Based on the 2004 comic book series of the same name from artist Michael Avon Oeming and writer Brian Michael Bendis, Powers asks, what if the world was full of superheroes who aren't actually heroic at all? What if all their "powers" were just one more excuse for mischief, mayhem, murder, and endorsement deals? Enter the men and women of the Powers Division, the brave people in charge of protecting humans like us and keeping the peace over commercialized, god-like men and women who glide through the sky imposing their power over the mortals who both worship and fear them.
The series follows LAPD "Powers Division" detectives Christian Walker (Sharlto Copley) and Deena Pilgrim (Susan Heyward) as they investigate homicide cases involving people with superhuman abilities. Walker, once operating as a power until he lost his abilities to the super villain Wolfe (Eddie Izzard), now operates with just a gun and a badge to take down the formidable foes plaguing Los Angeles.
"How does it feel to be powerless?"
It is a grand time we're living in. As a kid growing up I was regulated to picking up my monthly comic subscriptions where I'd read the incredible adventures Batman and the X-Men were having and I could only dream what they would look like on film. Sure there were 'Batman' movies, but by the time 'Batman Forever' came around those were losing their luster. Even the 'Superman' franchise was tainted by a rough third film and a dreadful fourth entry - and the less said about 'Lois and Clark' the better. From the stage to the big screen superheroes are everywhere these days, they're even taking over streaming services. With 'Daredevil' and a slew of Marvel titles as well as shows like 'Arrow' and 'The Flash' dominating TV screens - there is an abundance of comic book related entertainment to consume. Now Sony has entered the fray with their problematic, but wildly entertaining show 'Powers' as part of their Playstation Originals programming.
Christian Walker (Sharlto Copley) was a hero. He was a "Power" - a man with near invulnerability, super strength, and the ability to fly - but he lost them. In a battle with his old mentor Wolfe (Eddie Izzard), Christian was drained of his powers and left a mortal man. Eight years on he still dreams of being the true hero he was always destined to be, only now he's a cop working the Powers division out of the LAPD. It's his job to make sure bad Powers who get out of line are successfully brought to justice - with or without the help of a costumed hero. After the death of his partner, it's up to Christian to train his new partner Deena Pilgrim (Susan Heyward) and show her the ropes.
The two start working just in the nick of time too. With the reappearance of Christian's teleporting former friend and fellow student of Wolfe Johnny Royalle (Noah Taylor) - various Powers are looking to enhance their abilities with a new street drug called "Sway." With Sway in their system, these Powers get an extra boost in their abilities; if they can fly - they fly faster. If they can light themselves on fire, they burn even hotter - and sometimes to death. After a rash of Powers deaths, it doesn't take long for Christian to put two and two together and see that his old pal is somehow connected.
Caught in the middle is the young power-to-be Calista (Olesya Rulin). Calista believes with all her heart that she is a power, even though she's late to show off what she can do. By hanging out at Johnny Royalle's club for young Powers she's often tossed around as some kind of Powers groupie looking to hang on the coattails of other Powers like Zora (Logan Browning) who are looking to make a name for themselves with the help of a rampant PR machine. Johnny and his multiplying pal Simons (Aaron Farb) are the only ones that look at the girl like she's one of their own. She struggles to find her purpose in the world and Johnny, Christian, and even local hero Retro Girl (Michelle Forbes) battle to provide her the best path.
If this was the only issue Christian and Deena had to deal with, that would be a blessing. But something is wrong deep in the bowels of The Shaft - a superstructure Powers prison designed to hold the badest of the bad - including Wolfe. Wolfe seems to be getting stronger, something that shouldn't happen as he's frequently lobotomized to control is regenerative abilities. As Wolfe gets stronger he starts to remember the people who wronged him. He starts to remember Johnny and Christian and how they betrayed him years ago. And as the Big Bad Wolfe remembers who he once was, he gets very, very hungry.
