Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer dismantle as THUNDER FORCE the superhero-versus-supervillain genre – but under the direction of Ben Falcone, this appealing idea almost invariably turns into a disaster. We reveal more about this in our review of the Netflix original.
OT: Thunder Force (USA 2021)
In a world where people’s safety is threatened by evil supervillains called “Miscreants,” it’s up to two once-best but now estranged childhood friends to make the planet a little safer. When the free-spirited Lydia (Melissa McCarthy) accidentally finds herself in the science headquarters of the successful Emily (Octavia Spencer) one day, she undergoes genetic treatment without her knowledge that gives her superpowers. Emily and her clever daughter Tracy (Taylor Mosby) then see no other option than to include Lydia in their plans to save the world. The two completely opposite women become the “Thunder Force” – a team of superheroes who set out to protect the population of their hometown from the miscreants “The Crab” (Jason Bateman), Laser (Pom Klementieff) and their leader “The King” (Bobby Cannavale) to protect…
“Thunder Force” is the fifth collaboration on a feature film for husband and wife Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy. Since the Illinois-born comedian first directed his wife in 2014 in the failed comedy “Tammy – Fully Crazy”, “The Boss” (2016), “How to Party with Mum” (2018) and supposedly this year followed There are three other projects of a similar caliber in “Superintelligence” that will be released in USA cinemas. The formula for success: Melissa McCarthy plays characters between klutz and (everyday) heroine who are allowed to surpass themselves at least once in the course of the stories. Over the years, Falcone and McCarthy seemed to have come together (or rather: benefited from Falcone’s slowly increasing directorial skills) in such a way that the slapstick content began to decrease, while the developed sympathies for the protagonists were allowed to come more and more to the fore. With the sci-fi comedy “Superintelligence” as the highlight so far, for which McCarthy was allowed to act a lot more than just make a fool of himself. But even back then we suspected that “Superintelligence” primarily benefited from the fact that Ben Falcone did not write the script. And unfortunately this impression is confirmed in view of “Thunder Force”. The filmmaker, who once again works as an author, rushes back to his unpleasant, brutal humor origins, which make Melissa McCarthy in particular appear in a less than favorable light.
Emily (Octavia Spencer), her daughter Tracy (Taylor Mosby) and Lydia (Melissa McCarthy).
“Thunder Force” begins with a comic strip that explains to viewers the world they will immerse themselves in over the next 100 minutes. It’s not all that complex: in March 1983, cosmic rays hit the earth, triggering a genetic transformation in people and triggering superpowers in a few of them – but only in those whose genetic code contained the information “sociopath”. As a result, the genetically modified people invariably became supervillains, so-called miscreants, who have been terrorizing the population ever since. After this obligatory introduction to the “Thunder Force” reality, a short flashback to the early childhood years of the later film heroines Lydia and Emily tells us how the two were once inseparable and why they still parted ways as teenagers. When “Thunder Force” finally gets into the actual plot, the former BFFs find themselves at completely different stages in their lives. A factor from which Ben Falcone tries to draw humor for a long time, but it almost never works. Because he can’t think of anything other than the fact that the two women are completely different. While Emily has made a career as a scientist and is passionately researching methods to destroy the Miscreants, Lydia works in construction. Successful versus unsuccessful, respected versus ridiculed, disciplined and strict versus clumsy and cheerful – although Octavia Spencer and Melissa McCarthy definitely fit into the characters assigned to them (although it would have been much more attractive to cast McCarthy outside of her comfort zone, simply by doing so). has her swap roles with Octavia Spencer), the script asks little more of them than to fill out appropriate stereotypes. One wonders why Ben Falcone made the effort to tell the backstory of the two women when it hardly plays a role later on.
“Besides the fact that the two women are completely different, Ben Ben Falcone can’t think of anything else. While Emily has made a career as a scientist and is passionately researching methods to destroy the Miscreants, Lydia works in construction. Successful versus unsuccessful, respected versus ridiculed, disciplined and strict versus clumsy and cheerful.”
