Arriving on Netflix today, Thunder Force is a superhero comedy about two childhood friends who reunite as adults to become a superhero team. It stars real-life friends of more than 20 years, Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer and is written, directed and produced by McCarthy’s husband, Ben Falcone.
Taking us back to 1983, much of the first half of Thunder Force is an origin story, and it’s actually a fun one too. We learn that in that year a pulse of interstellar cosmic rays struck the Earth and was declared by scientists at first to be harmless to humans. However, it soon transpired that the rays had actually triggered a genetic transformation in a select few humans, unleashing superpowers. Unfortunately, for reasons unknown, those powers were only unlocked in individuals who were genetically destined to be bad guys, thereby creating a whole bunch of supervillains, and with no superheroes around to stop them.
Researchers and scientists began working on DNA/genome sequencing in order to give regular people the power to fight back against the new destructive villains, known as ‘Miscreants’. Among the scientists were the parents of Emily Stanton (Octavia Spencer), who were killed during a Miscreant attack when Emily was 12 years old.
Vowing to continue her parents’ work, studious Emily is befriended at school by Lydia Berman (Melissa McCarthy), who is a little rough-around-the-edges and is more interested in rock music than doing well at school. The pair become inseparable, although when we join them 25 years later, they’ve drifted apart, with Lydia working as a heavy equipment operator with Emily now hugely successful in her chosen scientific field. So successful in fact, that when the pair do meet up again, they are able to take advantage of Emily’s research and begin a joint transformation into superheroes. Well, the original plan antiquity didn’t involve Lydia at all, with Emily originally set to receive two superpowers, but due to Lydia’s inability to follow basic instructions and not touch anything in the lab, Emily ends up with just one, Lydia receiving the other.
And so begins a 33-day training programme, with further doses of the formula for fully transforming their bodies being administered. Emily has been given the power of invisibility, which means having to swallow a pill daily, while Lydia has been granted super strength, which involves a number of sharp needles being violently jabbed into various parts of her body. In order to deal with changes to her metabolism, Lydia must also regularly consume large quantities of raw chicken. Eww!
We’d already been introduced to one of the Miscreants earlier on in the movie – Laser (Pom Klementieff) who can manipulate the energy in the room and the spaces around her to create balls of power that she can then unleash. So when Thunder Force is fully trained, assembled as a team, suited up and let loose on the criminals and Miscreants of Chicago, we’re more than ready for some superhero ass-kicking action.
Unfortunately, the villains of Thunder Force are a little….well, rubbish, to say the least. Laser is part of a gang that is headed up by wannabe mayor William Stevens (Bobby Cannavale), who prefers to be called “The King”. She is also joined by another Miscreant known as The Crab (Jason Bateman), who has crab arms in place of his human arms and quickly scuttles sideways when escaping a crime scene. Not exactly Thanos levels of villainy…
The first job for Thunder Force is stopping The Crab and his henchmen from robbing a store, but Lydia falls for The Crab the moment she sees him and what follows is the first of a number of scenes involving the pair of them which are just plain… weird. It’s just a very odd element to the story that really doesn’t work and kind of spoils the whole thing.
There’s also a bit of a lengthy slump around the midsection of the movie, which is a real shame as the introduction to the girls at school, their friendship and the scenes involving their training are actually a lot of fun. It’s when it comes to the superhero side of the story that Thunder Force falters. As I say, Laser is the only villain posing any kind of threat, but even her character – skulking around looking moody, throwing energy bolts around – is something we’ve seen a hundred times before.
Despite the lull in the middle and the disappointing villains, Thunder Force does still manage to be a fun watch, and the final battle does redeem things somewhat. However, your overall enjoyment does depend on how much you like Melissa McCarthy, who tends to dominate much of the screen time.
See all photos >>