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A small-budget superhero movie.
Chris Evans Stars in "Push."
OPENING WEEKEND: $22,000,000
DOMESTIC TOTAL: $75,000,000
OTHER PREVIEWS: Alatriste (7/10)
  This Film is NOT a Future Release.
  The Following Preview has been Archived.

December 1st, 2008: "Push" is a sci-fi thriller that takes us into the secret world of psychic espionage. Our hero is Nick Gant (Chris Evans), a young man whose father was genetically altered to be the perfect government assassin. After the brutal murder of his father, Nick swears revenge on the agency that created him.

Hidden in the underworld of Hong Kong, Nick assembles a group of rogue psychics to defeat Division, the covert agency responsible for creating and experimenting with psychic drugs for decades.

Nick teams up with Cassie Holmes, a thirteen-year-old girl who can see the future, to track down a missing girl and a stolen suitcase that could potentially bring the downfall of Division the key to their mutual revenge. Combining their skills, they outwit assassins and learn about Division's latest secret weapon a powerful and new experimental drug called R16, which could shift the tides of psychic warfare.

What to Expect: We've all heard it said that there are only seven storylines in the world, and every narrative ever written is some variation on those seven. Sometimes in Hollywood, especially in the sci-fi/fantasy genres, it seems like there are a lot fewer than seven.

When you talk about geeky subgenres, one that has always been a mainstay of Hollywood is the superhero genre. Superman, Batman, X-Men...all of them have become successful film franchises, with more of them on the way after this summer's one-two punch of "Iron Man" and "The Dark Knight" injected renewed marketability into the genre that first experienced a lukewarm reaction to "X-Men: The Last Stand" and "Spider-Man 3." What's interesting is that superhero movies are almost always based on comics or graphic novels. Inventing new superheroes that haven't had a decades-long history on the page is no small task, because it's damn near impossible to do it while being original.

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In the fall of 2006, a TV producer named Tim Kring brought us something unexpected: "Heroes," a series about a totally ordinary group of people with superhuman abilities. The tone and attitude of the show was something new and unique in the superhero genre, and the series played more like drama than science fiction. The characters were multifaceted, many of them didn't understand their powers, the powers themselves were often ill-defined, and the emphasis was on the intrigue and connections between characters. We rarely saw the characters use their abilities, and we had to wait almost an entire season and into a flash-forward to see anything resembling a traditional hero/villain superhero battle.

Regardless of your opinion of how "Heroes" has progressed since its groundbreaking first season, it altered the landscape of superhero stories and introduced a lot of interesting concepts. Which is why when people talk about "Push," if they talk about it at all (the film is suffering from a puzzling lack of visibility), one of the first things they say is that it sounds like "Heroes."

I can't really deny that it does, indeed, sounds like "Heroes." The premise is that years ago, the government experimented on people (as it is so often does in superhero stories) and generated a whole range of people with paranormal mental abilities. The descriptions of these individuals reads like some kind of team roster where you'd collect the whole set of trading cards. You have pushers, who can insert thoughts into other people's heads, movers who can move objects, sniffers who can find someone by smelling something of theirs (eww), watchers who can see the future, stitchers who can heal people...you get the idea. These people are on the run, hiding from the sinister Division, the government agency who created them and now wants to put their abilities to, naturally, nefarious purposes.

Undeniable similarities to "Heroes" aside, the chronology of the respective projects precludes "Push" having been influenced by Kring's show. The first news of "Push" surfaced in 2005, and Kring didn't start developing "Heroes" until 2006. This story, even more than "Heroes," reminds me of Stephen King's novel "Firestarter," which involved people endowed with psychic powers after a government experiment. The protagonist and his pyrokinetic daughter are on the run from the shadowy government agency wanting to harness the girl's powers as a weapon. The girl's father's power is the ability to influence people's thoughts; he even refers to it as "the push." I am also reminded of the classic "X-Files" episode "Pusher," about a man who could push his own thoughts into other people's minds.

