Push: Why would psychic powers be divided by gender?

Push has a lot of potential. A secret government agency called Division abducts and experiments on people with special powers? OK, I’m listening. The agency is not all-powerful, instead competing with rivals and even seemingly negotiating truces with some of its targets? More interesting. Then in addition to the expected telekinetics (“movers”) and clairvoyants (“watchers”), I was also intrigued by the list of other powers: people who can tell the history of an object by smelling it (“sniffers”), make objects unnoticeable from sniffers (“shadows”), make objects look like other objects (“shifters”), scream to break glass and make you bleed to death (“bleeders”), and of course the folks who can place fake memories or commands in your mind (“pushers”). All very interesting.

(It does mean that the scene on the poster, using the movie’s nomenclature, would be called “moving” instead of “pushing” and thus the poster is a bit misleading. Also, that scene did not happen in the film. And as an aside, the opening voiceover MADE ME WANT TO STAB MYSELF. But enough about that.)

So when one of the pushers escapes Division with something they want back, I was hoping for a plot a little more unexpected than the traditional “oh noes, a shadow government agency is after me how will we every survive?” And I got it. The fracas that ensues wasn’t the typical “man finally takes a stand and wins his freedom” straight line. There are too many players in the game, and no final victory to make the world safe for the powered among us. Sure, there were some plot holes, like oh, I don’t know, THE ENDING. But all in all, it wasn’t bad.

(And about that ending, It’s nice to know that even seemingly normal people can become amazing tactical masterminds under pressure. That makes me a lot less nervous about accidentally crossing a shadow government with enormous resources at its disposal. I’ll just figure out a plan with twenty moving pieces and it will work perfectly!)

(Okay, no more parenthetical asides for the rest of the review, I’m serious.)

The cast was much more diverse than the usual action film. Alongside white man Chris Grant, white woman Camilla Belle, and white girl Dakota Fanning, we have a number of people of color. Djimon Hounsou is the other primary character, but Xiao Lu Li, Ming-Na, and Cliff Curtis all have decent sized speaking roles. I do wish we could see a better mix of primary and secondary roles within that diversity, especially with most of the white people being Good Guys, so I’m not going to give the film a ton of stars on this issue. However, it’s impressive among action films and it was a more enjoyable viewing experience than if I had to sit there thinking “Why is a movie set in Hong Kong full of white people?”

A similar dynamic is present with gender. The women are there, you can count them, but they don’t get to be all they can be. Fanning and Xiao Lu Li both play watchers, fighting to get ahead of each other in glimpsing the future so they can change it. Fanning, the 13 year old, is a great character, could stand about 4 more inches on her skirt. (I feel so old saying that, but if even the people on the IMDB message board were complaining that it was out of character…) Xiao Lu Li is made into a Dragon Lady, which left a bad taste in my mouth. Belle plays the pusher who escapes from Division, and she beats the heck out of a Bad Guy in the ladies’ room to escape her abductors – and then turns into The Girlfriend. When she’s brainwashed into thinking she’s a Division agent, they dress her in high heels and a suit with SPARKLES. Sparkles, people!

The preview made me think there were a LOT more action scenes involving women, so I was disappointed near the end to realize I had seen it all. The missing piece, I think, was a female mover. Grant, playing a male mover, goes up against a scary blonde mover dude on the other side (Neil Jackson, a former amateur boxer) and they bash each other around quite a bit – these are the characters who play with raw physical power, along with the bleeders whose screams tear through glass and throw bodies around. While watching Jackson face off with Grant, I couldn’t help but think “Why can’t there be a woman smashing all this stuff up?”

Two stars, for casting diversity in both race and gender, but for not using either to its full potential. “So Close” is an apt description.

This post was originally published on Heroine Content, a feminist and anti-racist movie blog that ran from July 2006 to May 2012.

One thought on “Push: Why would psychic powers be divided by gender?

  1. draconismoi

    Finally saw Push – and thanks to many many many warnings about the voiceover, I just muted the first couple minutes. And – shockingly enough – the plot still made sense! Such a shame the studios didn’t just decide to axe it. Especially considering how few studios are concerning themselves with little things like ‘plot’ these days.

    Biggest disappointment for me was Belle. There were enough other women of varying degrees of powers for good/evil/self-interest that I didn’t really mind the lack of female mover. But Belle…..her character was supposed to be The Uber-Pusher-Of-Doom! She should have been far more interesting. Not necessarily a total badass, but at least show us some glimmer of your purported awesomeness while on the run. Faux Action Girl = Fail!

Comments are closed.