This spoof superhero movie produced by and starring Melissa McCarthy is a strangely toothless affair. Though it features a species of X-Men-like supervillains called Miscreants and casts the MCU’s Pom Klementieff as one of them, writer-director Ben Falcone – McCarthy’s husband – shows little interest in satirising a genre that’s already pretty willing to make fun of itself.
So at its core, Thunder Force is an odd-couple friendship comedy teaming McCarthy with the equally charismatic Octavia Spencer. Given that McCarthy has shone in similar pairings with Sandra Bullock (The Heat) and Jason Bateman (Identity Thief), it’s a sound enough premise. In an extended pre-title sequence, we see smart, super-driven Emily Stanton (Spencer) and scruffy, unfocused Lydia Berman (McCarthy) become unlikely primary school besties. They then fall out as teenagers after Lydia fails to wake her friend for a vital exam and Emily realises her laid-back buddy is dragging her down.
Several decades later, the pair reconnect as 40-something grown-ups when Lydia, now a beer-guzzling fork-lift truck driver, arrives uninvited at the scientific research company that Emily has built from scratch. Left unattended in Emily’s swanky office, clumsy Lydia inadvertently injects herself with a serum designed to instil its recipient with superhuman strength. It was intended for Emily, who has devoted her life to finding a scientific solution to Chicago’s Miscreant problem after the all-powerful villains killed her parents. With Lydia squandering the only dose of strength serum, Emily has to make do with taking the other superhero potion she was developing, one that gives her the ability to become invisible. After a few teething troubles – Lydia is still pretty chaotic, Emily still somewhat uptight – they form the crime-fighting duo Thunder Force.
Falcone’s action sequences and special effects aren’t too shabby: Klementieff’s sadistic Miscreant, Laser, is an entirely two-dimensional baddie, but it’s fun watching her destroy Lydia’s local diner with her self-made balls of electromagnetic radiation. Sadly, the plot involving a dodgy Chicago mayoral candidate (Bobby Cannavale) who’s in cahoots with the Miscreants is plodding and predictable. In fact, there’s so little threat or complexity to the battle between Thunder Force and Cannavale’s character The King that Falcone pads the film with a leisurely romantic arc. Scenes teaming McCarthy’s Lydia with The Crab, a half-human, half-crustacean gamely played by Bateman, are amusing if never genuinely hilarious.
McCarthy adds value too in a role that doesn’t really challenge her to do anything new – a bit of physical comedy here, some semi-improvised-sounding banter there. Spencer is equally good fun when Emily is permitted to shed a little of her buttoned-up exterior. The result isn’t terrible or totally devoid of laughs, just perfunctory and fundamentally pointless. It’s a quintessential ‘plane movie’ that has the misfortune to arrive at a time when almost no one is flying anywhere.
- Director: Ben Falcone
- Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Octavia Spencer, Jason Bateman
- Release date: April 9 (Netflix)