Thunder Force Synopsis: In a world where supervillains called Miscreants are commonplace, two childhood best friends (Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer) reunite as an unlikely crime-fighting superhero duo when one invents a formula that gives ordinary people superpowers.
It’s no secret that comedian Melissa McCarthy and director Ben Falcone haven’t had the best track record as a tandem onscreen. Both have exhibited their assured talents individually (McCarthy is a true star, shinning in both comedic and dramatic fare), but the married couple has exclusively turned out middling studio comedies when working together (Tammy, The Boss, Life of the Party, and Superintelligence rank among McCarthy’s most forgettable big-screen vehicles).
Thankfully, the pairing is taking a turn for the better with the latest superhero/comedy hybrid Thunder Force. While no one will mistake it as a substantive achievement, the film’s agreeable twist on populist cinema offers a sharp comedic spark.
Before superheroes were the dominant force in Hollywood, the genre’s niche existence allowed lampooning minds to playfully alter superheroes’ normative traits (from underrated gems like Mystery Men to comedic duds like The Meteor Man). Thunder Force feels like a refreshing ode to that long-forgotten era. Falcone’s low-steaks screenplay puts more emphasis on comedic riffing than typical action formula, a decision that skillfully morphs tired contrivances into playful bits.
Whether it’s Bobby Cannavale’s antagonist reflecting over what henchmen to kill off or the heroes joking about their odorous costumes, Thunder Force embraces a self-aware streak to liven up its formulaic roots. I wouldn’t call this a laugh-a-minute comedy, but I chuckled enough times to consider the comedic streak a success (I probably laughed more watching this than all the other Falcone/McCarthy joints combined). It certainly helps to have a talented cast to personify the material. McCarthy’s bright, improvisational energy elevates a myriad of gags while Octavia Spencer makes for a sturdy straight-man next to McCarthy’s hijinks (it’s also a joy to see two middle-aged women dawning the superhero get-up, showing the genre isn’t limited just to muscular heroes). The supremely underrated Cannavale and Jason Bateman also have a blast playing two mustache-twirling villains defined by their bizarre quirks.
Thunder Force is surprisingly capable from an action front. No one will mistake this for a Marvel blockbuster, but I found the lack of bombastic excess to be a welcomed change of pace for the genre. Falcone’s experienced hand capably captures each creative stunt, with clever comedic flourishes providing each action beat with an infusion of personality. I enjoyed the simplicity of the superhero elements, as the narrative never vies to become overly grandiose or “epic” (similar to the 90’s movies I referenced, Thunder Force embraces superheroes’ colorfully cartoonish origins).
With that said, Thunder Force still lacks the presence to become a great action/comedy. Falcone’s screenplay feels like a hodgepodge of superhero and studio comedy contrivances, with neither subgenre working to fully reinvent the other. The mountain of cliches prevents elements like McCarthy and Spencer’s friendship from drawing much interest, while Falcone’s sturdy direction lacks the stylistic flavor to remove the studio stench (a more visceral approach could’ve enhanced the film’s colorful world-building).
Frankly, I am just happy that I finally enjoyed a McCarthy and Falcone vehicle (seriously though, I’m never happy to pan two people I genuinely enjoy). Thunder Force finds enough comedic juice to create a welcomed change-of-pace for the superhero genre.
Thunder Force arrives on Netflix on April 9th.
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