Mandatory Movie Battles: Netflix’s ‘Project Power’ v. Bradley Cooper’s ‘Limitless’
“What if a pill could make you rich and powerful? It can solve any problem. It can unlock your potential. But once the world is yours, everyone wants a piece.”
“If there was a pill that could give you five minutes of pure power, would you take it?”
That first tagline you read was for the Bradley Cooper vehicle, Limitless (2011). The second was for Netflix’s recently-released Project Power. Both films revolve around a mysterious drug that serves as one hell of a plot device. Project Power’s pill temporarily gives the consumer superpowers at the risk of killing them while Limitless’ “nootropic” (NZT-48) allows the consumer to use the full extent of their brainpower, but it also makes you the definition of an addict. Who would’ve thought that drugs could cause so many problems? Societal/free-market contemplation aside, it’s not enough to have a solid tagline and concept, a movie needs to deliver the goods (even if those goods are passed along in a plastic baggy in the parking lot of your nearest 7/11—a deal’s a deal). So which is the better film? Let’s find out!
Cover Photo: Netflix/20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
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Pitting Bradley Cooper against Jamie Foxx is the kind of title fight that would set pay-per-view records. On their best days, it’s a toss-up; unfortunately for Foxx, Project Power is not his best day. While Foxx does an adequate job as Art, the former soldier on a mission to free his daughter from the drug-peddlers, his performance doesn’t carry the film. Cooper’s does. Cooper’s charisma makes Eddie Morra’s transition from struggling author to financial guru (everything guru really) seamless. If it weren’t for his performance, Limitless would be asking the audience to suspend our disbelief even more than we have to already.
Yes, Limitless has Robert De Niro, but he’s just there. Limitless is Cooper’s show, and outside of him, there’s not much going on performance-wise. Project Power, on the other hand, is much more of an ensemble piece: Joseph Gordon-Levitt was a local (and occasionally bull-proof) cop, Dominique Fishback arguably steals every scene as the teenage drug dealer, Robin, and MGK even shows up as Newt (introductory drug dealer).
Winner: Project Power
On the one hand, you have a pill that grants you unknown superpowers (you could be set ablaze, become invisible, bulletproof, or a hurricane of energy) for five minutes, but you may die after repeated use...Limitless’ NZT makes you smarter and faster—it changes your whole life, giving you access to the 80-90 percent of your brain that normally lies dormant: perfect recollection of everything you’ve ever read, seen, or heard. We can finally accomplish everything we’ve ever dreamt of (not to mention finally doing the dishes). We might have to deal with some hardcore dependency issues, but which one would we rather take? No contest.
With caffeine, Adderall, and a plethora of nootropics on the market, people are always trying to be the best they can be (for lack of a better phrase). The whole “humans only using 10 percent of their brains” thing has been studied and obsessed over for, well, forever (Limitless says we only use 20 percent...so apparently in that universe science is different). The concept behind Limitless, upon hearing about it, sort of felt trite, preposterous, and cliché. That said, Project Power, and the whole “genetic superpowers are accessible but only for a short period and at a cost,” set the film up to do something different. Project Power presented a real opportunity to subvert genre expectations. Unfortunately...
Winner: Project Power
This one’s more about execution of concept.
Project Power doesn’t do anything new. It doesn’t upend any superhero tropes and reads like a brochure to an off-brand Marvel movie—it’s predictable, which is a shame because it ruins a lot of the fun. Limitless doesn’t do that. The latter was such a thrill ride (and low-key cerebral) that it entered pop culture's lexicon.
People still talk about Limitless, the movie about that magic pill that can turn a bum into the next president. Sketchy companies have advertised “the real-life Limitless pill” for years. The movie even spawned a spin-off series; it was canceled, but that’s to be expected. Limitless took its concept and ran with it (for better or worse) while Project Power jogged and played it safe. That’s why people remember Limitless and will forget about Project Power.
For obvious reasons, Project Power excels in this category. It’s a dumb action movie with a climactic CGI showdown. While there’s nothing wrong with that, and it certainly seems like an appropriate addition to other Netflix outings this summer (ex. Extraction and The Old Guard), it’s not going to help it best Limitless in this battle of wits. Regardless, put it on the board.
Winner: Project Power
Limitless' cheap narrative techniques and missteps are often overshadowed by its visuals. Whether Eddie is taking a pill and cleaning his apartment or blacking out, watching Limitless feels like you’re taking NZT with him. That’s probably one of the reasons the film is so intoxicating. Both Limitless and Project Power ask you to turn off your brain and enjoy the ride, but Limitless distracts you enough to forget you’re not thinking.
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Equipped with a unique concept, Project Power attempts to subvert expectations but then, five minutes later (it would seem), it becomes a superhero knock-off. Limitless is the power fantasy we craved and still crave. While it’s certainly an exercise in vanity and not an existential drug trial like Alan Glynn’s The Dark Fields (the novel that inspired it), Limitless relishes in the arrogance of everything it claims to be.
“I don’t have delusions of grandeur, I have an actual recipe for grandeur.” — Eddie Morra
Overall Winner: Limitless
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