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Though superhero movies are obviously everywhere right now, the idea of having both an original one and one that’s a straight comedy seems like a smart idea on paper. As much genre diversity we’ve seen evolve out of comic book blockbuster franchises, there is a certain box that each project has to work within, and that means that a title like Ben Falcone’s Thunder Force has the potential to attempt wholly new things and be entertaining in a fresh kind of way. The problem, at least in this specific case? The film doesn’t even bother.
The latest Netflix original begins with an interesting concept, as a world is established that is plagued by sociopathic supervillains who got their powers from a cosmic ray that hit Earth, but unfortunately the movie is utterly unable to do anything with that premise – instead opting to introduce a pair of totally bland heroes who string along a plot that is not only boring and predictable, but at times doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.
Said heroes in Thunder Force are Lydia Berman (Melissa McCarthy) and Emily Stanton (Octavia Spencer) – two women who grew up as best friends when they were little before having a falling out while in high school. When Lydia reaches out to reconnect with her former pal, she is somehow shocked to discover that Emily has become a rich and powerful scientist who has dedicated her life to creating superheroes who can try and stop the menace of the so-called “miscreants.” Her work is nearly done when Lydia shows up, and some clumsiness and carelessness sees the former bestie accidentally take the first dose of super strength injections – leaving Emily just with invisibility.
After what feels like an endless extended sequence that sees Lydia and Emily go through month-long treatment and training to develop their abilities, they finally head out to the streets to kick some miscreant ass. As they do, they become embroiled in a plot involving not only supervillains – including Laser (Pom Klementieff) and The Crab (Jason Bateman) – but also the mayor of Chicago (Bobby Cannavale), who is in the midst of an extremely tight reelection campaign.
The script is not just overrun with tropes and laborious pacing, but also doesn’t make any sense at points.
Thunder Force is based on an original script by Ben Falcone, and while the film clearly didn’t have a massive budget that would allow it to fully explore its baseline supervillain idea, but what’s inexcusable is how scattershot the story is, and how many clichés are utilized (and poorly). It takes forever to actually get going, first layering on all of the exposition and then moving through the interminable training sequence, and then when it does finally go fishing for a plot it winds up reeling in a boot. Surprise, surprise, the aggressively charismatic mayor is a power-hungry asshole who has the miscreants doing his bidding, and it’s just so tired that it’s impossible to engage with. Even worse, the movie makes some absolutely confounding moves to try and keep it interesting – such as the mayor revealing his evil plot to the heroes after breaking into Emily’s lab … and then for some reason Lydia and Emily just decide to not tell anybody about it.
It can be recognized that the film does have some moments of originality, however, more often than not they left me confused. There’s a whole fantastical dance sequence with Lydia and The Crab when the former is trying to stop the latter during a convenience store robbery, and I legitimately had no idea what’s going on – and really just was left assuming that The Crab had some kind of pheromone superpower to go with his crab leg arms. It wasn’t until later in the film when the hero and villain randomly go on a date that I finally figured out that it was just a really terribly executed love-at-first-sight moment (and yes, it turns out the extent of The Crab’s powers is just having crab leg arms).
Plain and simple, Thunder Force isn’t funny.
If Jason Bateman sporting a pair of fake crab legs for arms is the kind of thing that sends you into a tizzy, Thunder Force may weirdly be a perfect film for you – but I’m assuming that most people wouldn’t find that funny, and they’re definitely not going to like what the rest of the movie has to offer. It sporadically has scenes where it feels like the filmmakers simply forgot to put in a joke, and what passes for the feature’s sense of funny is almost exclusively eye roll-inducing – like the heroes having difficulty exiting their car, or Lydia complaining about how much her suit smells. And when in doubt, it goes for the gross out humor, as it apparently thinks that Melissa McCarthy eating raw chicken is just hysterical, because that’s turns into an increasingly lame running bit.
You feel bad for Octavia Spencer and Melissa McCarthy, because they should both be making much better movies.
For what it’s worth, Octavia Spencer and Melissa McCarthy do seem like they are having a good time together, and they make for a good pair, but the material that they are working with just makes the whole affair seem depressing. One is an Oscar winner, and the other is twice-nominated, and it’s a bummer seeing them playing characters with extremely little depth (it very much boils down to a simple Type A/Type B relationship), and nothing exciting in the material. It’s nice to see them get the opportunity to put on some super suits, and they get to do some cool fight scenes and wire work, but their best skills aren’t utilized, and it doesn’t challenge them in the slightest.
Netflix does make a proper home for Thunder Force, as it will fit in well right alongside all of the collection of bad Adam Sandler movies. Fortunately, what’s great about the streaming service is that you can scroll right on past it, looking out for a far more enjoyable film to watch. It’s built on a strong foundation of premise and stars, but totally squanders it.