These days, the entertainment industry is positively saturated with superhero movies, whether they be inspired by beloved comic books or stem from wholly original ideas. As a result, it’s getting harder and harder for superpowered projects to stand out without well-known IP. A compelling hook is necessary. Netflix’s latest foray into this particular sci-fi area, Thunder Force, certainly has an intriguing idea that could pull in viewers, and it has the star power to boot with leads Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer. Directed by Ben Falcone, McCarthy’s husband and frequent collaborator, Thunder Force exhibits moments of delightful insanity. Unfortunately, they are few and far between. Thunder Force wishes to put a new spin on the superhero movie, and while it shows some promise, it ultimately falls back into conventional territory.
The world of Thunder Force looks very much like our own, save for the existence of “Miscreants.” These bad guys are the only ones blessed with special abilities, and they’ve been terrorizing the city of Chicago for a long time. Brilliant Emily Stanton (Spencer) has been determined to create a way to give regular, good people superpowers ever since her parents were killed in a Miscreant attack when she was young. Her laser focus on this goal is what estranged her from childhood best friend Lydia (McCarthy), an underachieving slob. They reunite as adults at Emily’s fancy new laboratory where, in a comedy of errors, Lydia accidently gets injected with the very treatment meant to give Emily super-strength. With Lydia now growing accustomed to her new powers and Emily saddled with just invisibility powers, the two must band together to save their city from the Miscreants.
In terms of world-building, Thunder Force doesn’t have to exert much effort. A comic book-styled opener gives the backstory of how the Miscreants were created, an info dump that’s given effectively and quickly. After spending perhaps a little bit more time than necessary setting up Emily and Lydia’s early friendship (as well as their falling out), Thunder Force moves ahead to the present day, where the real story begins. The script, penned by Falcone, feels oddly paced. At times, things move quickly, and the action beats fall where they are supposed to. At other points, certain gags or scenes drag on for longer than expected, lending an uneven feel to the proceedings. For example, the stretch of time between Emily and Lydia taking their first superpower treatments to their debut as Thunder Force is perhaps lengthier than one might expect, and it detracts from McCarthy and Spencer’s opportunity to play superheroes.
One of the appeals of Thunder Force is how it stars two actresses who might not be expected to lead a superhero movie. Watching McCarthy and Spencer onscreen, it’s clear they had a lot of fun diving into this well-explored genre that doesn’t always take into account women like them. McCarthy’s comedic timing is as sharp as ever, and Spencer provides a nice foil in her steadfastness to the cause. Plus, it’s really fun seeing both actresses tackle superhero roles. Thunder Force‘s supporting cast is filled with standout players, particularly Jason Bateman as a Miscreant known as The Crab. Literally, he has crab claws instead of hands. It’s an absurd part, and one he nails. The budding relationship between The Crab and Lydia is a sweet touch to the film. Additionally, Bobby Cannavale and Pom Klementieff are solid as the other two main antagonists, and Taylor Mosby puts in a nice performance as Emily’s daughter Tracy.
Where Thunder Force ultimately stumbles is in its inability to fully give into its campy side. There are touches of it, such as how The Crab skitters away from confrontations like an actual crab would and when Lydia is forced to (repeatedly) eat something repulsive due to the changes in her body. When Thunder Force leans into the absurdity, it really stands out. Unfortunately, it too often falls back into the more conventional style of superhero films. One wishes this would’ve pushed the limits a bit more on what this type of movie could be. The cast is clearly game for anything; instead, much of this feels like a missed opportunity.
To be sure, fans of McCarthy and Spencer’s work will find some enjoyment in Thunder Force, but still might be left wanting more as the credits roll. The premise could have provided a new look at the superhero genre, something that is sorely needed these days, but it can’t quite live up to expectations. Its leading ladies are in fine form, as always, and they’re backed by some lively performers. It’s the story that struggles to come through, along with a reluctance to just let loose in every way possible.
Thunder Force begins streaming on Netflix April 9, 2021. It is 105 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for some action/violence, language, and mild suggestive material.