A few months back, I took Paul McGuigan's film Push home and promptly took 3 weeks to get around to finally watching it. I'll admit to being a little surprised how much I liked it. For whatever reason, Push has continued to rattle around in my craw ever since. Most of the major critics were dismissive of the film for reasons that I understood but didn't necessarily agree with. Part of the problem with the film is the familiarity of its plot. In many ways it's thematically fairly close to both the X-Men franchise and the TV series, Heroes.
On the surface Push is not dissimilar to these and many other superhero films: it revolves around a protagonist who discovers his “power,” learns to harness it, and then join the fight against evil. What differentiates Push, however, is it avoids the usual trappings of the standard superhero story. Its protagonists are not independently wealthy or blessed with a protective benefactor, nor do they wear goofy costumes. The script is not based on a comic so we don't have to suffer through the typically long and elaborate character back stories that often mar the pacing of such films. We are instead thrust into a story about mostly normal people with extraordinary psychic abilities. Instead of hiding in Batcaves or X-Mansions, the protagonists of Push hide in plain sight, swallowed up in the urban confusion and teaming masses of Hong Kong, where most of the film takes place.
Push's “heroes” also aren't “super” in any Marvel or DC sense, they simply have different abilities than the rest of us. There are Pushers, Bleeders, Stitches, Movers, Watchers, Sniffs, Shifters and Wipers, each with a unique gift that has marked them as targets for a nefarious U.S. Government agency called Division. This is what the protagonists of Push are fighting for, against the threat of being “disappeared” Recruited, transformed – and, subsequently, effaced – in service of Division.
I think what I found made Push interesting was its fairly realistic grittiness and nihilistic vision of our time. Where Nolan might have overplayed these themes in the Dark Knight, McGuigan seems to have placed Push in a very recognizable present and it makes the film entirely more accessible and the territory more familiar. The cast is uniformly good but Dakota Fanning (believe it or not) is the standout. She plays a trashy 14-year-old who catches glimpses of the future (and it rarely looks all that rosy) with the integrity and skill of a Jody Foster, circa Taxi Driver. Mark my words, this child star will be an adult star too.
I'm not sure why Push doesn't quite work for most people. Perhaps it's too convoluted, too silly (or maybe more to the point, not silly enough). I seriously wondered if McGuigan had have moved the entire tone of the film in a sort of “Big Trouble in Little China” direction, if he wouldn't have struck gold at the box office. The problem with that approach remains that Push, for all its silly superhero overtones, is a relatively serious film about serious issues. What the critics might have failed to recognize is Push addresses a host of issues from the violence that defines our present, to the the role medical science plays in contributing to modern disease, and how shadow governments and fortified bureaucracies strangle the vitality of the living. Perhaps the odd choice of genre precludes anyone from taking Push all that seriously, but I think this is one of those films that slipped between the cracks. It is a flawed work to be sure, but in the same way that The Fountain was – a fantasy with some interesting and thought provoking elements rolled into an unconventional package.
The marketing of Push made it look far too much like last year's nearly unwatchable “Jumper” starring Darth Vader, so people's reluctance to give it a try is understandable. I'm not sure if it's worth the investment, but there's something to this film that I think might strike a chord with a few of you.