Push came out in the midst of the resurgence of the super-hero film. After the success of X-Men and Spider-Man, and the advent of Heroes on television, there have been super-hero stories both good and bad brought to the big screen. Comparisons between Push and, say, Iron Man are pretty much inevitable. While it doesn’t quite reach those heights, it doesn’t hit the nadir of X-Men Origins: Wolverine either. The film stars Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning, Camilla Belle, Cliff Curtis, Ming-Na and Djimon Hounsou.
Back in the 1940s, some brilliant and somewhat crazy Germans thought it would be a swell idea to genetically enhance the psychic potential of human subjects in order to weaponize their abilities. After the war, the research continued and was taken over by a mysterious paragovernmental group called the Division. Nick Gant (Chris Evans) is the son of one of their more successful subjects, a Mover. The psychics have rather descriptive titles: Movers are telekinetics, Watchers see possible futures, Shifters cast illusions, Bleeders make you bleed by screaming at you and Pushers literally push their way into your mind, making you think whatever they want you to think and making lies as real as the truth. The list goes on, but that covers most of the major ones. Anyway, Division has had one of its subjects go rogue with a syringe full of a MacGuffin serum and Nick is key to it’s recovery – but since Division gunned down his dad before his eyes, Nick’s not exactly in a helpful mood.
Like most movies I enjoy watching end to end without wanting to wander back onto the Internet, Push has something of a brain in its head. It doesn’t try to impress us with special effects that are overly flashy or out of this world. Despite characters moving massive objects and deflecting bullets with their minds, outfoxing each other’s visions and yelling more than a given character in Dragonball Z, their powers are actually somewhat grounded in reality. This means the audience spends less time suspending their disbelief and are more focused on who these people are and how defined they become by their powers. Naturally, this grounding of the movie leads some people to call Push boring. This being the Internet, those people are entitled to their opinion, just as I am entitled to the opinion that they’re morons.
Dakota Fanning as Cassie the Watcher shows us she’s more than capable of handling a role that involves more than staring at something constructed of CGI and wibbling in prelude to a scream. Cassie’s a jaded, street-smart adolescent whose entire life has been shackled to her ability. Hook, Cliff Curtis’ character, is on the other end of things, using his Shifting to make his life more comfortable and filled with fine wine and beautiful women. Nick’s in the middle, trying to use his telekinesis as an edge in life but trying not to let it be the be-all end-all of his existence. All in all, most of the characters we meet show at least some depth, and their conversations never feel too stilted or flimsy.
But there is a lot of talking in what is probably meant to be a ground-breaking action sci-fi thriller. Push keeps a lot of balls in the air, and it stumbles here and there keeping everything going, which again might lead to idiots in the audience dozing off because the flick’s not violent enough and nobody gets their tits out. To the credit of Push, nothing gets completely dropped and the story never grinds to a complete halt. When Nick develops his idea to fool the Watcher who always seems to be one step ahead of even the prodigious abilities of Cassie, the knowledge we have of his plan keeps us interested until the end. There are lulls here and there as exposition is covered or Djimon Hounsou’s cold and calculating Carver plays mind games with Nick without having to Push the young man at all. There’s a lot of conversation that goes on with one of our heroes holding a gun on the head of someone else, and the action itself is somewhat sparse. You don’t have any of the truly jaw-dropping visuals or white-knuckle moments of other films of this type, but unless you’re popping Ritalin or you’re coming off of a five-hour Halo or Gears of War marathon, you’re not completely bored either.
Push isn’t an award-winning film, but it balances a few good elements with weaknesses that would drag down other stories. The premise isn’t exploring any new territory but it’s executed in a clean, straight-forward and realistic manner that helps it feel fresh. The characters don’t experience huge changes in motivation or show any major growth, but they have enough depth to be interesting and grow just enough to show a little humanity. The powers on display aren’t out to blow our minds in the way of Spider-Man or Hellboy but the Hong Kong setting has enough unique visuals for us Western viewers that over-the-top super-powers aren’t necessary. All in all, it’s like a very good episode of Heroes extended to almost two hours, for better or worse. It’s not a timeless classic or superlative cinema, but after you’ve watched Push, you shouldn’t feel like you’ve wasted your time. It’s not a perfect movie, and the flaws might be too glaring for some people to overcome. However, if you like decent action, supernatural aspects grounded in reality and thirteen year old girls with a streetwise attitude giving advice to cynical adults twice their age, Push is time well spent. I enjoyed it, and if you can forgive some of its flaws and get into its mythology without needing to see people popping adamantium claws or setting folks on fire, you might too.
Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.