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Film Review: “Thunder Force” Brings Little Lightning

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | April 9th, 2021

Film poster: “Thunder Force”

Thunder Force (Ben Falcone, 2021) 1 out of 4 stars.

Written and directed by Ben Falcone (Superintelligence) as, no doubt, a star vehicle for his wife, Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?), Thunder Force has its occasional (rare) moments of comedic fun. Unfortunately, they are too few, and too far between. A mostly listless work that squanders a somewhat promising premise and delivers only minor laughs, the movie is harmless enough, except to those who value their time.

McCarthy plays the adult version of one Lydia Berman, childhood friend of Emily Stanton (Octavia Spencer, Luce). We meet them first when they’re in elementary school, with Lydia (McCarthy and Falcone’s daughter Vivian) defending Emily (Bria Danielle) against bullies. Flash-forward to adolescence and they are BFFs (with Mia Kaplan and Tai Leshaun in the roles), though Emily’s academic brilliance and Lydia’s lack thereof threaten to drive a wedge between them. Sure enough, come end of high school, they go their separate ways, and none too pleasantly.

l-r: Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer in THUNDER FORCE © Hopper Stone/Netflix

Many years later, and Lydia is a functional alcoholic who drives a forklift. Emily, it seems, has made good on the promise of her scientific precocity and is now both very wealthy and on the verge of a major breakthrough. Which brings us to the part of the story I have so far neglected. In an exposition dump that kicks off the whole affair, we learn that this is a world where, in 1983, some kind of cosmic rays struck the Earth, transforming certain folks into superpowered beings. Unfortunately, for reasons never really explained, only the psychopaths were so blessed, and one of them killed Emily’s parents. And so her life has been a search for the formula to make nice people strong, too.

Enter Lydia, who crashes Emily’s workplace to drag her to a high-school reunion. One thing leads to another, and Emily somehow gets part of the formula meant for Lydia, forcing them to share the powers, one getting muscles and tough skin, the other invisibility. Together again after over 20 years apart, they decide to become a crime-fighting team, the titular Thunder Force. Cue hilarity.

l-r: Bobby Cannavale and Jason Bateman in THUNDER FORCE © Hopper Stone/Netflix

Or not. Oddly, the mayhem is far too inert, and though the likes of Jason Bateman (Game Night), Bobby Cannavale (The Jesus Rolls), Pom Klementieff (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) and Melissa Leo (Furlough) join the fray, nothing much seems to come of it. The jokes too often fall flat, and given the off delivery, one wonders if everyone were not stoned during the making of it. It also really bothers me that, for no discernible purpose, Bateman’s character is always unshaven. That character decision just reeks of … lack of decision.

As always in these kinds of odd-couple pairings, the intelligence of the nerd is only superficially explained and the working-class (lack of) smarts of the big lunk is played for ridicule. That’s an old model, in dire need of updating. Just like the script of Thunder Force, which requires a few upgrades to bring that cinematic lightning it sorely lacks.

Pom Klementieff in THUNDER FORCE ©Netflix

Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator, as well as Film Festival Today's Editor. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, Chris is, in addition, lead film critic at Hammer to Nail and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice.

One thought on “Film Review: “Thunder Force” Brings Little Lightning

  1. Honestly, I wish Melissa McCarthy would keep to serious acting instead of the “comedy” she’s so famous for (please check out St Vincent starring her and bill murray. No it’s not a Ghostbusters remake and yes it manages to be funny, endearing and it’s great, just watch it).

    She always either plays a shy, awkward unassuming heroine eg. Spy or the foul mouthed, disgusting, damaged but supposedly loveable gal eg. Identity Thief. The connective tissue in her comedy with i heard about it on ,usually involve LOUD NOISES, bodily functions, being uncoordinated, joking about how fat she is and unfunny improv^

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