REVIEW: Thunder Force Offers an Unfocused, Goofy Riff on the Superhero Genre
2/5 crab claws.
Over the past decade, Melissa McCarthy has established herself as a bonafide movie star, delivering brilliant comedic performances in films like Bridesmaids, Spy, and The Heat. But like all stars, she has also appeared in her fair share of clunkers, films that simply don’t match the level of her comedic talents, like The Boss, Superintelligence, and Life of the Party. Unfortunately, those films are almost always directed by her husband and creative partner, Ben Falcone. So every time a new McCarthy film is announced with Falcon directing, I’ve learned to temper my expectations.
And it’s frustrating, because Thunder Force had such potential. A superhero film starring two 50 year old women with real bodies kicking ass and taking names? Sign me up. While superhero stories continue to dominate film and television, older women have been largely ignored in the genre. With the exception of a handful of performances like Angela Bassett in Black Panther, Michelle Pfeiffer in Ant-Man and the Wasp, and Annette Bening in Captain Marvel, women of a certain age have gotten short shrift, as they always do in Hollywood.
Thunder Force takes place in a world terrorized by Miscreants, sociopaths who gained superpowers when outer-space radiation hit Earth. These superpowered terrorists killed young Emily’s parents, and she swore to avenge them by developing a super serum to give good guys superpowers to fight back. As a child, Emily’s only friend was Lydia, a trash-talking loyal bestie who defended her against school bullies. The two become fast friends until the end of high school, when they have a falling out.
Now adults, Lydia (McCarthy) is a messy, beer-drinking forklift operator, while Emily (Octavia Spencer) is something of a female Tony Stark. Emily has engineered a gene therapy to give herself super strength and invisibility, but when Lydia accidently doses herself with super strength, leaving invisibility for Emily, the two estranged friends come together to become a crime-fighting team known as Thunder Force. Together they team up to take on the Miscreants, led by Bobby Cannavale’s The King, along with Laser (Guardians of the Galaxy‘s Pom Klementieff) and the Crab, a man/shellfish mutant played by Jason Bateman, who is clearly having a blast.
Thunder Force is aided by Emily’s daughter Tracy (Taylor Mosby), who quickly forms a bond with Lydia. The emotional undercurrent of the film is the reunion of these two best friends, and Spencer and McCarthy display an easy chemistry, no doubt thanks to their real life 25-year long friendship.
There are genuinely funny moments in Thunder Force, and I enjoyed it more than any other McCarthy/Falcon collaboration. Spencer and McCarthy are dynamite together, nailing the comedy and the emotional aspects of the film. And Lydia’s flirtation with the Crab delivers some of the weirder, wilder moments of the overlong film. I also enjoyed spending time in a world where women superheroes are casually accepted and celebrated, and where misogyny is only a tool of the villains.
But everything else about the film just plain doesn’t work. From the villains to the costumes to the overly complicated plot, the film feels like a rough draft of an idea. And that lack of flair extends to the action sequences, which are unfocused and uninspired. The world around Spencer and McCarthy feels like a placeholder, and every scene without them drags.
If I had seen this film in theaters, maybe I would be more annoyed. But as a late night Netflix watch, it’s engaging enough to enjoy. After all, comedians like Kevin James and Adam Sandler have been churning out mediocre content for Netflix for years. Why not let the ladies take a crack at it?
Thunder Force is currently streaming on Netflix.
(featured image: HOPPER STONE/NETFLIX)
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