Thunder Force, the new Netflix comedy starring Octavia Spencer and Melissa McCarthy, dropped on Friday April 9th, and when I first saw the trailer for it, I thought, “Okay, this isn’t gonna change my life, but I could use a few laughs. It won’t be good, but it’ll be good enough.” For the most part, I got exactly what I expected, but for some reason I was still heavily disappointed, like I’d been let down. I suppose I fell for the star quality of the cast: who doesn’t love Octavia Spencer, Melissa McCarthy, their real-life friendship or Jason Bateman? Unfortunately, the film placed all its focus on McCarthy, whose comedic chops were dramatically underused.
The plot is sufficient enough: two estranged best friends team up against their will to take down a common enemy, who in this case are essentially evil X-Men. Emily, played by Spencer, ditches her childhood best friend Lydia (McCarthy) when it becomes clear to her Lydia doesn’t take her life’s mission to defeat the power-imbued sociopathic Miscreants (aforementioned evil X-Men) seriously enough. Years later, Lydia reaches out because she misses her friend, which is a very honest moment for the film to run with. Of course, their tentative reunion goes sideways when Lydia accidentally injects herself with the first treatment of Emily’s version of super-solider serum (forgive me – I’ve still got a foot in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier wonderland, apparently) and steals away Emily’s shot at super strength.
If you’re going to make a superhero film, especially a comedic one, I suppose the only real requirement is that one of the heroes is blessed with the superpower of sarcasm and one of the villains is hot. Thunder Force passes both of those tests, and the relationship between Jason Bateman’s crab-man supervillain and Lydia is played for straight so ridiculously you can’t help but lose it a little. These were the moments I enjoyed most from McCarthy, and I suspect that she had the most fun with. I was disappointed, however, that the relationship between the two adult women was focused on so little. I enjoyed their childhood counterparts and backstory much more than I did their adult friendship, and that’s because these two formidable actresses weren’t given anything in the script to really work with in that department. The film passes the Bechdel test with flying colors, but its production team seems to think that is enough to make it good – I really don’t understand why Hollywood is under the impression those two things are mutually exclusive.
I pointed out Spencer, McCarthy and Bateman earlier because they give the three most notable performances in the film. Its villains were disappointingly mediocre and forgettable, try as they might have to use them for an injection of extra humor here and there. The majority of the film focuses mainly on McCarthy, and if that had been the plan all along, I’m baffled as to why they wouldn’t allow her to flex her full comedic prowess. One of the only scenes that truly got a genuine laugh out of me was her reaction to the “person throwing a stone into the lake and hitting a fish in the head etc.” analogy. Toward the beginning, it almost sets a false hope for the audience, as McCarthy’s trademark comedic timing shines through brilliantly and there’s no reason not to expect to see it for the rest of the next hour and fifteen minutes. Alas, it went downhill from there, at least for me.
The script does even less with Spencer, whose character is not even allowed much of a chance to fill us in on what she’s been up to for the past decade. She exists mostly as a foil to McCarthy, which is extremely disappointing as we’re automatically nudged toward sympathizing with the white woman over the black woman. Together, we should be screaming with laughter in our seats, but we’re not, because the disproportionate focus on McCarthy over Spencer, the underuse of either woman’s talent and the barely nonzero emphasis on their bond work together to create an overwhelming sense of “meh” hanging over the whole project.
Bateman is brilliant; his timing is perfection and the way he embraces the utter lunacy of his character’s situation is flawless. I’m still extremely uncomfortable thinking about… really anything the half-crab-half-man said or did, but all credit to Bateman for bumping the film up from a solid C to a B-.
I would like to note that the music did a wonderful job of echoing more on-the-beaten-track superhero films, which helped add a level of ridiculousness to the whole thing. I still haven’t figured out yet if that’s a plus or minus.
All in all, I’m sticking with my B- grade. It’s no better or worse than you think it will be. You’ll get a few chuckles and you’ll kill an hour and a half if you’re bored enough. But you’re probably better off watching something else, unless you’ve got your hands on a decent amount of alcohol.