‘How could you not love Thunder Force?” gabbles a unnamed cop in this new family comedy from Netflix, top-lining a new dynamic duo in Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer, but very much in the mould of the handful of projects McCarthy has generated with her writer/director husband Ben Falcone. Created for Netflix, Thunder Force is weaker than The Boss or even Life of the Party, but better than The Happytime Murders or the dreadful Tammy. McCarthy has been on a roll since The Gilmour Girls, but finding the right vehicles for her comedic talents seems to be proving tougher than expected; it’s hard going to like Thunder Force never mind love it….
The Covid-related death of the superhero movie seems to be a thing in 2020/21, with barely a twitch from Marvel’s industry colossus aside from some uninteresting-looking tv spin-offs and DC feeding on the scraps with some decidedly backwards looking and resistible product rehashes. Thunder Force takes place in a generic comic book universe of its own imagining, but one that lacks any particular flavour. The baddie calls himself The King, his minions are generically named Laser or The Crab, and this city of Chicago needs rescued from these creatures, named as Miscreants. Boffin Emily Stanton (Spencer) has created a swanko science-lab to figure out how to give human beings super-powers to combat this vague menace, but accidentally imbues her pal Lydia Berman (McCarthy) with incredible strength. Stanton imbues herself with an invisibility serum, and they don fancy garb to take down corrupt politician The King (Bobby Cannavale) and his clawed associate The Crab (Jason Bateman).
Bateman’s presence is presumably to sweeten his deal with Netflix re returnable drug-drama Ozark, but also reminding us that back in the humble days of Identity Thief, Bateman and McCarthy were as close to a Tracy and Hepburn as we got in 2013. It’s one of Thunder Force’s few innovations to suggest a love story involving a man with giant claws; otherwise, it’s fairly rote stuff; the girls suits smell bad, McCarthy riffs on 80’s music from Slayer to Van Halen to Glenn Frey, and sloppy pop culture references stand in for jokes. McCarthy is a good centre for this kind of enterprise, however, and the best moments come from her kicking ass with her incongruous super-strength.
Thunder Force isn’t cinema, however, it’s a tv knock-off of yesterday’s cinema, and marks the McCarthy brand slipping even further down than co-starring with James Corden in last year’s Superintelligence, if such a steep fall was conceivable. Not for the first time, an Oscar nomination seems to have inspired the worst of career-choices, and it’s frustrating to see arguably the most popular female comic of her day fritter her time away on such time-wasting product. Thunder Force is inoffensive, reasonably measured in its gentle parody of exhausted tropes, and confidently performed by the two leads. But it’s also half-cooked and uninspired, neither garish enough to be a comic book movie not incisive enough to qualify as a genuine parody. Yes, it’s possible to like Thunder Force, but it would take a super-heroic effort to love this kind of blandly-imagined concoction.