Okay, so let's just stipulate to the fact that this has been done before. That isn't a guarantee of suckage, to coin a phrase. Being original is easy. Just make a movie about...let's see. A woman in love with an iguana. That's original, right? Doesn't mean it'll be good. Roger Ebert says that films aren't good because of what they are about, but how they are about them. The originality (or lack thereof) in Push's premise won't reveal if it's a good movie or not. That will depend on the writing, the acting, the directing, and the overall look of the film.

That's where "Push" will have to distinguish itself. This is a film made by relative newcomers. Director Paul McGuigan's only credit of note is "Lucky Number Slevin," but he's shown himself to be a rough-and-tumble, handheld sort of director in the Paul Greengrass mode, which is an interesting take for this material. Audiences are a bit burned out on the slick, overproduced, big-studio-release greenscreen-heavy school of superhero filmmaking, and McGuigan's not the sort to make a film like that. He's been vocal about his distaste for greenscreen overuse and has done many of his effects in-camera, allowing action sequences to play out without a zillion cuts to disorient the audience. McGuigan has also stretched his filmmaking dollar by shooting the entire film in Hong Kong, where the action is also set. Cast members have commented on the importance of the setting; Hong Kong is a good place to get lost, and that's exactly what these characters are trying to do.

McGuigan also trimmed the exposition-heavy script down to fighting weight, replacing backstory speeches with a tight, newsreel-style pre-credits sequence with narration by Dakota Fanning, in what we might call the Lord of the Rings Prologue style, which enables him to plop us down in the middle of the action without making us sit through a bunch of scenes of people talking about who they are and what's going on.

They're clearly not counting on the casting to sell this film. Their male protagonist is the somewhat bland Chris Evans, himself a veteran of the more traditional superhero roles after having put on Spandex to play Johnny Storm in the "Fantastic Four" films, and they've paired him, interestingly, with Fanning playing a young watcher searching for her mother and trying to recruit Evans to her cause. Fanning is a preternaturally self-possessed actress for her age and commands authority in her scenes that creates an interesting dichotomy with the little-girl-lost persona they've given her in this film. Her casting might be the film's saving grace.

For having made the film so cheaply (total budget: $30 million) the studio doesn't need it to be a runaway smash in order for it to be a success. If it breaks $100 million it'll be a windfall. But it'll be an uphill battle. This film, frankly, doesn't have much going for it. It doesn't have the pull of a big-name star. It's about people who we might call superheroes who don't have a built-in familiarity and fanbase from comics or TV shows. It's saddled with the stigma of being derivative because of its apparently-unintentional resemblance to a popular show. It's made by a virtual unknown director. There's almost nothing that'll draw people to this film, unless they're just intrigued by the concept or the trailer. I can't say that the trailer inspired any jaw-dropping moments of awe in a way that could bring people to the theater, as the trailers for "The Matrix" and "300" did.

I find myself rooting for this film, though. I can't say why. Perhaps I just like the idea of building a superhero mythology from the ground up, without relying on pre-existing conceptions from a graphic novel. It'd certainly be a refreshing change to watch this kind of film without having to listen to fanboys whine about what's been changed from the comic. The only way I can see this film succeeding is if it's so awesome on its own merits that people forget about comparing it to "Heroes" and flock to see it because all their friends are telling them that they just simply have to see it.

That kind of phenomenon is rare. I have my doubts.

In Conclusion: Superhero films are a mainstay of studio blockbusters, but this film doesn't seem to be swinging for the bleachers. It isn't even being released as a summer tentpole; clearly the studio has more modest hopes for it. We could be looking at the world's first superhero indie-art film. The director is going for style over testosterone, but unfortunate accusations of being derivative could leave audiences skipping it, thinking that they'd been there, seen that. It'll only do well if it's amazing beyond all predictions.

Similar Titles: Firestarter, Heroes: Season One, The X-Files: The Complete Collector's Edition
February 6th, 2009 (wide)
July 7th, 2009 (DVD)

Summit Entertainment

Paul McGuigan

Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning, Camilla Belle, Djimon Hounsou, Maggie Siff, Scott Michael Campbell

Total: 34 vote(s).

Science Fiction, Suspense

Click here to view site

Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, brief strong language, smoking and a scene of teen drinking).

121 min





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