NBC’s Heroes has a lot to answer for. It wasn’t the first story to mine the idea of ordinary people with extraordinary abilities, nor was it even the best (go rent USA Network’s The 4400 and thank us later). It was however the one that broke the idea to the mainstream and showed that the superhero angle had appeal beyond 40-year-old fat dudes living in their parent’s basement. So along with that show we’re regularly treated to the likes of Wanted, Jumper, and now Push, that talk the talk but seem to uniformly agree that building the kind of rich, solid mythology the likes of Batman and Spiderman were built on is just waaayyy too much of a bother.
Instead we get the ever-impressive Dakota Fanning (one of the few pluses on offer), who, as watcher Cassie, delivers a lengthy set-up speech about Nazi experiments and secret agencies and the many different classifications of abilities: Pushers (mind control), Watchers (clairvoyants), Stitches (psychic healers) etc. Movers, she explains, “is just a fancy way of saying telekinetic,” which only begs the question as to why they don’t just call them telekinetics then? Because, of course, that veers too uncomfortably close to the fat, virgin guys in the basements again. It’s a speech so long that you begin to wonder if she’ll in fact just tell us how the movie ends and save us two hours – sadly no such luck.
So after a suitably loud and violent opening in which a prophecy is established and the bad guy identified as Djimon Hounsou’s company man Carver, hunter of rogue psychics, we flash forward to present day Hong Kong. Mover Nick Gant (Chris Evans, in full on too-cool-to-give-a-toss mode) is approached first by Carver’s minion Sniffers (psychic trackers) about a recently escaped girl, who he hasn’t seen. Then Cassie approaches him about finding a briefcase he hasn’t heard of. At this point, he’s more than a little confused and we’re right there with him. Something about a girl, something about a case, and something about a psychic steroid drug everyone seems to be looking for. Clear enough? No? Well, nevermind that, let’s blow some shit up shall we?
So begins a relentless game of cat and mouse with shifting alliances, power plays, betrayal and copious amounts of seriously dodgy wirework. Hong Kong is a glorious city teeming with life and color. Director Paul McGuigan, who is far too focused on the money shots, could take a lesson or two from Danny Boyle about how to utilize a locale with character. Here it’s merely a question of what looks best in a million pieces. A frantic foot chase through a crowded fish market that introduces us to a rogue family of Bleeders (they emit a piercing shriek that causes hemorrhaging) is really just an excuse to explode a few dozen fish tanks.
The problem with this story, much like many of this ilk is a lack of any real context. This is a world exclusive to the extraordinary, seemingly with a deus ex machina on every corner. If the Sniffers are after you, get yourself a Shadow. If a Mover psychically beats the snot out of you, just find yourself a Stitch. With every ability seeming to have a diametrical and wholly convenient counter, it’s tough to buy into any real sense of jeopardy. It’s also far too convoluted for a flashy actioner and as such has little option but to explain everything that’s about to happen right before it happens. Think Oceans 11, except nowhere near as clever or interesting.
It’s not that there is anything particularly wrong with Push as an idea, it’s just that David Bourla’s script is just so derivative and isn’t particularly well thought out. If Pushers can implant any suggestion they want into your mind, why doesn’t Carver just implant Nick, Cassie and the gang with a reason to co-operate with him? Furthermore, for a world where the laws of nature simply don’t apply it’s just unforgivable on McGuigan’s part that there isn’t a single, solitary set-piece that the Matrix didn’t do ten years previous and to much better effect.
On the upside there is something immensely satisfying watching Fanning’s sassy little psychic brat quietly act everyone else off screen. Ordinarily a film of this ilk would get some token points for being a visually impressive, visceral assault on the senses where you can switch your brain off and pop that popcorn. Sadly, it’s so needlessly complicated it forces you to pay close attention without ever at any point rewarding your continued engagement.
Starring: Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning, Camilla Belle, Djimon Hounsou, Neil Jackson, Maggie Siff, Cliff Curtis
Director: Paul McGuigan
Runtime: 111 Minutes
Distributor: Summit Entertainment