In an age of superhero movie saturation, Mattson Tomlin is very aware that getting an original movie made is getting harder. So Tomlinson came up with a plan. “I was kind of a baby writer,” Tomlin told Nerdist. “Things felt promising, but I wasn’t quite there yet. So I had to zoom out and look at what gets made now. What gives me the best shot at getting a movie off the ground?” The answer was Project Power, Tomlin’s gritty take on cape comics inspired by movies like 8 Mile and Collateral.
Tomlin is a realist. He new big two superhero movies were where the money was but that wasn’t his path… yet. “I knew that I wasn’t going to be invited to the Marvel or DC table anytime soon, like I wasn’t at that level,” The writer explained. “So the answer was, okay, I’m going to write my way to that table. I’m going to do it with original characters. I’m going to go with my own original idea.” That idea centers around a young woman named Robin (Dominique Fishback) who sells the mysterious street drug known as Power, which gives users a specific set of powers for five minutes.
Superpowered street drugs are a classic comic book and sci-fi movie trope. They’ve been seen in Robocop 2, New X-Men, The Flash, Hourman, and multiple Batman tales. So for Tomlin, it was a balance between homage and bringing in something new. “I’m looking at my bookshelves right now and they’re about 10 feet tall and they’re only comic books,” Tomlin said. “I’m a huge comic book guy, I love those characters. I love those stories and I love the medium. I think it’s my favorite medium, honestly. But it was also clear to me that there’s a mold that Marvel and DC are in that I can’t compete with. Of course will be respect and homage to the comic books and what’s come before, but I have to figure out a way to put my own spin on that.”
Tomlin continued, “I knew I didn’t want to do something that was like an original superhero that was kind of so straight down the middle of line, that felt like instant death. Well, what are movies that I like? What are stories that have really stuck with me? Is there a way to attack that superhero genre from this other angle? One of the first movies that came to my mind was 8 Mile. I just love that movie so much. Then I was like, ‘Wait a minute, 8 Mile but with superpowers. I have no idea what that is. I don’t know what it looks like. But I know that’s something that nobody else is doing right now.'”
Tomlin’s take on the superpowered pill also differs from the traditional trope as the pills in power give each person a different power. But no matter how many times you take it, you’ll always have the same set of supernatural skills. The writer explained his process behind the choice. “When I’m looking at a story and kind of what it is that I want to do, I’m always thinking, ‘What is this about?’ Every element has to say something,” Tomlin said. “So taking the pill and not knowing what’s going to happen to you, there’s a really obvious metaphor in life for that. But then just kind of figuring out that there’s a way to reveal something about these characters with that. What should that reveal? Well, it should reveal this innateness, this thing inside of them.”
The writer also saw the Jamie Foxx-led movie as a chance to subvert expectations of who we usually see in superhero movies. “I realized that I wanted to tell the story through Robin, through this young Black woman,” Tomlin said. “That’s not a point of view that you see in these movies that often. Again, it was an opportunity to say something a little bit different; and to be this fight the system movie in a way that reflects what’s going on in the real world.”
Project Power hits Netflix on August 14th.
Header Image: Netflix