Under the Radar: Genre Movies You May Have Missed — Push (2009)

There’s something about super powers and Chris Evans that just mix so well.

By now, Chris Evans is a bona fide Hollywood star. Everyone knows his name and face, and he's made a big mark in pop culture with his roles in four comic book adaptations: The Fantastic Four (where he was Johnny Storm, the Human Torch), Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World (Evil Ex Lucas Lee), The Losers (Jensen), and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Steve Rogers, aka Captain America).

(He likes to say that he was never big into comics and it's just a coincidence that he's starred in so many adaptations, but we know better. As the folks at Tumblr like to say, it's no coincidence that he has the perfect superhero shoulder-to-waist ratio.)

But before he was the superpowered soldier with the star-spangled uniform, he played another guy with superpowers in the little-known film Push.

Nick Gant (Evans) is what's known as a Mover, which is just another way of saying telekinetic. Like Jean Grey, he can move things with his mind. Which makes life difficult for Nick, because there's an organization very interested in people like him called Division. Division has been “collecting” superpowered folks for several decades now: testing them, classifying them, and doing their best to weaponize them for the good of the government.

When Nick was just a boy, he saw his father, another Mover, murdered by Division. And ever since then, he's been on the run and doing his best to stay under the radar and avoid attention. Living in the middle of Hong Kong helps; it's easier to hide in such a big crowd.

Dakota Fanning is Cassie Holmes.

But then Cassie Holmes (Dakota Fanning) walks into Nick's life. She's what's known as a Watcher: someone who can see the future. She's seen that Nick has some pretty exciting stuff in store for him. But seeing the future isn't an exact science, and nothing is set in stone.

What is certain is that Nick's life is going to get very complicated. Soon the guy who just wanted to be left alone finds himself leading a rag-tag group of ex-pat mutants — Shifter and ex-Division operative Hook Waters (Cliff Curtis), Sniff Emily Wu (Ming-Na Wen), and Shadow Pinky Stein (Nate Mooney) — all because his old girlfriend Kira (Camilla Belle) is the first to survive the government drug meant to enhance psychic abilities.

Soon Nick's dodging Bleeders (folks who can scream bloody murder — literally) and Division operatives while wondering if he can even trust the girl he used to love. Kira is, after all, a Pusher: someone who can plant thoughts into people's mind and control their behavior. How can you ever be sure a relationship with such a person is real when it could just be a figment of your imagination?

Push is a favorite of mine for a bevy of reasons. The cast is great, for starters, and features plenty of faces familiar to fans of genre films. Continuing with the comic theme, there's Ming-Na Wen, Mulan herself, who's currently playing the badass Melinda May on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Djimon Hounsou (the evil Korath from Guardians of the Galaxy) as Carver, the ominous face of Division. Corey Stoll, Dr. Eph Goodweather of Guillermo del Toro's soon-to-be-returning vampire series The Strain, is a Division Sniff. And Cliff Curtis may not be too well-known yet, but the gorgeous Maori actor is sure to be more familiar once his Walking Dead spin-off starts airing.

Then there's the world-building. It may not be ground-breaking, but it's got enough twists to it to make it feel fresh and exciting. I'm a sucker for stories about psychics/mutants/superheroes, especially when a nefarious organization is after them.

With dangerous experiments, a wide-array of powers, prophetic visions, and a long game meticulously planned out and executed, it's a thoroughly engaging story with a lot of depth and potential for more. I'm forever disappointed that this didn't do well enough at the box office to warrant a slew of other movies. Considering this was called Push, they very well could have done a Move, or a Stitch, or a Watch detailing the further fights against Division.

It may not be based on a comic series, but Push definitely has that vibe of a larger world and sprawling cast of characters. And the fight scenes are predictably epic. It's always more interesting when you've got guns and super powers at play.

This is a visually stunning film, too. With Hong Kong as a setting, there's no lack of neon lights, richly furnished restaurants, and wildly-patterned hotels; Paul McGuigan, the director, knows how to use empty spaces and the colors are highly evocative. Each character has a distinctive look that speaks volumes, from Cassie's multicolor hair to Emily's beautiful dresses and lace gloves.

I also love the subtle effects denoting the different powers. Movers create miniature rainbows when they throw or deflect things, suggesting that they're causing shock waves and reflecting light with their invisible movements. Pusher's eyes become fully black when they exert their will over people, and Watchers' visions look like double exposures, suggesting that the future they see isn't wholly reliable or accurate.

SEE ALSO: For more Chris Evans, check out the steampunk-thriller Snowpiercer!

If you don't want to wait for the next Marvel or DC movie for some great superpowered action, or you're jonesing for more of Chris Evans as an endearing and much-beleaguered hero, pick up Push. It's a fun sci-fi gem that deserves more of a fanbase.

If you like: The X-Men and stories about secret government organizations.

Why you should watch it: A great, multicultural cast and some intriguing world-building.

Favorite moment(s): Watching Nick's plan unfold in the third act; when Cassie's prediction about Lollipop Girl and the tiger comes true.

Angie Barry wrote her thesis on the socio-political commentary in zombie films. Meeting George Romero is high on her bucket list, and she has spent hours putting together her zombie apocalypse survival plan. She also writes horror and fantasy in her spare time, and watches far too much Doctor Who. You can find her at Livejournal.com under the handle “zombres.”

Read all posts by Angie Barry at Criminal Element.


  1. Cade

    I was definitely a sucker for the rainbow flare effects! It’s just such a fun little movie, & after years of being put off for some stupid reason by Dakota Fanning (she was. in… everything?? was that why IDK), this is the movie that had me fall in love with her. I loved the relationship between Cassie & Nick. That might be my one gripe for the film: Camilla Belle’s char seemed rather flat, so the rapport bw Evans & Fanning was far more interesting. Oh yeah, and my second huge gripe: no sequelsssssss. ;A;

  2. StephanieR

    I adore this movie but I haven’t seen it in forever and *I did not realize that was Ming-Na Wen*! O___O Clearly time for a rewatch.

  3. Clare 2e

    @Cade That was how I felt, too. The Kira part could have been very cool, should have been kick-ass and scary. However, the lovely actress was reactionless, passive and flat, while Dakota Fanning as Cassie had so much more spark.

    I also really dug the colorful, unsual interiors and how many of the smaller parts were cast with people who had interestingly proportioned, non-Hollywood faces. Nice pick, Angie–and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it!

  4. Heather Waters (redline_)

    I am obsessed with this movie! Watch it at least once or twice a year. I can’t decide if I’m devastated we’ll never get to know what happened next or relieved that I can imagine it ended however I want.

    @clare2e — Kira has so much potential in the first few scenes but her stuff with Chris Evans is a black hole of charisma. Cassie and Nick steal the show for me, every time.

  5. Clare 2e

    Agreed @HeatherWaters, no chemistry. I’m really interested in Cassie’s mother, too, who I’ll never see. There’s more gritty Minority Report than Heroes in it.

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