Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer in Thunder Force (2021)
Thunder Force marks the fifth feature film collaboration between writer-director Ben Falcone and star Melissa McCarthy (who has also co-written some of their previous projects). This time around, the comedic duo tackle the superhero universe. In an alternate Chicago where super villains (also known as miscreants) are commonplace, two childhood best friends reunite as superheroes after one creates a treatment that gives people powers to fight back. Given the premise and cast, Thunder Force boasts fun potential. There are a few admirably refreshing themes brought to the forefront, from friendship and the power of inner strength to watching the two leads break stereotypes. For starters, rarely are women of their age given the opportunity to lead in a superhero universe. Do these themes translate well onto the screen? Ben Falcone unfortunately drops the ball in creating an experience that maintains connection to whatever happens on screen. His direction is strangely apathetic; moments that should be pulsating with energy feel eerily drained and vacant. As a comedy that doesn’t often play to the actors’ strengths, Thunder Force falls spectacularly flat.
Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer play superhero characters whose powers go beyond super strength and invisibility. Their inner strengths also shine through, particularly in Spencer’s character Emily, who builds her own headquarters for creating treatments that give people superpowers. Having lost her parents in the crossfire of a miscreant attack, her determination and intelligence see her through to spectacular success after years of work. Lydia (McCarthy) is more on the free falling side; she works the odd job and leads a very different life to her former friend. When Emily doesn’t shop up at a high school reunion night, Lydia decides to surprise her at work. It’s a surprise that Emily welcomes without hesitation, a smart way of indicating perhaps she too was reminiscing and thinking about her former friend. Spencer and McCarthy make a great duo on paper; both deserved a much stronger film to share their chemistry, although they do at least bring some presence. The way their friendship is depicted on screen is one of the few admirable aspects of the film. There’s the awkwardness of rekindling what was once an inseparable bond. There’s the recognition in each other certain traits that show why they became friends in the first place. But given the weak combination of Falcone’s direction and writing, there is only so much those two can do to shine beyond the material. McCarthy tries hard to maintain the energy, while Spencer is a lot more subdued than the zany tone the film appears to be going for. They share a few charming moments, but ultimately there’s an overwhelming feeling that this film is a waste of their talents.
Thunder Force feels like different films cobbled together as one. It’s a goofy superhero comedy full of outrageous characters such as The Crab (Jason Bateman with claws for hands), The King (Bobby Cannavale as a seedy politician), and Laser (Pom Klementieff as a villainous accomplice), who are all known as Miscreants (evil superhumans). Everyone does a fine job, especially Bateman given his connection to McCarthy’s character. But much like the leads, their talent feels wasted. Thunder Force is also a story chronicling a strong female friendship from childhood to adulthood. Lydia and Emily are inseparable, until they aren’t. They have a falling out, Emily goes on to achieve great success, and Lydia pushes through nerves to contact her again several years later. Their friendship makes for an admirable theme, but the screenplay rushes through their relationship without much tact, in favor of pushing for a zany experience in the vein of a project like Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar. While the two films are incredibly different, both do share a similar thread of portraying female friendship in a larger-than-life adventure. Barb and Star fully embraces the ridiculousness (much to the film’s success), which is an approach that perhaps could have improved the floundering experience that is Thunder Force.
Thunder Force is now streaming exclusively on Netflix.