This superhero comedy has weaknesses and it’s not Kryptonite.
Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer are two of the best female talents in the entertainment industry, but they’re both woefully misused in “Thunder Force,” a superhero comedy just released on Netflix. This is the fifth film McCarthy’s husband Ben Falcone has directed, and neither he or she seem to grasp that they’re better actors than they are filmmakers. I like to imagine how funnier and more lively the movie would have been if it was directed by Paul Feig, who brought McCarthy’s career to new heights in “Bridesmaids,” “The Heat,” and “Spy.” But not with “Thunder Force,” which lacks the energy, superpowers, and levity of “Guardians of the Galaxy” or “Shazam.”
McCarthy plays Lydia, a miserable Chicago sad sack, and Spencer as Emily, a geneticist and single mother, who is trying to finish the work her deceased parents started. The work she’s trying to accomplish involves turning people into superheroes bent on stopping supervillains known as “The Miscreants” from taking over the world. They were once friends, broke up, and reunite when Lydia tries and fails to invite Emily to their high school reunion. And when Emily tells her not to touch anything in her lab, Lydia has to touch things, including her superhero formula. So, they have to train her to become one.
The procedure for Lydia involves a series of painful injections in her face and breasts (ho hum), eating raw chicken (gross), and training in the gym, when she has to fall down (oh like I haven’t seen that before), while Emily just has to take pills (she couldn’t have dairy).
The other team members include Emily’s smart daughter (Taylor Mobsy), who doesn’t know who Steve Urkel is, and Melissa Leo a former CIA agent, who acts like she doesn’t want to be in this movie. In fact, I already knew the latter would be the backstabber. There always has to be a backstabber, and the filmmakers made it seem so obvious.
Lydia and Emily give themselves the superhero names Thunder Force, and they can’t wash their outfits, because the scientist hasn’t figured it out yet, which is why they smell ripe. What kind of lab hasn’t figured out how to disinfect and deodorize a suit?
The Miscreants they battle feature Pom Klementieff (“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) as Laser, a woman who shoots lasers, Jason Bateman as the Crab, a man with crab claws for hands whom Lydia has a thing for, and Bobby Cannavale as a powerful man, who plans to win the election for the mayor of Chicago. He wants to be called “The King,” not “King.”
It seems tedious at first with the claws looking like props and the film trying so hard at attempting to be commercial, but the most interesting thing about it is when Lydia dates the Crab. In what she calls a “Surf and Turf,” I think “Thunder Force” missed the bet about a superhero dating a supervillain or henchmen. It could have been a romantic comedy in a “Raising Arizona” way, but instead it has to take on the generic approach about nobodies being heroic. And I’ve seen 90s bombs that actually worked for me like “Mystery Men” or “Blankman.”
The movie was just more of the same schtick from McCarthy. She’s funny with the right material, but in the movies she produces (from “Tammy” to “Super Intelligence”), she lacks the charisma and flexibility that made her more famous. And Spencer is an excellent actress, but she has to play the plucky scientist and single mom. They could have had something together, but the movie misses many opportunities for them.
Streaming on Netflix