Thunder Force, the fifth cinematic collaboration between Ben Falcone and his wife Melissa McCarthy, tries hard to pass for light superhero fluff. Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer is somehow roped into this crazy universe. Spencer and McCarthy shine together; however, I wish their characters had been even more polar opposite. The superhero spoof angle never digs deep enough to properly send up the sillier situational gags.
After cosmic rays struck in the 80s, superpowers were unlocked in rare, solely sociopathic individuals. These people with powers became known as miscreants. Estranged best friends Lydia (Melissa McCarthy) and Emily (Octavia Spencer) reconnect after many years, and Lydia accidentally injects herself with a formula giving her heroic abilities. Now, Lydia has no choice but to finish out 33 total treatments to realize the true breadth of her powers. Emily, working on a pill-based treatment regimen of her own to obtain invisibility, must team up with Lydia to take down the intimidating crime boss, The King (Bobby Cannavale).
Several lines had me questioning how anyone would ever think some of this was funny—the raw chicken monster scene, resulting in McCarthy saying “my compliments to whoever didn’t cook it,” did illicit a chuckle. The best scenes all involve Jason Bateman in an Identity Thief reunion with McCarthy. His arms have mutated into giant lobster claws after he “got bit on the ball bag by a radioactive crab,” resulting in visual gags like a clever, standout dinner date. Spencer and McCarthy play off each other in an endearing way reflective of their friendship. I kept waiting for jokes to land better. Even the action is small-scale and not visually exciting. A silly dramatic time-waster over throwing a bus feels made only to pad out the runtime.
My favorite of the Falcone/McCarthy collaborations continues to be The Boss. That film found the perfect balance between outrageous comedy and hilarious schtick, letting McCarthy play against type as a badass businesswoman. Nothing is wrong with Melissa in this role, but I kept wanting it to go bigger. I felt Thunder Force was holding something back, and it was hard to pinpoint the exact area most lacking. Maybe amp up the meta superhero commentary all the way, mold the funniest throwaways into showier moments, and go entirely bananas—If this had gone Barb & Star levels of ridiculous, it could have been taken in a fresh direction. A few script rewrites should’ve excised bits that don’t work as well. Thunder Force is a middling superhero attempt lacking the energy or hysterical moments necessary to truly save the world. This is worth watching though, if only to see Jason Bateman’s antics with two literal giant lobster claw arms.
Thunder Force zooms onto Netflix on Friday, April 9th.