activate it, swallows it, and then blows up as if he swallowed a bomb. There’s seemingly no logic to any of it — but we do know that the effects are being monitored, so maybe someone is controlling them. As Robin states to her potential buyers, misleading them quite a bite: “You get what you get.”
Below is a breakdown of all of the powers that we see (or even just hear about) in the new movie. (Warning: Spoilers ahead.)
The first major power we get to witness is that of Machine Gun Kelly’s dealer Newt, who takes the pill in an attempt to kill Art, who’s come to Newt’s apartment to ask him questions about his supplier. One pop of a pill that’s been inside a Hungryman Frozen Food box and he’s a human torch, a power that leaves behind irreparable damage to his face and hoodie collection. When his chase with Art lasts longer than five minutes, he inexplicably re-ups with more pills. Here it should be noted that the fire emanating from his body, even multiplied by three doses, can briefly be put out by water from a New Orleans neighbor furious about property damage to her bathroom. Newt’s ultimate explosive end serves as a reminder on Power — don’t overdose on it.
The ability to radically alter one’s body temperature goes the other way, as with a fatal demonstration later in the movie, in which a woman’s body freezes … to death. Before everything goes haywire Biggie says her power is “just like Frozen,” which turns out to be incorrect.
Frank’s first big action scene in Project Power has him chasing a bank robber with the ability to camouflage. (He’s credited as Griff the Camouflage Man, played by Corey DeMeyers. It’s uncertain if the guy was initially a bank robber and just got lucky with the pill’s effect on him, or if he took to the profession after learning his skill.) Just like thermoregulation, the camouflage isn’t infallible, and in this case it’s Griff’s poor decision to open the money bag and trigger the dye pack inside that dampens his power.
Before running into harm’s way of the bank robbery in progress, good cop Frank sets his watch and takes his own pill, a controversial act given the police force’s anti-Power stance. The pill gives him bulletproof powers by hardening his body’s exterior, which comes in handy when Camouflage Man shoots him in the face. The bullet simply bounces off his temple, and though it knocks him down for a few seconds, he’s able to get back up with only a bloodshot eye and a cool indent on the side of his head as a souvenir. The pill’s effects are lucky a second time when someone once again shoots him, allowing Frank to play dead. “It’s cool, right?” Frank says to Robin.
The healing properties afforded by Power come in several forms. For example, when a dealer named Cuello (Azhar Khan) takes the pill and is subsequently shot by Art, it takes only a few moments before he comes back to life, the bullets in his body pushed out by whatever rejuvenating force is surging through him. (This power is supposedly based off a lizard, though I’m not sure you should shoot one to find out). This particular ability, however, is no match for a stab wound that Foxx gives Cuello five minutes and one second after taking the pill.
According to a few brief glimpses of secret materials in a secret control room, we know that other people in Project Power also have the ability to regenerate as well — like Art’s daughter Tracy, who is able to physically heal other people, a power she demonstrates when she brings her pistol shrimp-like dad back to life in the movie’s denouement.
Rodrigo Santoro’s Biggie is an excellent hype man for the pill (“This is Power” / “So much Power, por favor”) but he gets one of the rawest deals. As a result of Power, Biggie apparently honors his name by growing from Santoro’s 6’1” height to ten feet tall, the effects leading to bulbous skin and one arm larger than the other. He grows to Incredible Hulk-size when his presentation is sabotaged by Art and Frank, he eventually falls to the inconvenience of a basement with narrow hallways and filled with explosive gas tanks.
One of the more exciting superpowers — at least in terms of its onscreen impressiveness — comes in a knockaround fight scene with Gordon-Levitt and real-life contortionist Xavier Day. There’s not a lot of backstory behind this henchman, but there is a true talent to Day’s actual bend-ability. We also have to give props to the scene’s fight choreographer Cory DeMeyers, who also plays Camouflage Man.
This particular power is referenced early on in the story when we hear a listener calling into a radio station tell a DJ about someone who “lifted a car over his freaking head!” In the course of Project Power, it’s mainly used to open doorways with a fist instead of using the handles, and it still proves to be no foil for a shotgun to the chest.
The henchman with this power is appropriately named Knifebones (played by Yoshi Sudarso, who used to be a Power Ranger). Inspired by the wolverine frog, which according to Biggie “breaks its own bones to use as weapons,” the bones of Mr. Knifebones jut out from his body, and are capable of slicing through steel pipes. This proves less advantageous in the end, though, because as Art reminds Sir Knifebones, you too can be stabbed by the end of your bone knives.
Pure Pistol Shrimp Power
Foxx’s Art is a big fan of the pistol shrimp, which he says hits its enemies with such a force that it “vaporizes the water around it … eight thousand degrees hotter than the surface of the sun.” As an alleged carrier of genetic material that mirrors that of the pistol shrimp, Art takes the pill and exhibits a mega version of this force: He sends waves of power that cut bulky shipping containers like blocks of cheese and blow away henchmen by ripping through their skin. It’s so powerful too that it requires a healer to bring him back to life after he deploys it, which could mean that there aren’t many fellow pistol shrimps out there.
Speaking of calls into a DJ, we also hear about super speed in this way. Similarly, an extended close-up of a newspaper headline mentions someone outrunning a police car on foot. My guess is that we’ll see this in a sequel that Netflix is bound to announce, especially as speediness would be super handy to take advantage of a pill that only works for five minutes. Set your watches.