Thunder Force is yet another high-concept comedy collab between McCarthy and Falcone that fails at, well, being funny.
On its surface, a film like Thunder Force holds promise. An original superhero concept in the present climate is a rare thing, but one that is female-driven and of the middle-aged variety? Count us in. It’s in the details that things become suspect, however, starting with lead Melissa McCarthy, who hasn’t made a decent comedy since 2015’s Spy. Academy Award-winner Octavia Spencer momentarily inspires more hope, but then you remember that this is the same woman who thought Ma was a good idea. But when you get to the writing and directing credits, that’s when the heart truly sinks, as the ship is steered by Ben Falcone, McCarthy’s husband and co-conspirator in all things shit. It’s…nice that McCarthy supports her husband’s artistic endeavors, but if she truly loved him, she might not agree to star in yet another one of his bland and assertively unfunny concoctions. Films like Tammy, The Boss, Life of the Party, and Superintelligence are proof enough of what happens when support bleeds into enabling, and Thunder Force sadly does nothing to upset this trend.
A massive radiation blast from space, circa 1981, resulted in sociopaths being granted superpowers. (Obviously.) Dubbed Miscreants, they use their superior abilities solely for nefarious ends. Spencer plays world-renowned scientist Dr. Emily Stanton, who has since figured out how to manipulate the genes of an average person so as to create a new breed of superhero who can finally win the decades-long war. Through complications too stupid to get into, her first test subject is former best friend Lydia (McCarthy), a tough-talking Chicago dock worker who gains the power of super strength. Emily, meanwhile, becomes invisible. Together, they are the titular Thunder Force, a duo who must overcome their estranged friendship and work together to stop the city from an evil Miscreant mayoral candidate named The King (Bobby Cannavale) and his powerful team of minions, including the laser-wielding Laser (Pom Klementieff) and The Crab (Jason Bateman), a half-human/half-Miscreant hybrid whose arms transformed into pincers after being bit on the genitals by a radioactive sea creature on his honeymoon. (Obviously.) But as with any Falcone/McCarthy flick, the biggest problem is that none of this is funny, with countless jokes landing with an earth-shaking thud.
Falcone, for his part, seems to go out of his way to write characters for his wife that give into her worst instincts, all while simultaneously undermining his own good intent: female empowerment is always welcome in cinema, especially in the superhero genre, so why must there then be a scene where the two protagonists have to wiggle their way into a tiny car, the sole punchline being, “hey, these women are kind of overweight, huh?” Thunder Force is also yet another feminist tale told from the male POV that, of course, temporarily pits the two women against one another, because sure, that’s what we need. The only part of this film that even remotely works is a romance that develops between McCarthy and Bateman, two seasoned pros who can somehow even sell a sex scene involving some Old Bay seasoning and a little butter. Still, high-concept comedies really only work when the jokes themselves are funny, and there’s nothing particularly humorous about an effects-laden superhero battle when it seems like the only “joke” is normal-looking, middle-aged women in skin-tight outfits. The only real superpower on display is Falcone’s uncanny ability to render McCarthy completely lame — in the span of 60 seconds, she is forced to do impressions of both Steve Urkel and Jodie Foster from the movie Nell. (Obviously.) Somebody, get these two a marriage counselor; it would save movie studios millions and moviegoers valuable hours of their lives.
You can currently stream Ben Falcone’s Thunder Force on Netflix.