Thunder Force is a super-powered Melissa McCarthy comedy that never fully takes flight
Thunder Force (2021 Movie)
The super-powered comedy, written and directed by McCarthy's husband Ben Falcone, leans in to what we've come to expect from a McCarthy vehicle. McCarthy is Lydia Berman, yet another scruffy, off-kilter creation that revels in the outrageous. She's paired off with Octavia Spencer as her childhood best friend, Emily Stanton, a smarty-pants (not a nerd, there's a difference) who lost her parents to the misdeeds of the Miscreants, the genetically altered super-villains that populate the film.
Lydia and Emily fall out as teens when Lydia's lackadaisical approach to life clashes with Emily's overachiever drive. But when Lydia wanders into Emily's high-tech lab in an attempt to reconnect and is accidentally injected with a super-strength serum, the two rekindle their bond as they train to become the titular superheroes, hell-bent on taking down the Miscreants and ferreting out the aims of mayoral candidate, The King (a scenery-chewing Bobby Cannavale).
McCarthy does her signature riffing, no doubt many of her takes selected from ribald improv sessions, and the superhero antics leave ample room for her gifts with physical comedy. As her foil, Spencer is stuck in a fairly thankless role as the straitlaced straight woman, her aptitude for wisecracking and comedic timing subsumed to McCarthy's wilder energy.
Jason Bateman steals the movie in a gonzo turn as Jerry, a super-villain with a heart of gold. He's a Miscreant known as The Crab, the moniker in reference to the crustacean pinchers that take the place of his arms and hands. Bateman's signature deadpan only makes the eccentric notion of a grown man with crab claws for hands all the more hysterical. His dry, world-weariness pairs with McCarthy's wackiness as perfectly as crab claws go with butter, and the two could never be accused of failing to commit to the bit. He goes for broke in their romantic interludes, particularly when they escalate to an off-the-wall love scene involving Old Bay seasoning and the gentle threat of a jacuzzi.
For a film about good vs. evil, Thunder Force has weirdly low stakes. It spends an undue amount of time on exposition and training sessions, leaning into the humor of those moments but somewhat undercutting its emotional climax as a result. It's a shame because, even if it is a highly comedic twist on the genre, it's rare to see two female protagonists foreground the storytelling in a superhero film. There are noble efforts here to tell a story about female friendship, smart women, and single mothers, but the heft of any of that messaging comes secondary to the jokes.
Thunder Force is certainly entertaining, an ideal Friday night at home movie. If not as deftly funny as McCarthy's most sterling efforts (see: Spy, Bridesmaids), it's still full of plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. Falcone and McCarthy have partnered on several films through their On the Day Production company, and they often come with a tendency to overindulge on comedic bits, but here, he mostly tempers things effectively. McCarthy's schtick blissfully doesn't feel overwrought as it has occasionally in lesser projects.
When it comes to stories about women saving the world (or even just Chicago), Thunder Force is laden with potential it doesn't really live up to, falling short of that whole with great power comes great responsibility mandate. But it's still an eccentric good time, even if it's not super-powered. B