With Powers, Playstation Investigates the Dark Side of Superheroes
He used to be the Mick Jagger of superheroes. Now Christian Walker is just a bitter, jaded has-been. Played by Sharlto Copley in the new cop show Powers–the first original scripted series from Sony PlayStation–Walker has lost his ability to fly and is now stuck working the streets as a homicide detective. He desperately wants his old life back, along with all the money, fame, and debauchery that went with it.
"Powers goes deeper than the average superhero project by asking serious, thought-provoking questions," says Copley, who became a sci-fi sensation after starring in the Oscar-nominated District 9. "What if having a superpower is like having an addiction–something that is corrupting and hedonistically pleasurable? What if you could merchandise your powers and win lucrative endorsement deals? And what happens when–as in the case of Walker–this intense level of celebrity turns you into a selfish d--k?"
Based on the acclaimed comic book series by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Avon Oeming, Powers is set in a world where superpowers aren't all that rare. "In fact, a lot of people have fairly mediocre or downright useless ones," Copley says. "A guy might levitate three feet off the ground or breathe a little fire or shoot lightning from his eyes...and that's it. Or you might be able to fly but you don't have invulnerability, which"–the actor notes with a laugh–"can be a real headache."
Many of these people turn to crime, and often murder, which is where Walker's firsthand knowledge of powers comes in handy. He's teamed with rookie Det. Deena Pilgrim (The Following's Susan Heyward), who has no superhuman abilities of her own but carries a different kind of baggage: Her father is a legendary law enforcer who used his position in highly questionable ways.
"Deena is out to show her dad that you can fight crime the right way, but it's not all altruism with her," Heyward says. "She has a very high opinion of herself. She knows that if she busts a big case, she's the girl on top." Her relationship with Walker is messy at best. "He brings out her hubris," says Heyward. "She refuses to coddle him. They're always knocking each other down a few pegs, and neither is what you'd call a hero."
On the upside, Copley says, "When Christian is at his most self-loathing, Deena can bring out his better nature. He'd prefer drinking, drugs, and groupies, of course, but she reminds him that there is honor in fighting crime."
The 10-episode series also stars Eddie Izzard (Hannibal) as Wolfe, a demonic cult leader who was once Walker's mentor; Noah Taylor (Game of Thrones) as lethal club owner Johnny Royalle; and Michelle Forbes (Orphan Black) as the wildly popular Retro Girl, as fabulous at self-promotion as she is battling baddies.
"This cast is like a fantasy sports team for the gaming community," says John Koller, PlayStation's vice president of marketing. "But our goal is to reach well beyond that audience." Powers, set to stream today, will be available to all PlayStation Plus subscribers (they'll get three episodes up front, then the rest on a weekly basis), and the premiere episode will also be posted free of charge on PlayStation.com as well as YouTube. (You do not need a PlayStation console to stream the show.) DVD and Blu-ray releases will likely follow.
But don't expect any of the Marvel-style pizzazz you get at the multiplex. Though Powers is budgeted at a reported $2 million per episode, executive producer Charlie Huston says, "we will not be flipping buses in the air or have alien armies invading from other galaxies." Nor does the series give gaming fans the ability to pull a trigger or change the trajectory of a story. "But we do offer a very different kind of experience that's made with a lot of love and respect for superhero entertainment," Huston says. "This show is emotionally interactive."