'Powers' is one of those big concept shows that had a great hook with a solid cast, but is unfortunately cut off at the ankles by a low production budget. Given that the series is comprised of ten forty-five minute episodes, the show has a look and feel like it was produced on a budget that would adequately shoot and finish three. Also working against 'Powers' is the fact that a lot of the budget was spent on the first three episodes - which happen to easily be the weakest in the bunch. As a long time comic book reader, I appreciate when a show like this comes along and feels the need to do some world building and setup, it just doesn't need three full episodes. Think of Pixar's 'The Incredibles' for instance. It's a similar world where humans and super-powered people live together in a society and heroes and villains are common sights. We get the world, the societal interactions, the main characters, and we establish the primary villain inside of ten minutes. 'Powers' takes almost two and a half hours to accomplish the same task. However, if you can make it to episode four - the show starts to pay off in a big way.
Character introduction and world building were the primary drags of the first three episodes. Particularly problematic is Susan Heyward's Deena Pilgrim who basically acts as the audience surrogate and has all of the exposition dumped on her like she has no idea what's going on - which is lame considering her character grew up in this world, her father was a cop that worked with Powers and she specifically requested to be a part of the Powers Division. But once all of that is out of the way and the A story kicks in, you get a sense of the interplay and history between Christian, Johnny Royalle, the drug Sway, Calista, and ultimately Wolfe. The show picks up the pace, gets its story on track, and the remaining seven episodes are a wild superhero rollercoaster ride. Granted there are some lulls in the action, but a lot of these mements turn out to be setup for Season 2.
It's been about twelve or thirteen years since I actually read the "Powers" comic books - I think I got through the first ten or fifteen issues before I moved on. As an adaptation this show actually proves to be pretty good. Creator Brian Michael Bendis has been working on getting this show made for years, and I think the long production time helped to make the characters a bit more cinematic feeling. The series takes many liberties with some characters, Christian is much more conflicted about the loss of his powers, Deena is actually two or three characters combined, Wolfe is a bit more of an unhinged "Hannibal Lecter" type psychopath - but it all works for this show.
A side story that never really kicks into full gear is the idea of "Superheroes As Celebrity." The idea behind this is our current culture of looking at people who don't produce anything, don't create anything, but somehow are famous for being who they are. This is showcased in Logan Browning's Zora character. She's a Power who is supposed to be the next big thing and yet, her powers don't really afford her much genuine ability. She produces little purple bricks that can form shapes and hit people - like Green Lantern without a power ring. This is unfortunately where the production issues start to kick in - her powers, while kinda cool - don't really feel organic to the scenes they're in. They stand out and feel out of place making Browning look like she's just flailing her arms around. This is also true for the various Powers with flight abilities - this effect never really looks right; more like early run Playstation 3 CGI graphics and when it is a real person, you can pretty easily see where the lift harness is. But thankfully when the show focuses into tighter spaces, smaller locations and only a couple characters on screen - things turn out fantastic.
Sharlto Copley may still struggle with an American accent at times, but he gets it right more times than not. He brings a lot of emotional weight to his character who in the comics was basically a big block of muscle. Christian genuinely has an arc now and watching him be tempted by Wolfe to get his powers back is like watching Faust debate his options with the Devil. To that end, Eddie Izzard seems to be getting quite a kick these days popping up in this type of genre programing. After a fantastic turn on the now sadly canceled 'Hannibal,' Izzard brings a lot of menace with a subtle sense of humor. It's easy to see why young Powers would be drawn to his character and therefor why the ones who knew him best fear him the most. Noah Taylor gets to chew a lot of scenery as Johnny and the show earns a lot of points for how these three characters interact. At its core this first season of 'Powers' is about a father and his sons battling for a legacy. Will they be heroes? Or will they be villains? I wont tell you that - you're just going to have to watch the show!
