Thunder ForceReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 04/09/21 22:49:59
My guess is that the pitch meeting for “Thunder Force” consisted entirely of writer-director Ben Falcone walking into Netflix headquarters, uttering the magic words “Melissa McCarthy is a superhero” and walked out with the requisite number of wheelbarrows filled with cash needed to bring it to fruition. As premises go, that one is not too bad but it quickly becomes apparent that nobody involved ever bothered to develop that premise in potentially interesting and funny ways, assuming that the sight of McCarthy and co-star Octavia Spencer wreaking comedic havoc with their powers to satisfy viewers. That works for a few minutes, to be charitable about it, but the whole thing just grows increasingly silly and tiresome as it goes on. To make matters even more frustrating, it does hit upon a potentially ingenious conceit—one that could have easily fueled an entire film on its own—but then kind of squanders it on only a couple of scenes (albeit the best ones) before retreating to the nonsense.The conceit is that super villains—dubbed Miscreants—are among us wreaking various degrees of havoc but, alas, there are no heroes to help balance the scales. After her scientist parents are killed in a Miscreant attack, young Emily Stratton vows to continue their work and invent a way for ordinary people to become imbued with fantastic powers of their own so that they can fight back. Before she can do that, however, she has to navigate something even more treacherous—school, where any flash of genius is enough to set off playground cruelties. Happily, she finds an unexpected ally in Lydia, a tough girl who takes to her and becomes her defender. They quickly become best pals, though their friendship falls apart just before they are to graduate high school and go their separate ways—Emily (Spencer) is an acclaimed scientist still working on developing superpowers and Lydia (McCarthy) working at a loading dock and being unable to master the concept of the freshness date on her mill carton.
Although estranged for years, the two reunite when Lydia shows up at Emily’s hi-tech research facilities in order to drag her out to their high school reunion. Thanks to a series of mishaps, Lydia ends up getting injected with the first dose of a serum that Emily has devised that will hopefully give ordinary people super-strength. Because of the potentially dire circumstances if she stops the treatment early, Lydia is forced to continue with the program while Emily herself undergoes a regime designed to make her invisible. The processes work and before long, the two have their full powers and, with some snazzy uniforms and the help of Emily’s genius daughter, Tracy (Taylor Mosby), dub themselves Thunder Force and begin to do battle with Miscreants, chiefly Laser (Pom Klementieff), who is working in the service of The King (Bobby Cannavale), a rich thug who will do anything to win a tight race to become Mayor of Chicago and who has a secret of his own that, now that I mention it, I suppose is not much of a secret after all.
Considering McCarthy’s relative fearlessness as a performer in her willingness to go to extraordinary lengths for a laugh and the more-than-occasional pretensions that the superhero genre can demonstrate when it takes itself too seriously, you would think that a movie like “Thunder Force” would practically write itself. Unfortunately, it seems as if everyone decided that the premise was funny enough as is and that the only additional work that needed to be done was to toss in a bunch of flashy-but-unmemorable special effects into the pot. For less demanding viewers, that may be true but those looking for a little more are going to be disappointed. The big action set pieces are noisy and messy enough but they seem largely bereft of the kind of wild visual humor that one might have expected—instead, we get the usual array of bullets flying, bombs exploding and super-strong people in odd costumes whomping the crap out of each other. McCarthy is essentially playing the same character that she has in most of the comedies that she has made since her “Bridesmaids” breakthrough and giving her superhuman strength doesn’t add anything new or particularly funny to the equation. Granted, she is always going to great lengths to try to breathe life into the material—as does Spencer—but the results are generally so predictable and haphazard that you will wonder why they even bothered. Put it this way—in what is presumably meant to be a goof on superhero movies, the film pauses for two Glenn Frey needles drops and one seemingly endless scene in which McCarthy busts out references to Urkel and Jodie Foster’s long-forgotten would-be Oscar bait “Nell” to absolutely no avail or amusement.
That said, there is one genuine bit of comedic inspiration in “Thunder Force,” though it comes too late in the proceedings to do much of anything except to frustrate viewers who will be wishing that the film had focused on this and not the depravations of The King. It involves The Crab (Jason Bateman), a henchman of The King who is now part crab for reasons that I will let you discover for yourselves. He is introduced during a scene in which he and his fellow minions have their robbery of a liquor store interrupted by the debut of Thunder Force. Oddly enough, there is a spark between The Crab and Lydia that eventually leads to a date that, despite some awkward moments (such as when the waiter unthinkingly recommends the seafood tower), eventually perks up to the point where they close out the night making some interesting usage of a container of Old Bay seasoning. This sequence has everything that is missing elsewhere in the film—a funny idea that is further developed into amusing areas and performers who are clearly clicking on the same goofy wavelength—and it works so well that when it ends and things go back to the usual nonsense, you can practically feel things deflating. I guarantee that a relationship comedy involving a hero and a villain trying to make a go of things in their personal lives while the usual explosions and chaos are relegated to the background would have been infinitely funnier than the majority of what is actually here and even that material never quite lived up to what is shown here, the effort alone would have made for a more interesting viewing experience.Other than that, Thunder Force is kind of a bore—watching it is like watching the pilot to a series that you know about halfway through that you will never watch again. It lays out its not-exactly-fresh ideas in the dullest and most pedestrian ways imaginable and when it does stumble upon a spark of genuine creativity with the entrance of the Bateman character, it proves to be too little too late. That said, if the film ends up inspiring any follow-ups down the road—stranger things have happened—here is hoping that they forgot all the bus tossings and explosions and other familiar superhero silliness and lean even more into the oddball rom-com goof that it clearly yearns to be.
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