Superhero action movies hold a special place in many people’s hearts. They’re a guilty pleasure or an obsession that transports viewers to a world where the underdogs always triumph and justice is routinely served as the credits roll. They might include clichés, but they’re still captivating with worlds of futuristic inventions and dignified heroes.
But, when they flop, they really flop—and they can’t be saved by any number of sleek outfits, intense combat scenes, or cool cars.
Thunder Force, the latest installment in the superhero genre released April 9 on Netflix, doesn’t deliver a compelling science fiction story, and it completely misses the mark as a comedy. The movie, directed by Ben Falcone, seemingly can’t decide if it is a parody of superhero films or if it wants to be taken seriously. The film ultimately fails at both.
Set in Chicago, the movie takes place after an interstellar cosmic ray strikes Earth, triggering genetic mutations that give certain people, called Miscreants, superpowers. But, the only humans struck by the ray are those already predisposed to becoming sociopaths.
Within this world where Miscreants roam, the movie tells the story of best friends Emily Stanton (Octavia Spencer) and Lydia (Melissa McCarthy)—two outsiders brought together when Lydia defends Emily from a schoolyard bully. Emily is determined to avenge the death of her parents, who were killed by Miscreants, by becoming a scientist and inventing a way to rid the world of Miscreants. But, Lydia falls behind her hyper-focused, ambitious friend and they become estranged. When they finally reunite, Emily has successfully invented a treatment to bestow superpowers on anyone to be used for good to defeat the Miscreants, and Lydia accidentally becomes her first test subject.
Only a few minutes into the film—when it’s not too late to click out of that tab and select a movie that’s actually entertaining—it becomes clear that Netflix made a mistake categorizing it as a comedy. Jokes fall flat or get dragged out for too long as the film desperately tries to deliver some humor among the otherwise choppy dialogue. Lydia and her awkward friend, Clyde, debate the correct way to deliver a knock-knock joke in one cringeworthy scene. The humor is steeped in clichés and relies on unoriginal punchlines—from scenes showing the characters walking into glass doors to awkwardly spilling a drink on someone you don’t know well.
Desperately trying to inject some humor into the science fiction tale, random cultural references are scattered throughout the movie. Emily’s daughter battles Lydia while playing Fortnite, and Lydia goes on a long rant about the Chicago Bears’ 1985 season. In an attempt to relate to its viewers, the strange array of cultural references shows that the movie can’t decide what type of audience it is targeting. Lydia’s slapstick comedy seems to try to appeal to younger audiences, but the other various references are directed at older viewers.
McCarthy and Spencer, two acting powerhouses, can’t rescue the film, and their performances succumb to the film’s poor writing. But, the film should get credit for spotlighting a tale of friendship between its all-female heroes and showing that superheroes don’t have to all be young and buff, wearing skin-tight suits.
Emily and Lydia, after repairing their friendship, must face the leader of the Miscreants, The King (Bobby Cannavale), who is running for mayor in an attempt to conquer the city. But, yet again, the film misses out on an opportunity to showcase the various superpowers Miscreants possess. Although one of The King’s minions, The Crab (Jason Bateman), elicits a few laughs with his self-deprecating humor and attempts to tame his maniacal boss’ temper, the majority of the time these characters aren’t funny or compelling.
Thunder Force is an attempt at a comic superhero film, but it fails to offer any depiction of the mayhem Miscreants are supposedly causing in the city or the chaos the heroes will have to combat. The only indication of the peril Lydia and Emily will have to face are snippets of news reports scattered throughout the film and a brief scene in the beginning showing one Miscreant shooting blue lasers from the back of a pickup truck—setting the tone for an underwhelming superhero storyline. The rest of the film remains underwhelming, so be your own hero and save yourself from watching this movie.
Photo Courtesy of Netflix