Thunder Force marks the fifth film in which Melissa McCarthy has been directed by Ben Falcone, a frequent co-star of McCarthy films and her real-life husband. As a comedic duo on screen, McCarthy and Falcone are excellent and play off each other seamlessly (the best example of this would be the airplane scene in 2011’s Bridesmaids). But as an actor-director duo, the results haven’t been as successful. McCarthy, a two-time Oscar nominee, could be argued as one of our great modern comedic movie stars, yet films like Tammy, The Boss, Life of the Party, and Superintelligence, all of which feature McCarthy in the starring role and all of which were directed by Falcone, would be ranked by many as lower-tier McCarthy. Why these movies don’t work as well as some of McCarthy’s other vehicles vary for different reasons, from being unfunny, boring, having poor direction, or McCarthy taking a roll that is beneath her talent.
Thunder Force is yet another dud from McCarthy and Falcone, thought one that is not nearly as bad as some of their other efforts. Though there are a couple things I like about the film, notably the intriguing world this film takes place in, there are too many issues with the film, the biggest being that it focuses on the wrong character.
In 1983, a mysterious power from space struck Earth, giving certain people superpowers. The only problem is that the power only inhabited sociopaths, populating the world of super-villains, or Miscreant as they are known as, but no superheroes. When her parents are killed by a Miscreant, Emily (Bria Danielle) makes it her life’s purpose to find a way to create superheroes to defend against the Miscreants. Incredibly smart and always studying, Emily is being bullied in school for being a “nerd”, which is where Lydia (Mia Kaplan) comes in to help and defend Emily. The two immediately become best friends.
But as Emily and Lydia get into their teenage years and Emily is making breakthroughs in her research while Lydia wants to go to Van Halen concerts and isn’t worried about her future, their friendship deteriorates and they go their separate ways. Now adults, Lydia (McCarthy) is working at loading dock, lives in a messy apartment and has no friends. On the verge of their high school reunion, Lydia gets word that Emily is back in town, the first time they will have seen each other since high school. When Emily doesn’t show up to the reunion, Lydia goes to pay her a visit at her new office to find that Emily (Octavia Spencer) has created a super scientific laboratory and may have cracked the code in making humans super. In a combination of freak accident and clumsiness, Lydia gets injected with a serum to give her super strength, even though that isn’t what Emily had planned. As Lydia learns to use her new powers, Emily begins her process of getting the power of invisibility, which only requires taking a pill. After extensive training, Lydia and Emily put their difference aside and use their powers to stop the Miscreants for their destruction of the city.
There are number of issues with the film. It needed an editor to cut a few scenes and reduce the runtime, the comedy is few and far between, the action is very stringy and boring, and the villains are lame. But my main issue with Thunder Force is that Lydia isn’t an interesting enough character to be the lead of the movie. This movie really should have been about Emily and her journey to create superheroes after her parent’s tragic death and the attempt to rebuild her friendship with Lydia after she unexpectedly comes into her life. Lydia is a very flat character who’s about as deep as a puddle, where as Emily has the interesting emotional and character arc that is sad, vengeful, and triumphant. I would have loved to see Octavia Spencer play Emily as a possessed genius who devoted her entire to creating superheroes and has her plan foiled when a klutzy old classmate pays her a visit. This would have actually made for a good, original superhero origin story and would have made the movie more emotional and compelling rather than the overlong, emotionless one we got.
McCarthy and Spencer are a nice duo and I would love to see them work together again in something that highlights both of their talents better. But I want to give a special shoutout to Jason Bateman who is far-and-away the best part of the film. He plays a Miscreant named The Crab, who is a human with crab claws. Absurd? Yes. Hilarious? Even more yes. Nearly every scene that he is in is irrelevant to the plot and story of the movie, but the way Bateman uses the claws and scurry’s sideways when something bad is happening killed me.
Thunder Force is an unfocused, bland superhero origin story that wastes the talents of Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer. Though I laughed at Jason Bateman’s irrelevant crab character, this movie had the potential to be good, yet ends up being a movie that will barely exist in a few months. I support couples supporting each other, but maybe the McCarthy-Falcone experiment is one that needs to be put to rest.