Review by David Baldwin
A group of supervillains dubbed the “Miscreants” has been terrorizing the world since the 1980s and Emily Stanton (Octavia Spencer) has devoted her life’s work to developing a formula to create superheroes to fight against them. She has just finished perfecting a treatment – only to have her former best friend Lydia (Melissa McCarthy) accidentally inject herself with it. Now the pair must learn to come together again in order to save Chicago from the group.
I am not sure what I expected from Thunder Force, the fifth collaboration between McCarthy and her Writer/Director husband Ben Falcone. This film has a higher concept hook than their previous films, yet somehow is about what you expect it to be – a lame superhero movie with a few fun moments and a whole lot of world building nonsense. It takes a bit too long to really get moving (blame the endless training montages), but fans of McCarthy’s work will likely enjoy her commitment to every pratfall and asinine moment Falcone asks of her. Should it do well, I have no doubt Netflix will spin the film into a franchise that digs a whole lot deeper into the mythos behind the Miscreants and likely brings new superheroes into the mix to fight alongside McCarthy and Spencer.
If they go the franchise route though, I just hope they get someone other than Falcone to write it. He is more than adequate behind the camera (and the way he shoots the action here is fairly solid), but the script is a mess. Looking past the endless riffs and overplayed jokes – including one revolting gag involving raw chicken that is just as unfunny the first time as it is the sixth time – the bigger issue is that Thunder Force has no idea what it wants to be. It flip flops between being a legit, non-IP driven superhero movie, to a full on parody of superhero movies, to a tongue in cheek send-up of superhero movies. There is no middle ground between any of these competing tones, and the fact that so much of the film feels culled together from multiple edit jobs does not help either. It makes for complete tonal chaos. The few moments when it does focus on being just one thing are not surprisingly the best moments in the film. Sadly they come far too rarely, leaving us mostly watching horrified as gifted, Oscar-winning actors like Spencer and Melissa Leo are forced to act dead serious while McCarthy makes a complete ass of herself.
And that is what hurts the most about Thunder Force. McCarthy is a wonderfully gifted Oscar-nominated actress. Her work in Can You Ever Forgive Me? was some of the finest acting I saw in 2018. She brought so much depth and nuance to that character, and it really showed how incredible she can be with the right material. So why is she still showing up in dreck like this, hamming it up for outrageous yuks that are not nearly as funny as Falcone thinks they are? Why is she so determined to become the female answer to Adam Sandler? It does not make a whole lot of sense to me. I respect and love that she works with her husband, and that he keeps making films with her as the lead. But something has to give, because the audience is not going to stay with them forever and I fear for what her career may become if she does not branch out a bit further.
At least Thunder Force has Jason Bateman going for it. His villainous character The Crab is absolutely absurd and Bateman is given full reign to go gloriously deadpan with his performance. Why is he called The Crab? Well, he has crab claws for hands and believe me, it is just as weird as it sounds. But Bateman rolls with the punches, and seems to be having the most fun of anyone who pops up here. So if you decide to endure this chaotic superhero film this weekend, at least know you will get some deep belly laughs watching him in action. Hopefully he gets to pop up in the sequel too.
Thunder Force streams on Netflix starting Friday, April 9, 2021.