As the gritty urban science-fiction adventure Push begins, co-star Dakota Fanning walks the audience through a dossier's worth of backstory and explanation about the film's good guys and bad guys, including their origins and their various psychic powers. It's all profoundly unnecessary, given that everything she says is obvious: The bad guys are steely-eyed psychic Djimon Hounsou and his band of glowering, humorless government killers, who start the movie by murdering a man in front of his son, and spend most of it smashing everything in sight to get at escaped experimental-drug test subject Camilla Belle. The good guys are the scruffy, desperate outcasts—telekinetic Chris Evans and precognitive Fanning among them—who want to protect Belle and bring down the oppressive psychic-controlling regime called Division. Since the plot is a by-the-book empire-vs.-rebels concoction, the powers are explained again as they're used, and the flavor mostly comes from the way director Paul McGuigan actually has this latest Heroes descendent play out, why is the primer necessary? Especially since the film's best moments often come when someone reveals an ability or agenda that hasn't already been spelled out in detail?
The opening core-dump is symptomatic of Push's diffuse focus: McGuigan seems to want to merge arthouse fare with breathless action movies like Jumper and the Night Watch series. The subject matter is propulsive adolescent fun all the way, with a pop sensibility, some nifty costume and set design, and a lot of special-effects-powered showdowns—but the execution reaches for a broader audience, one so unfamiliar with the genre tropes that it needs the assiduous extra explanation, plus time to ponder each new development. The resultant moderate pacing has its appeal; it turns Push into an ambling, broody concoction along the lines of Strange Days. At times, a more aggressive editor would help immensely. At others, Push explores its brutish future Hong Kong with a patience and sense of milieu that seems cribbed more from Wong Kar-wai than Doug Liman.
And given the familiarity of the material and the generally acceptable-to-lousy acting from the third-string cast (though Fanning is a surprisingly soulful, coltish exception), that moody tone is a lot of what Push has going for it. Superhero fans will likely be into Push just for the cool-factor of watching embattled heroes and villains in a tense war of wits, wills, and skills. That broader audience is less likely to come along for the ride, but this particular gateway drug at least has ambition and brains going for it, as well as the usual spastic style.