The same goes for the stylistic decision to open Thunder Force with a comic strip. Certainly, cinematic superhero versus supervillain fights in recent years have been predominantly of comic book origin. And since, in addition to the countless fans of Marvel, DC and Co., there are at least as many people who can hardly do anything with filmed graphic novels or are even really annoyed by them, hardly any material would be better suited to be prepared in a parody way, than the superhero cinema. And in fact, “Thunder Force” has a similar structure to pretty much every other superhero origin story: Lydia unexpectedly gains superpowers like Spider-Man or the Hulk, and the training sequences work similarly to those from “Ant-Man” and The role models for the subsequent hunt for supervillains are countless. But while every good adaptation always shows how the parodied role models draw their charm, Ben Falcone uses the well-known superhero motifs without any ulterior motive. His ideas are clumsy, as they always aim for the crudest point; For example, when Lydia acts so stupidly in superhero training just so that Falcone can catch her several times when she falls perfectly on her backside. And why jokes that lead to nowhere, such as Lydia’s sudden desire for raw chicken, are even said to have the qualities of a running gag, only those responsible know.
“Thunder Force” villains The Crab (Jason Bateman), The King (Bobby Cannavale) and Laser (Pom Klementieff).
While Melissa McCarthy appeared in films like “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” or “St. Vincent” has already sufficiently demonstrated her acting talent (and she was once nominated for her first Oscar for her performance in Paul Feig’s “Bridesmaid”), she and her husband once again sell her radically short in “Thunder Force”. The respect for the whimsy of the characters she embodies that shines through in “Superintelligence” and “How to Party with Mum” is completely missing here – and the former “Gilmore Girl” suddenly has little more to do than the cliché of the “funny fat woman.” to use. Ben Falcone cannot protect his wife from this image even when he ultimately portrays her as a heroine who literally throws buses in the second half of the film. Even their final rescue mission is robbed of the heroic moment by an exalted vomit gag. Octavia Spencer (“Hidden Figures – Unrecognized Heroines”) Although she may retain a little more dignity than her colleague simply because of her character typing, she has the difficult task of filling the gaps between the (mostly) unsuccessful slapstick interludes and puns relating to McCarthy. Her Emily is nowhere near weird enough to be the (potentially very funny) cliché character of the “mad scientist.” And her attempt to maintain her professional, cool façade fails without any attempt at humor. Spencer’s Emily is simply a completely charmless character, compared to whom even a supporting character with significantly less screen time like Emily’s smart daughter Tracy appears much more mature.
“Octavia Spencer may retain a little more dignity than her colleague simply because of her character typing, but she has the difficult task of filling the gaps between the (mostly) unsuccessful slapstick interludes and puns relating to McCarthy.”
In addition to Tracy, these same supporting characters also include the Miscreants armada, with Bobby Cannavale at the forefront (“Superintelligence”) acts as villain leader “The Boss” with genre-conform power motivation. Jason Bateman is (and has) the most fun here (“Game Night”), who embodies “The Crab,” a human-crab hybrid who has giant orange claws instead of arms. It would be such over-the-top ideas that could have saved “Thunder Force” here and there. But unfortunately the makers seem to have largely ignored not only their characters, but also the world in which they operate. After all, “The Crab” is the only one of this caliber here, while the rest – whether the main cast, supporting cast or extras – have an exclusively human appearance. The potential weirdness of the “Thunder Force” reality, manifested in a single character – 99 percent of the film is spent on the exhausting mixture of desolation and botched knock-off gags.
Conclusion: “Thunder Force” is a throwback to Ben Falcone’s beginnings as a director with little tact and timing, who once again reduces Melissa McCarthy to her qualities as a slapstick purveyor and neglects both her acting talent and the characters and the story around her to pay the same attention around. The superhero comedy is therefore neither funny nor exciting. And the potential craziness within the “Thunder Force” world manifests itself in a single character who can at least take over his scenes, but cannot save the film from complete catastrophe.
“Thunder Force” is now available to stream on Netflix.