A concept that can be glibly described as X-Men with psychics, the film revolves around people with an array of incredible powers, which can rather handily be summed up by single verbs. Movers are telekinetic, able to move things with their will alone. Watchers see images of the future and the titular Pushers are able to bend you to their will and place thoughts and impulses into your mind.
You can’t fault Paul McGuigan’s ambition: not only has he made
a superhero movie on a kitchen-sink budget, but he’s done it in the faraway climes of Hong Kong. And he’s created a mythology to match: this film heaves with casually referenced backstory and has an ending that screams for further instalments. Whether its less-than-stellar US opening will kill those hopes remains to be seen, but you’ve got to hope that there’ll be an X2 to this X-Men.
The film opens with a hefty wedge of exposition, Dakota Fanning’s Cassie taking the heavy lifting of explaining the premise. There are psychically powered people in the world, with different talents: telekinetic ‘Movers’; prophetic ‘Watchers’; tracker ‘Sniffers’; and ‘Pushers’, who can ‘push’ thoughts into your brain. A government agency recruits or monitors anyone with these powers, and is also experimenting with a potentially dangerous formula that will either boost your powers or kill you. Cassie is on the run; she’s looking for Chris Evans’ Nick, a ‘Mover’ who tries to stay below the radar and doesn’t want to get involved. Cue, of course, involvement.
This mass of premise established, the film begins a zippy and entertaining first act, introducing us to eccentric characters like Cliff Curtis’ scene-stealing ‘Shifter’ (he can shapeshift objects) and Djimon Hounsou’s sinister Pusher Carver, while Cassie and Nick band together and start seeking out allies. Fanning sinks her teeth into a punk-edged, more grown-up role than we’ve seen from her before, setting her course for a post-adolescent career, while Evans once again demonstrates why he should be a bigger star, with a perfectly calibrated mix of heroic enthusiasm and cynical detachment. Hounsou’s a properly chilling bad guy, leaving Belle’s rather ineffectual character as the main weak link.
Things slow down in the middle, as Evans and Fanning wander around a beautifully shot HK to a thumping soundtrack that can’t quite disguise the fact that the pair are aimlessly waiting for prophecy to strike. The third act, by contrast, gets positively dizzying, with one of those elaborate plans that seems to work seamlessly but doesn’t make much sense when you think about it. Still, this is a worthy attempt at a new comic-book mythology.
Kinetic and convincing, this uses a limited budget to thrilling effect, giving us a sort of X-Men-meets-Trainspotting twist. We hope a sequel follows this early promise.