In a world where supervillains are commonplace, two estranged childhood best friends reunite after one devises a treatment that gives them powers to protect their city but in a world of portentous and pretension movie criticism, is there even room for a movie like THUNDER FORCE?
Netflix’s latest original movie doesn’t have anything particularly original to say about the superhero genre nor does it manage to avoid many of the usual pitfalls of Ben Falcone-directed Melissa McCarthy vehicles but it does have a simple, goofy charm and offers a mildly diverting hundred minutes of lightweight family-friendly adventure.
It provides an intriguingly bleak assessment of the core of humanity in its set-up that in 1983 when a massive burst of cosmic radiation hit the earth, mutating select individuals, those individuals invariably turned to a life of crime and super-villainy. Flash forward nearly forty years and Emily Stanton (Octavia Spencer), orphaned at a young age by an act of super-terrorism, has dedicated her life to the pursuit of a scientific method of levelling the playing field. Just as her life’s work comes to fruition, her estranged best friend Lydia (Melissa McCarthy) comes back into her life and is accidentally dosed with a super-strength serum, leaving Emily with the option of the power of invisibility.
While THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER has been wrestling with what the gift of super strength reveals about a man, THUNDER FORCE dares to ask the question what would happen if great power was gifted to two middle-aged women. Arrayed against our dynamic duo are a trio of reprehensible rogues: Laser (Pom Klementieff), The Crab (Jason Bateman) and crime boss and wannabe mayor The King (Bobby Cannavale).
It’s a light-hearted, frothy affair throughout, with plenty of McCarthy’s trademark slapschtick and adlibbed insult comedy, the comedy cringe turned all the way up to eleven in her scenes with Bateman’s scene-stealing claw-handed crustacean villain but while the odd sequence may not know when to call it quits, generally it manages to be pretty funny, or at least never less than mildly entertaining throughout. The cast are clearly enjoying themselves and there’s an undeniable sweetness to the friendship, estrangement and rapprochement between McCarthy and Spencer’s characters.
The action sequences are decent enough and just the right side of knock-about silly to match the tone of the movie. THUNDER FORCE may end up being a mere footnote in the history of the cinematic superhero genre, but it’s got self-belief and confidence to spare and, honestly, you’d have to have a heart of stone to begrudge Octavia Spencer having this much fun.