As far as a first season for a superhero show goes, 'Powers' is better than average I'd say. Even at ten episodes it could trim some fat, but when you consider how long it took a show like 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' to pick up steam and move forward - I can see 'Powers' having a nice future ahead of itself. After the big final cliffhanger ending, I was glad to see included with this Blu-ray set a little flyer saying that Season 2 would be coming in early 2016. My hope is that with some stronger writing and a little bit bigger production budget 'Powers' could become a great show. Right now, it's just pretty good with a lot of potential.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Powers' makes its Blu-ray Debut from Sony pressed on 3 Region A Locked BD50 discs. Housed in a hard plastic Blu-ray case with identical slip cover, each disc thankfully gets it's own tray and the discs aren't stacked on top of each other. Inside of the case's artwork is a list of episodes with full descriptions and a list of special features to be found on each disc. Also included is an HD Ultraviolet Digital Copy code.
Considering 'Powers' was originally streamed from the Playstation Network, I was at first a little apprehensive about how it would look on Blu-ray. Streaming I found the image to have some decent detail levels, but at the same time I found it flat looking with crushed black levels. Thankfully the Blu-ray proves to be a marked improvement for this 1.78:1 1080p transfer. Colors are a big key factor here - this is a bright and pretty looking show that flashes a lot of primaries while letting shades of neon green and purples get a lot of play. On disc they're perfectly replicated and actually look and feel more natural than the streaming image. Black levels are also greatly improved allowing for a much more three dimensional vibe to the show and mitigated crush troubles. Banding isn't an issue here as there aren't any discernible compression issues. Details are as striking as ever - the one caveat being when there isn't any abundant CGI work on display. If there is a problem spot here it's the show's budgetary constraints and how the slapdash effects work fails to integrate with the actual physical show in a coherent fashion. Zora's cubes still float off screen in weird ways - almost like this show was shot for 3D but that conversion was ditched. Then you have the scenes where Wolfe feasts and blood sprays everywhere including all over the screen making it a cloudy mess to see through; honestly this effect looks like when Shake would throw a running chainsaw at Carl on 'Aqua Teen Hunger Force.' The results of this effects work is a noticeably softer looking image with a bit of crush that becomes flattened until the effect is gone. Thankfully this doesn't remain much of an issue once the show moves past the first three episodes. All around this is a very pleasing HD image and my hope is that the next season can do a bit of a course correct for integrating the visual effects shots.
With a strong and robust DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track - there is little if anything to knock the score for 'Powers.' For most of the film dialogue is the key element and it comes through crystal clear from the front channels. Even as a front loaded track, there is plenty of ambient sound and background sounds to keep the surround channels working and present beyond the bigger action beats. Imaging is also a lot of fun here and maintains a nice sense of atmosphere as a lot of the show feels like an Aaron Sorkin "Walk and Talk" where the characters move around the set rattling off tidbits of exposition. Levels are clean and keep to the midranges and rarely if ever spike. Low tones from the show's score, and scenes at Johnny's club keep the bass notes kicking making sure your subwoofer has a lot to do, but again, without any distorting negative effects. As much fun as this show was to look at, it's equally impressive to just listen to the sound design work.
Policing The All-Powerful: Envisioning and Filming Powers: (HD 10:10) A nice, albeit short behind the scene's look at the show and the production featuring interviews with the cast and crew.
'Powers' is probably best described as a show whose eyes were too big for its stomach. While ambitious and a lot of fun, it's undercut by a lot of story bloat and a noticeably low production budget. Thankfully the show finds its pace and turns out to be a lot of fun leaving this reviewer excited to see what they cook up for Season 2 due early 2016. As a Blu-ray release, the picture quality is a solid improvement over the compressed streaming version and the audio is pretty fantastic. The smattering of extras throughout all three discs are half-way decent if not completely in-depth. If you're a fan of the show, this Blu-ray is the way to go. If you're new to 'Powers' I'm calling it recommended. Get past the first three episodes of extensive exposition and you should enjoy the rest of the run.