By now, we’re thoroughly jaded with the idea of superhero films and comic-book based movies. We witnessed its renaissance in the early 2000s with Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” and Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight”. Then the 2010s happened and the entire genre went from pop-culture fixture to the defining ethos of the decade. In a post “Avengers: Endgame” world, it’s safe to say that we’ve seen it all. We’ve seen the genre established, deconstructed, reconstructed, parodied and satirised. So when 2021 came rolling around with Netflix’s “Thunder Force”, we were expecting something wholly unremarkable. Another cross-genre superhero film trying to strike novelty out of a drying shaft.
Surprisingly though, “Thunder Force” managed to come up with something we’ve honestly never seen before. A superhero comedy film appealing to mothers and aunties in their mid-40s. From then on, the film descends into the realm of the weird and bizarre. The only question is: Does “Thunder Force” offer any substance with its strange? Let’s find out.
The film starts with a fairly interesting idea. Cosmic rays bombard the Earth and superpowers seem to only manifest in those displaying sociopathic tendencies. Thus, an entire population of super-powered villains known as the Miscreants are borne. When a young girl named Emily Stanton loses her parents to a Miscreant attack, she swears to find a way to avenge their deaths and stop the Miscreants. Along the way, she befriends a loud, socially awkward girl named Lydia in school. As time goes on, Emily and Lydia see their paths in life diverge until fate brings them both back together years later. Or rather Lydia’s bumbling stupidity. When Lydia gains super-strength, Emily decides to team up with her to form Thunder Force. Together, they fight crime and endeavour to save Chicago.
On the surface this seems like the stuff of B-grade Cinemax schlock. In actuality, it’s worse. The main beats of the film are familiar enough that anyone who has seen two buddy-cop films in the last decade can predict them. What no one could have seen coming is the sheer amount of disparate elements in this film. We’re supposed to believe that Emily is the serious straight-man to Lydia’s loose canon. And yet she constantly breaks character with these strange indulgences. We understand its a comedy and that non-sequitur jokes are not uncommon.
What’s strange is the frequency of it within the film. Some of it works, namely Lydia’s romantic relationship with a handsome crab-armed villain. It’s endearing in a silly sort of a way. The rest of it however makes the film feel like the entire thing is being improvised on the spot. As if it’s a “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” or “Saturday Night Live” sketch turned into an hour and 40-minute long film! This issue is further exacerbated when writer and director Ben Falcone employs the use of bathos to carry a scene.
What is bathos? Well, essentially it’s when a character undercuts the dramatic weight of a serious moment by either saying something ridiculous or over-talking. It’s everywhere in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and we utterly abhor it.
Even if the punchline lands, there’s a strong tendency for it to overstay its welcome. Now imagine awful, cringe-worthy dialogue and terribly unfunny jokes being further drawn out. It turns a less than amusing situation into the stuff of nightmares. Actress Melissa McCarthy and Olivia Spencer as Lydia and Emily do have excellent chemistry together on-screen. When they banter and rift off one another, there is a bond and connection between the two that is genuinely endearing and heartwarming at times.
McCarthy plays the same loud, abrasive, socially awkward weirdo she does in nearly every one of her films at this point. We’ve made peace with that. What’s interesting is actress Olivia Spencer whose normally known for playing heavy dramatic roles dipping her toes into a buddy-cop superhero film. Alone the two are dull or grating. As a duo though, there’s a fun camaraderie to the slapstick madness of it all.
Believe or not, the villains here are the ones that get the most laughs out of us. Especially Jason Bateman of “Arrested Development” fame who plays the suave and sexy Crab in the film. Bateman is famous for playing the straight-man in films like “Game Night” and “Horrible Bosses”. Here though, he’s allowed to tap into his more sillier side. The main antagonist here is the King played by Bobby Cannavale also offer some pretty hilarious takes on supervillain foibles. They’re not the most insightful ones but they’re worth a chuckle.
If you’re expecting big-budget action fight scenes, well…don’t. “Thunder Force” isn’t trying to be “Kick-Ass” and that’s fine. No one’s expecting our leads to do back flips or anything too physically demanding. Still, there’s a sluggishness to the framing and fight choreography here. They feel limp and slow, as if the editor couldn’t be bothered to do anything more than throw CGI on-screen. Which brings us to another major issue with the film, the aesthetics.
Again while we get that “Thunder Force” is trying to be comical, some of the aesthetic choices come off as contrived, cheap or weird. You’re telling us that Emily, who owns a multi-million dollar company, can’t afford a proper armoured vehicle? The two of them have to travel around in a purple Lamborghini?
While it’s nice that Netflix’s “Thunder Force” is finally giving women in their 40s their time of day in the superhero film genre, we believe they deserve better. Melissa McCarthy and Olivia Spencer and a handful of talented actors can’t do enough to elevate this romp beyond the bargain bin. It’s a puzzle how “Thunder Force” manages to be so predictable and yet so bizarre, all at the same time. It’s hard to really recommend this film to anyone…even to its supposed demographic. If you are curious though, you can check it out on Netflix today!
So what’s the weirdest superhero film you’ve ever seen? Is “Thunder Force” a sign that we should give the genre a break? Be sure to let us known in the comments below!
Netflix's Thunder Force Review
While it's nice that Netflix's "Thunder Force" is finally giving women in their 40s their time of day in the superhero film genre, we believe they deserve better. Melissa McCarthy and Olivia Spencer and a handful of talented actors can't do enough to elevate this romp beyond the bargain bin. It's a puzzle how "Thunder Force" manages to be so predictable and yet so bizarre, all at the same time.
- Netflix's Thunder Force Review