WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Project Power, streaming now on Netflix.
To date, we have had superhero films where, in order to gain superpowers, one has to be born with them, be worthy enough to attain them, or be lab rats in a risky experiment. But with Netflix’s latest superhero outing, Project Power, we have another option: Anyone can be a superhero (or supervillain) as long as they pop a power pill that will grant superpowers like camouflage, super-speed, fire-resistance, thermoregulation -- but only for five minutes. But how?
The power pill's origin is tied into the military experiments that were being conducted to create super soldiers. The experiment went horribly wrong pushing one of the volunteers, Art (Jamie Foxx), to quit the program. But, it turned out that the experiments had altered his DNA in a way that his power remained dormant after the drug's effects wore off. He was able to pass down the drug's effects to his daughter Tracy, who started exhibiting superpowers as she grew up.
An evil, shady government organization, Teleios, got wind of her abilities and kidnapped her. They discovered that she was a viable source of producing the drug to unlock specific powers in people, but were unable to stabilize its effects -- or worse, its negative consequences.
The company disperses the drug in the form of pills in the streets of New Orlean to experiment with them on a small “expendable” group, monitor the effects and then move on to bigger cities. While the special advantages of the power pills are advertised, the company also cautions its users that the pills can have deadly effects. However, people still take them because, in a city where there is a stark class difference between the elite and the poor, the idea of a power that is up for grabs is alluring.
Basically the pills work somewhat like the drug in 2011’s Limitless
, but with more pseudo-scientific backing and superhero fanfare. It also brings the super-soldier serum used in 2011's Captain America: The First Avenger
to mind, but that was all about focusing on the moral scale of the user. As Steve Roger’s heart was pure, the serum enhanced him. But in the case of the Red Skull, while it did enhance him physically, it also disfigured him as the serum amplified the evil within him, making Johann Schmidt damaged physical appearance reflect who he truly was.
But that’s not the case in Project Power, as here the effects of the pill are based in biology and genetics. In the animal kingdom, many animals are have special abilities, like camouflage, super speed, or squirting deadly poison, which they can use in times of need. Project Power implies that most humans have similar animalistic powers, but they remain dormant.
The power pill is an amalgamation of the DNA-structures of different animals which, when ingested, works to find and activate the suppressed ability in the human that matches any of its DNA strands. As the mechanisms of the pill and its effects are tied into people's genetic structure, they'll get the same ability each time they take the pill, like the almost-bulletproof body that cop Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) gets every time he pops a pill.
But there are also multiple examples throughout Project Power that show the pill doesn’t always grant five minutes of boundless power -- sometimes it is instant death. In the case of the young drug dealer Newt (Machine Gun Kelly), who took three pills at the same time as he believed it would increase the time limit, he OD’ed on it and blew up. There were also instances when a user instantly exploded on consuming the power pill, which means that when the drug in the pill can’t find any dormant power to activate, its intrinsic energy remains unused and thus is directed outwards, killing the user.
Starring Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dominique Fishback, Rodrigo Santoro, Courtney B. Vance and Amy Landecker, Project Power premiered Friday, August 14 on Netflix.