THUNDER FORCE – an Alternative Lens review

Starring: Melissa McCarthy (The Heat), Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water), Jason Bateman (Horrible Bosses), Bobby Cannavale (Ant-Man), Pom Klementieff (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2), Kevin Dunn (Transformers), Melissa Leo (The Fighter)

Writer/Director: Ben Falcone (Tammy)

Runtime: 1 hour 45 minutes

Release Date: 9th April (Netflix)

They say madness is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. If that’s true, whoever keeps letting Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone make movies together is certifiably insane, because every single one has failed in the exact same way. Whether it’s Tammy, The Boss, or Life of the Party, every single one is a thrown-together, unpolished, poorly structured mess where scenes meander on as McCarthy improvs incessantly until someone calls cut. With the wife-husband duo now turning their comedic eye towards the superhero genre, one might think the larger scale and action spectacle might mean these two would have to be more prepared, have a tighter story and rely less on their base instincts. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with Thunder Force.

Thunder Force (2021) - IMDb

With superheroes having been the rage of Hollywood for much of this century, there’s a lot of material to pick from and tropes to exploit, but Thunder Force’s vision of superheroes seems stuck somewhere in the mid-90s. The story is incredibly basic and told in a scattershot fashion, with only about enough plot to cover thirty minutes and the rest is just rambling tangents. The entire screenplay feels like a first draft, with ideas raised and then forgotten about or squandered at every turn, and the pacing is glacially slow as scenes drag on and on and on for no reason; the film can’t even do a basic training montage without having to constantly stop for improv.

The film does illicit the occasional chuckle, but most of them come from little incidental details like a character tick or a funny reaction. Meanwhile, the big scripted gags and McCarthy’s never-ending spiel of epithets and pop culture references mostly fall flat, and when the jokes don’t work, don’t expect the fight sequences to pick up the slack. Falcone obviously has no experience or talent for shooting high-concept action, as the staging and choreography of the brawls feels static and unimaginative. There’s no dynamism or dramatic tension to them whatsoever, and no amount of special effects or heroic music can cover up for that pervasive staleness.

Thunder Force Review: Melissa McCarthy & Octavia Spencer Go Superhero |  IndieWire
(from top to bottom) Melissa McCarthy as Lydia Berman/The Hammer and Pom Klementieff as Laser in THUNDER FORCE (2021, d. Ben Falcone)

Even when the jokes fall flat, what ultimately keeps Thunder Force (and Falcone’s films in general) alive is Melissa McCarthy’s pure charisma and persistence. The actress hardly challenges herself character-wise here, playing yet another lovable troublemaker wisecracking her way through life, but she certainly gives it her best shot and commits to the physicality of the role. Unfortunately, as is often the case, McCarthy’s need to constantly own every scene leaves her co-stars with a lot less chances to shine, and that unfortunately affects her heroic partner Octavia Spencer most of all. Her character is certainly strong on paper, but the script gives Spencer very little to work with and she’s clearly not as brazen or committed an improviser as McCarthy, leading her to being constantly overshadowed throughout.

Bobby Cannavale is undercooked as the film’s villain, his main schtick is just getting frustrated by everyone getting his name wrong and being trigger-happy; he’s hardly an appropriate comedic or dramatic foil to McCarthy or Spencer. Pom Klementieff as his laser-flinging sidekick doesn’t fare much better, with the film throwing her so few bones that she is basically forced to play it straight; Klementieff can do comedy, but the material is clearly out of her wheelhouse. Taylor Mosby shows promise as Spencer’s daughter but the story squanders her every chance it gets, whilst Melissa Leo is completely disposable by the film’s end. The only actor that even tries to match McCarthy’s energy is Jason Bateman as a half-crab supervillain. Sure, he’s still relying on the same awkward brand of humour he’s been coasting on since Arrested Development, but that laidback oblivious charm being applied to such a bizarre character is the only time the film feels like it’s actually having fun with it’s comic book-inspired world. Plus, he manages to mine a lot of laughs out of just his walk.

Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer on playing unlikely, 'ordinary women'  superheroes in 'Thunder Force'
(from left to right) Octavia Spencer as Emily Stanton/Bingo and Melissa McCarthy as Lydia Berman/The Hammer in THUNDER FORCE (2021, d. Ben Falcone)

It’s hard to completely hate Thunder Force, but it doesn’t try hard enough to be worth liking either. Even with all the superhero bells and whistles, the whole affair seems like it was thrown together on a whim, which only makes it feel like an even bigger waste of its premise and its stars’ talents. If you’re a diehard McCarthy fan or just want to see Jason Bateman scuttle about like a crab, it may be worth a lazy Sunday afternoon watch. Otherwise, skip this and go watch Shazam! or Deadpool again if you need a superhero comedy fix. Heck, most of the Marvel movies are more consistently funny than this, and the comedy isn’t even the main thrust of those.

FINAL VERDICT: 4.5/10

Author: Jennifer Heaton

Aspiring screenwriter, film critic, pop culture fanatic and perpetual dreamer.

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