Since X-Men came out in 2000, superhero films have become a staple of each cinema year. Most have been based on established comic book series from Marvel, DC Comics, and Darkhorse Comics. However, with Marvel ruling the roost and DC Comics/Warner Bros. intent on challenging this with their own continuity, an original superhero film is hard to come by. We’ve had some good ones like The Incredibles and some cringe-worthy messes like Zoom: Academy for Superheroes, but director Paul McGuigan’s 2009 film Push, an otherwise engaging and fun film, is all but forgotten. Critics aside, who gave the film no quarter, I find it a flawed but original addition to the superhero genre.
What I like most about Push is that is sets a surprisingly large story in one location, namely amidst the beautiful sights and sounds of Hong Kong, where the entire film was shot without the use of sets. The world is occupied by mutant-like people who have various psychic powers, and depending on their specific ability, are put in different categories for reference. Most of the psychics are either captured or suppressed by an international government agency known as Division, as seen in the opening when a young boy named Nick is hidden away by his father who tells him he’ll be a part of an elaborate plot to take down their oppressors. Nick’s dad is then killed by a SWAT team led by Henry Carver (Djimon Hounsou).
Years later, Nick (now played by Chris Evans) lives in Hong Kong, trying to follow out a normal life. He is a “Mover” (telekinetic user), though his prowess with his abilities are rubbish. He is quickly dragged into a complex treasure hunter to find a suitcase containing a serum made by Division, which can transform psychics into super-soldiers. Leading him on the wild goose chase is Dakota Fanning as Cassie, a rambunctious 13-year old “Watcher” (a seer), whose mother has been planning out the aforementioned plot to bring down Division for years. The search turns personal when Nick reunites with his missing girlfriend Kira (Camilla Belle), a mind-altering “Pusher”, who happens to be patient zero of Division’s super serum and is now looking for it after she deliberately had her memory wiped of its location.
In their search for the suitcase, the trio recruit other psychics who each have their own grudges with Division including Hook Waters (Cliff Curtis), formerly a Division=employed “Shifter” (makes illusions), Emily Hu (Ming Na), a fortune teller “Sniffer” (who uses a type of psychometry to learn where an item has been), and Pinky (Nate Mooney), who is a “Shadow” (can block clairvoyant psychics just by being around a certain target). With Carver (who is also a Pusher) and members of the Chinese criminal triad after them, Nick’s group decide to pull a series of gambits in their extended plan to seize the serum and take out Carver and the triad in the process, involving memory erasure, and a series of unknown instructions written by Nick to each character so none of the enemy Watchers can predict their movements. The plan works quite well and everything that the protagonists and Cassie’s mum planned/predicted pay off.
No one in the film is technically a superhero in the most literal sense but rather everyday mutant-esque characters who are either hiding from the Division or working for them, and the film does surprisingly well without employing a stock ordinary human character as an audience representative – that is Nick’s role.
As I said before, the psychics all are categorised depending on their powers, so here is a quick rundown – “Pushers” use mind control and can shove thoughts or memories into others; “Wipers” can erase memories; “Movers” are telekinetic and their powers can extend to the point of reflecting bullets by manipulating the air around them; “Shifters” make temporary illusions as long as the altered items are the same size/shape as the fake items; “Stitchers” do painful psychic surgery; “Sniffers” can recall where an item has been by touching or sniffing it; “Watchers” predict the future; “Shadows” can hide a person from the clairvoyant powers of Watchers and Sniffers; and “Bleeders” have sonic screams.
The film is a cool thriller with good performances all around, but it isn’t without its flaws. There are one too many characters and just about all of them are in the plot because Cassie’s mum allegedly told them to be there, so, despite all having sympathetic backgrounds, they are all pursuing the serum because they were told too, not because they want too. Also, the Bleeders are unintentionally hilarious with the faces they make when they scream. Battles in a fish market and a restaurant are the highlights of the film, and the variety of powers allows for a lot of creativity.
I really enjoy Push as a superhero film, though its lack of success at the box office meant there would be no continuation; rumors that there would be a television series based on the film, written by David Hayter, have since been shot down.
Have you seen Push? And did you like it? Do you believe there is a lack of superhero films featuring original characters/universes or are you pleased with what the main existing franchises have to offer?