In her fifth collaboration with her husband, filmmaker Ben Falcone, Mellisa McCarthy dons a shiny midnight blue latex suit, rolls punches, and kicks some serious asses as a superhero. Thunder Force, arriving at the heels of McCarthy's Superintelligence, is yet another silly no-brainer comedy from the Netflix stable. Also starring Octavia Spencer, the film is about two estranged childhood buddies Lydia (McCarthy) and Emily (Spencer), who reconnect as 40-something women, only to transform into superheroes overnight yoked with the duty to protect their hometown Chicago.
The film introduces a world where sociopathic supervillains called "Miscreants,", born after a cosmic ray hit Earth, are on a killing spree. During one such attack, a young Emily's parents are killed, and she vows to weed out the supervillains by giving ordinary people superhero powers and abilities. In the present, Emily is a scientist/tech company owner a la Tony Stark; Lydia, on the other hand, is a do-gooder fork lifter by day, and a klutzy, lonely alcoholic by night, who would often be caught thinning stale milk and cereal with beer. One fateful day, Lydia bumbles into Emily's life, accidentally getting injected with the treatment meant for Emily to give her superhuman strength.
An overlong origin story later, the narrative finally proceeds to build up to the confrontation between the noble Thunder Force duo and the mighty Bad " an archetypal corrupt, megalomaniac 'Miscreant' politician The King (Bobby Cannavale), and his cronies Laser, who admittedly "likes to kill," and a half-creant The Crab (Jason Bateman), a henchman with a conscience with crab pincers for arms. But the stakes never feel high enough. There is no nail-biting suspense, and even when we are told the supervillains are wreaking havoc in the city, the threat is never imminent or alarming enough.
Mindless comedies have carved out their own niche fan following, providing unbridled comfort and frivolity in the midst of a raging pandemic. While periodically laugh-out-loud funny, Thunder Force lacks the pizzazz or the abject campiness to buoy the entire film.
It is supposed to be a superhero spoof, yet, the movie is neither clever enough to be a parody, nor as dramatically charged or detailed as are superhero flicks.
Thunder Force rests heavily on McCarthy's pitch-perfect comic timing. And she delivers to some extent. But the recurring gags, like a character's inability to deliver a knock-knock joke, Lydia's craving for raw chicken or The Crab not quite knowing how to work his pincers to hold a martini glass, quickly lose steam. Most characters save Lydia are sketchily written. Like Emily's teen genius daughter, Tracy (Taylor Mosby) who zooms in to save the day, but does not get a discernable character arc. The King's larger-than-life villainy (his favourite move is his killer embrace, in which he crushes the bones of his enemies by hugging them tight) hardly leaves an impact.
Not surprising then, the friendship between the central duo Lydia and Emily is completely overshadowed by the Crab Man-Lydia whirlwind romance subplot. Emily parrots the same lines about avenging her parents' murder, but is overall too stoic and sedate to act as a foil to Lydia's eccentricities. Spencer is saddled with disapproving sighs and eye rolls, and despite her best efforts, McCarthy and Spencer's comedic pitches do not synergise.
That said, Thunder Force has some genuinely funny and heartwarming moments, like when Emily's grandmother reveals her bride-and-bride wedding cake topper, suspecting the two best friends are secretly lovers. Or when The King is thrown off by the stench of Lydia's superhero costume, because cool as they may be, Emily is yet to figure out how to wash them. But for the most part, Thunder Force is a middling comedy with liberal pop-culture references, that meanders along until it reaches its crowd-pleasing, utterly predictable climax.
Thunder Force is streaming on Netflix.