Last month saw the release of the Netflix original film Project Power, which has been marketed to the masses as the big budget popcorn movie we all would have otherwise flocked to theaters to see but were treated to the convenience of having at home. I’m sure, after watching, the masses all had a somewhat similar reaction, ranging from “huh… that wasn’t very good,” all the way to “huh… that was pretty good.” You know, the full spectrum of passionate reactions. More so than anything, a movie like Project Power leaves general audiences confused: why was something that I was told was gonna be massively cool so plainly bland? It’s a pretty standard marketing ploy: put a new spice on the slop and the piggies will eat it up… but it’s still the same slop.
This is nothing particularly against Project Power. I would place myself on the “huh… that wasn’t very good” end of the spectrum but it’s far from an offensive assault on the brain. It’s a mediocre superhero/action movie that probably would have been theatrically released in February or March or even August (if the studio execs were feeling particularly saucy about it) in any given year and turned an okay profit (with a random, tiny batch of passionate fans that beg for a sequel that the actors tease might happen over the course of the next six years and eventually comes out and no one gives a shit – whaddup, Pacific Rim?).
But Netflix wants you to believe you’ve never seen something like this before, or at least not in a long time. Not just in the sense that it’s an original film and isn’t based on any preestablished IP but even further in the sense of legit movie stars like Jamie Foxx and JGL (I will not call him anything else) getting to play around in a pulpy action thriller that the whole family can enjoy. They want you to be reminded of movies like Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Smokin’ Aces or any of the mid-2000’s Will Smith action movies like Hancock, I, Robot or I Am Legend, movies where big-time movie stars got to run around and have fun in a relatively breezy action movie that didn’t make you think too hard. It harkens back to a subgenre that got eaten alive by comic book franchises and YA adaptations in the late aughts.
So, while it might seem like a smart move to make something that harkens back to those mid-2000’s summer blockbusters with a flair of superhero antics to keep it with the current times, to me, it seems like a fraught cause. Those 2000’s action movies got eaten alive for a reason: they fucking sucked. Much like Project Power, none of those five movies I mentioned above are good or memorable in any way. Say what you will about Marvel movies or The Hunger Games, but I’d watch any of those over a 2000’s-era action movie like Shooter. A Marvel movie may seem generic to us now, since we have so many, but those movies are carefully crafted and made with someone in mind and the same goes for something like The Hunger Games. You can make something for a mass audience while still maintaining some level of audience specificity. Movies like Project Power are destined to fail because they’re for everybody. And when you make something for everybody, you end up making something for nobody. It’s like putting out a bowl of M&Ms at a party: no one is gonna get mad about it but no one’s gonna get excited about it either… it’s just a safe choice that will go relatively unnoticed.
I suppose it doesn’t matter. Netflix isn’t in the business of quality. Yes, they like to woo auteurs like Scorsese and Kaufman over by telling them they can have a budget to do whatever they want for any sort of prestige project they’re interested in but outside of that, they’re mostly interested in making half-decent trash that passes the time on a lazy evening. Sometimes you end up with something rad like Extraction but more often than not, you end up with Project Power or Bird Box. It doesn’t need to be good, it just needs to have an attractive thumbnail image on the screen that a family of five can all shrug their shoulders at and say “yeah, I guess I’d watch that.”
Passive consensus, that’s where Netflix thrives. They have the unique ability to give us the tasty, mid-budget dramas we’ve been craving the return of for the last ten years, and thought they were going to provide, but instead, have elected to serve up the action trash we threw away 12 years ago but this time a little more colorful but overall less fulfilling.