Over the years of writing reviews for games, both those with codes received from developers, publishers and their PR people and those I purchase myself, I believed I had become immune to press release hype, that I had read enough of these to see beyond the promises and not let them influence me.
Adapting the Brian Michael Bendis comic by the same name and set in a superhero-filled world, Powers stars the Detectives from the Powers Division, the ones tasked with dealing with superhuman crimes.
Network: Playstation Network
Air Date: Ongoing (Airs Tuesdays)
I first heard of this series during 2014’s E3. I wasn’t thrilled about the PSN exclusivity, but didn’t know enough about the comic to actually care that much.
In a departure from my usual 3-episode limit for first looks, I saw more than half of Powers’ current season, up to the latest one (6/10) and getting there was as struggle.
I like the premise. I’m not a fan of procedurals, having seen so many in my life that the genre bores me on principle alone. But the idea of cops dealing with superhuman criminals and sometimes working along the superheroes, aka Powers, is extremely appealing. Add a former-Power protagonist and you should have enough to make me jump for joy. So why didn’t powers do that for me? Well, several reasons in fact.
First are the characters. Procedurals hinge on their likeability, on the chemistry between the partners and on how much you can relate to the things they go through. Powers fails on every mark. Sharlto Copley can’t manage a single emotion as Christian Walker, he has the same expression for happiness, sadness and everything in between. I only found his anger convincing and only because of the Batman-factor: snarling voice and scowl. As a former superhero—now depowered—he should be our bridge between the regular folk and the Powers, to help us understand them all. But his inability to display any emotion makes it impossible to connect with him.
But it’s not just the abominable performances but also the direction and editing for the show. During the first couple of scenes, his partner dies and instead of showing him grieving and thus making him human enough to relate to, they show him watching the news with extreme indifference and then going back to work as if nothing had happened.
Walker’s partner is the stereotypical hard-ass female cop. She is unwavering, uncompromising and the only things she’s capable of are sarcasm and aggression. The rest of the police are a forgettable bunch, so much so that after six episodes I couldn’t remember any of their names. They are all tired clichés: the brash younger cop, the ball-busting female detective, the old-timer only six months away from retirement and afraid to die before he gets there. Beyond quips and vain attempts at cheap laughs, there is no depth to them.
And if this wasn’t bad enough, there is absolutely no chemistry between any of the characters. It’s forgivable for Walker & his partner, because they start out disliking each other but not even when they ‘make up’ do you feel any rapport between them, and it’s on their relationship that the entire thing hangs on.
The ‘main’ superhero present in the series so far is Retro Girl and she’s just as unlikeable as the rest, though for her you can tell—because there has to be at least one good performance—that it’s because of years on the job and keeping a nice public image, as Powers are both heroes and celebrities.
The supervillains lack punch and the producers/directors seem to be at a loss as to whether humanise them or show how dangerous they are. And it shows in the performances. I’ve seen Eddie Izzard play bad guys before and he’s lovely at it, but in Powers I hated his scenes. You can see Izzard struggle to make the character monstrous and pitiful at the same time. Rule of thumb: establish one aspect of the character before you add to it. Otherwise, it’s confusing for the audience—and the actors.
It’s the same problem with the ‘secondary’ villain, Johnny Royalle (Noah Taylor). Introduced as a cunning and ruthless crime lord, the characterisation derails the second the arc’s McGuffin, Calista, comes in to play. They try to show you he’s not truly evil by having him care for the girl—some of it due to his very weak backstory—but much like Wolfe’s (Izzard) case, they also want him to remain ruthless, leading to one inconsistent performance after another. The emotional scenes are worse as Noah Taylor is incapable of crying on demand, leading to mawkish expressions at best. The scenes between him and Izzard during Wolfe’s escape are appalling.
But these are examples of another issue the show has: indeterminate tone. Powers doesn’t know what it wants to be, if comedic or dark. It tries to do both and doesn’t quite accomplish it. Wolfe’s escape is a clear example. Police banter is well and good but when you have the Detectives exploring a superhuman prison looking for the escaped supervillain, you want tension, not two Detectives having fun talking about their love lives. The tone of their conversation doesn’t match that of the episode or even the scene. Comic books are very good at tonal shifts within stories, but they are very difficult to do right on TV.
The plot for this first story arc revolves around the drug Sway. Its first victim is one of Walker’s close friends in his superhero days—not that he shows any sign of feeling anything—and the one witness is the woman he slept with, the wannabe Calista. The investigation, which is central to the first season’s plot and takes up most of the six episodes I saw, goes nowhere and when it does, it’s in circles and muddled by unnecessary subplots with Walker’s dead partner’s son and Walker’s relationship with Retro Girl. Powers wants to do too much at the same time and because of it, the pacing suffers. The episodes are slow and tend to go nowhere. Episodes four and five, Wolfe’s escape, finally start moving things along, but by episode six, the progress once again stops dead in its tracks.
The series overreaches with its considerably low budget—you can tell from the minimalistic set/costume design. Understandably, they will want to show the heroes fighting but good low-budget shows know that less is more, the less you show, the more convincing you can be. The people behind Powers didn’t learn that lesson and the first thing they show you is a superpowered fight in the sky with extremely cheap CGI. They follow that up a few episodes later with Zora, the coloured-light flinging superhuman. It’s bad. I haven’t seen CGI this bad since Once Upon a Time in Wonderland!
A couple more points, one of which is pure nitpicking: First, they should have invested in some tactical training for their actors. The way they move in pairs or teams while exploring the super-prison is amateurish: they would sometimes walk side by side, point their guns in near each other’s faces, there’s even one of them holding two handguns, which no one actually does. Second, they should’ve hired some choreographers! Those fight scenes are atrocious. Powers will forever be the series that bored me—or confused if we count the nonsensical Walker/Wolfe fight—with superhuman combat.
With more than half of its season aired, there’s very little that can save this series. Bad direction, casting, performances and a mess of a plot killed what could have been another great comic adaptation.
1/5 – Oh Hell No!