‘Powers’ offers cerebral take on superhero genre

Sharlto Copley (Christian Walker), left, and Susan Heyward (Deena Pilgrim), right, play detectives in "Powers."

With its recent release of the comic book adaptation “Powers,” PlayStation crossed from the video game realm into the trending world of original streaming service programming. The first three episodes dropped on the PlayStation Network on March 10, with seven more episodes set to release one at a time every Tuesday.

“Powers” is a pretty good first effort from Sony Pictures Television for its cousin the PlayStation Network, which arrives late to the streaming trend pioneered by juggernauts like Netflix and Hulu. It is well-acted; the special effects aren’t too terrible; and – most importantly – it’s a viewing experience not found elsewhere.

The show revolves around Christian Walker, played by Sharlto Copley (“District 9” and “Chappie”). Walker is the ace detective of Powers Division, a section of the Chicago Police Department. Walker and his new partner, Deena Pilgrim (Susan Heyward), investigate crimes concerning superheroes and supervillains, who are referred to collectively as powers.

Walker shares a complicated history with the powers community. He was once Diamond, one of the city’s greatest superheroes, but he lost his powers in a fight with the monstrous Wolfe (Eddie Izzard). It’s unclear exactly what happened, but the struggle ended with Wolfe trapped in a sort-of Guantanamo Bay for supervillains.

“Powers” isn’t anything like the sparkly comic book TV series found on The CW. Unlike “Arrow” or “Smallville,” there is virtually no action in “Powers.” The first three episodes involve a slow but mildly intriguing verbal chess match between factions in which no one throws a punch.

I am not sure about this approach, but I am willing to give “Powers” a little bit of leash.

The seemingly villainous Johnny Royalle (Noah Taylor), an old friend of Walker’s who can teleport great distances, is an interesting character. He is almost certainly a bad guy; he murders and sells drugs. But Royalle seems to care about the other characters, and the motive for his crimes is left unclear.

The writing in “Powers” stalls occasionally, but the first three episodes seem to be driving towards a purpose. I am looking forward to what they do with Wolfe. He was once the strongest of the Powers and a mentor to many – including Walker. But now, he seems to be a chaotic beast unable to control his most basic behavior. Izzard, like many standup comedians, is a terrific dramatic actor. I am sure he will bring a force to the character.

The short bursts of action sprinkled throughout the first few “Powers” episodes are just enough to keep me interested. The powers’ abilities – lightning, fire, teleportation, etc. – are believably rendered through decent special effects.

However, it’s clear that “Powers” is something different. It’s similar to the film adaptation of the “Watchmen” graphic novel in that it focuses on the psychology of superheroes, but it lacks the action found in “Watchmen.” “Powers” is peppered with naughty four-letter words, but the violence and sex found in most mature TV shows isn’t there.

The next month will decide if “Powers” – and probably PlayStation’s TV future – will survive. It will either come together or fade away completely.

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