Thunder Force, 2021.
Written and Directed by Ben Falcone.
Starring Melissa McCarthy, Octavia Spencer, Bobby Cannavale, Jason Bateman, Pom Klementieff, Melissa Ponzio, Taylor Mosby, Braxton Bjerken, Tyrel Jackson Williams, Melissa Leo, Marcella Lowery, Kevin Dunn, Bria Danielle, Vivian Falcone, Tai Leshaun, Mia Kaplan, and Ben Falcone.
In a world where supervillains are commonplace, two estranged childhood best friends reunite after one devises a treatment that gives them powers to protect their city.
I’ve lost track of how many collaborations there are now between the comedic husband-and-wife duo of writer and director Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy, but I do know that Thunder Force is the best of the bunch. That’s not saying much (such examples involve awful movies such as Tammy and The Boss). They are also continuing on with upping the scale of their flicks, now with a full-blown superhero story involving unlikely female protagonists that don’t look the conventional part, in terms of both race and figure. If nothing else, the representation is nice and will probably be encouraging to some young teenagers out there, but they also deserve better and it’s also not hard to see Marvel and DC already filling that hole.
Nevertheless, some comic book pages (the movie is not based on a real comic book) start us off with some exposition about cosmic rays that blasted the earth and granted only sociopaths superhuman abilities. These beings are also given the name of Miscreants. That doesn’t make a lick of sense, but it also doesn’t matter. Following establishing that, there’s a second prologue introducing childhood versions of our protagonists, the brash, outspoken, and loyal Lydia and the supremely intelligent yet bullied Emily. Hilariously, Lydia comes to Emily’s defense, they bond over Chicago sports and heavy metal bands, and then break contact before high school graduation as Emily outgrows the slacker shenanigans of the former.
Present-day, Lydia (Melissa McCarthy, her usual loudmouth self and frustratingly handicapped without an R rating)) now works as a forklift operator (drinking on the job and still rocking 80s music T-shirts, so par for the course when it comes to the humor of this filmmaking duo) cautiously enthused over the upcoming high school reunion. She is estranged from Emily (Octavia Spencer, who I have never seen look more bored in her entire career than here), who has carved out a groundbreaking career in the science industry following in the footsteps of her parents that were murdered by Miscreants. Disappointing Lydia, Emily turns out to be a no-show, which encourages her to spontaneously show up at the newly installed building for her research under the thinking that when they were kids, Emily would never go to a party unless she was accompanied by someone. More surprisingly, Lydia is granted access by Emily herself to be taken to the top floor to reconnect.
Until this point (which is only about 20 minutes into the movie, anyway), Thunder Force shows promise. There’s an idea, refreshing heroes in terms of appearance, and even the childhood flashback is actually funny. The next 80 ministers made me wish that flashback was the whole movie. Unsupervised, Lydia winds up in an operating chair (she assumes it’s for a massage) and somehow activating the process for the injection of a shot that will give her superhuman strength. Essentially, Emily’s decades of research have led her to now being able to replicate the process of giving people superpowers, to which Lydia has now compromised through the typical Melissa McCarthy buffoonery.
After some brief fighting, they decide to work together each having one power. Lydia will undergo 33 daily injections for super-strength while Emily only has to take a pill for the same amount of time (the juxtaposition there is one of the few jokes that works) to master the power of turning invisible. With that said, the powers themselves also feel fitting to the characters; heightened power makes sense for the dimwitted Lydia while invisibility works for a nerd, so to speak, that never had the easiest time interacting in society and still dozens. Exhibit A: Emily now has a daughter named Tracy (Taylor Mosby), a whiz kid in her own right, stressing the importance of amassing scientific knowledge without much care for having fun playing Fortnite. Naturally, Lydia comes in and becomes a friend, showing that there’s time for busywork and entertainment.
At least half of this movie is simply watching these characters come into and understand how to use their newfound powers, which is acceptable, but the comedy it’s laced with is often unbearable involving bodily fluids or people eating raw chicken. The script uses the Chicago setting as a means for endless jokes about sports teams, it’s constantly lazily referencing other works of sci-fi, and the usage of these abilities is not necessarily imaginative. By the time they are going on their first real mission to take out at half-man half-crab humanoid played by Jason Bateman, it’s clear that things are only going to get better or go further downhill.
Let’s just say I felt bad for Jason Bateman watching this movie, an absolute comedic force that transitioned into directing and dramatic turns in both film and television proving to be an all-around incredible talent. Here, a simple joke of him being a villainous goon with pincers turns into a series of embarrassments involving ridiculous backstories, lowbrow jokes about seasoning, and not one but two strange scenes of intimacy. It’s a silly character that could have livened things up but just turns out to be a vessel for some of Ben Falcone’s worst comedic impulses.
In the background of all this is a mayoral race involving Bobby Cannavale’s The King up against a progressive opponent in the form of Rachel Gonzales (Melissa Ponzio). The safety of the city is the key to winning the race, so Lydia and Emily also get roped into some political affairs while battling forgettable and generic villains such as Laser (Pom Klementieff) shooting energy beams from her hands with CGI straight from a 90s action movie. Even the fights just become setups for sports-related visual sight gags.
And then Corey Taylor of Slipknot fame is singing over the ending credits because apparently, Thunder Force gets strange in an entertaining way AFTER the movie is over. Thunder Force desperately needed someone to assist with the script and gives this a sense of personality, but Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy are content pumping out low-effort drivel and probably have about three sequels already planned. Someone, anyone help us (except the Thunder Force).
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com