Push is very much a Jim Shooter movie. Back in 1986 Jim Shooter, then
the editor in chief of Marvel Comics, launched The New Universe, a
brand new Marvel imprint that looked at what superheroes would be like
in the real world. After leaving Marvel, Shooter showed up in 1990 with
Valiant Comics, another imprint that also tried to impose some reality
(although less than The New Universe) on the concept of superheroes.
One of that imprint’s flagship titles was Harbinger, about a group of
psionically gifted young people who were being hunted by a corporation
that wants to use them for their own nefarious purposes.



Since then ‘real world’ superheroes and superpowered people abused by
the government have become complete comic book cliches, but the movies
have been slower catching up (even though movies like Scanners and The
Fury
got there first). Jumper is the most recent example of a film that
treads that ground, but Push is the movie that most feels like a Jim
Shooter concept brought to life; walking out of the press screening
this week I kept saying it was like Harbinger meets The Fury. Except
much, much more boring.



Push starts off with promise, even though it opens with an extended
narration over the credits. Dakota Fanning sets up the back story and
the universe, explaining the different sorts of super powers and the
jargon for them – telekinetics are movers, oracles are watchers, mind
controllers are pushers and on and on – and the Division, a secret
government agency that is trying to turn these psychics into weapons.
The Division has been working on a psychic steroid, but every iteration
to date has simply killed the patient… until Camilla Belle gets a
dose and survives and then uses her jacked up powers (she’s a pusher)
to escape custody. She runs to Hong Kong, which is basically the home
of the entire American ex-pat psychic community, to find Chris Evans, a
mover who is laying low and so bad with his powers that he can’t even
use them to cheat at dice. Enter Dakota Fanning, a watcher. She tells
Evans that Belle has a suitcase that can topple the Division;
eventually he decides to help her out and against his own self interest
he gets involved in the psychic web of spying and action. The movie is trying to be The Bourne Supremacy but with psychics, and I’m sure at some point in the development process it even resembled that concept.



Director Paul McGuigan shoots the film stylishly enough, using
different stocks and aesthetics to keep things jumping, as well as
integrating the immense natural production value of the streets of Hong
Kong into as many shots as possible. The film creates a palpable sense
of place, which is very cool, especially since it’s a place where
American movies rarely go. And there’s some decent talent on display:
Chris Evans remains one great role from the breakout he deserves with
his natural movie star charisma and looks as well as his natural acting
chops; Dakota Fanning is making the transition to adulthood with
surprising grace (it’s like she’s finally growing into her strangely
old eyes and mannerisms); Cliff Curtis nearly steals the show along
with the unique looking and very interesting Nate Mooney (in fact these
two create the most interesting characters in the whole film), and
Camilla Belle is certainly easy on the eyes, even if her own have a
kind of stultified sheen at all times. For a low budget film with lots
of ambition, Push surprises throughout the first half.



But then it all falls apart. The film is a touch slow from the start,
but by the halfway point it’s downright lethargic; Evans and Fanning
just bumble around Hong Kong trying to get glimpses of the future so
they can know where to bumble around next. During this lethargic period
the two visit seemingly every single super powered person in Hong Kong;
at a certain point you begin to wonder if a) everybody in this city is
superpowered or b) if these psychics have their own version of
Facebook, since every single one of them knows every single other one
of them. At first it seems like the movie will follow Fanning and Evans
as they discover the world of psychics, but it turns out that everybody
already knows everybody else. There’s no magic in it, and at a certain
point every problem becomes overcome by someone saying ‘Oh hey, I know
this guy who has a power that would really help right now…’ Also,
they’re almost all Westerners.



Then the film builds to a climax… and then has another act to go, but
the movie’s budget doesn’t allow for anything all that spectacular or
exciting. And since the film gets so boring and so slow, you have
plenty of time to realize that the rules for powers that were so
meticulously (and draggingly) set up at the beginning of the film get
royally violated in the third act. The good guys have a plan that’s so
complex and so timed to the second that the only way it could work is
if someone saw into the future and based the plan around events yet to
happen. Except that the movie established that no one could see that
clearly into the future, and besides that it’s Chris Evans – who is not
a watcher – who comes up with the plan.



If Push was simply bad I wouldn’t have been so annoyed by the rule
breaking of Act Three, but the film does harbor a kernel of
possibility. That kernel requires you to be forgiving of the cheapness
that keeps the film from staging a fight scene in a really exciting way
(or place. The final battle takes place in an under construction
building that houses a huge bamboo scaffolding that is apparently
holding up nothing at all and is just there to get broken to pieces in
an economical way), but it also contains some interesting (if modestly
hackneyed by modern comic book standards) mythology and some actors who
elevate bland characters to places David Bourla’s script doesn’t take
them. Push envisions itself as a franchise, and there’s potential here;
if this had been the pilot for a TV show (say a show called Heroes),
I’d stick with it for a few episodes to see where it goes. But as a
movie there’s too much filler, too many slo-mo scenes and flashbacks
padding the already bloated running time, too many characters yapping
in small, ugly rooms and too much ass dragging to make for a universe I
want to revisit any time soon.

6 out of 10

The other opinion: read Russ‘s review!