Director: Ben Falcone
Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Octavia Spencer, Jason Bateman, Bobby Cannavale, Pom Klementieff, Melissa Leo
Genre: Sci-fi, action-comedy
It is admirable to see two middle-aged women as the centre of a superhero film, never mind that it is a comedy bordering on parody, and not a serious-minded film on the same level as the DC Universe. Octavia Spencer, a highly under-appreciated actress, went under the radar soon after winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the fantastic role of Minnie in ‘The Help’ (2015). Since then, she has been in less hard hitting films and TV shows such as ‘Ma’ (2019), ‘Self Made’ and ‘The Witches’ (both 2020).
Spencer plays the studious Emily, a highly successful scientist working on a serum with superpowers that she plans to inject into willing subjects so that they can be the city’s saving grace against the dangerously superpowered delinquents called “the Miscreants”.
As her character is a straight-jacket woman with a perpetually concerned face, Spencer looks bored and uninterested in participating in the film. She is almost completely wasted as all the interesting lines that could have shown her comic flair go to Melissa McCarthy instead. McCarthy fares slightly better as Lydia, the awkward and troublemaking best friend, and Emily’s partner-in-spandex. She is the main force behind much of the onscreen action compared to Spencer. The screen time of the two heroines, as a result, is very unequal unlike what was promised by the trailer and posters of the film. McCarthy is onscreen most of the time and whenever Spencer is absent, we miss her, even though she does not contribute much to the film either. But we would rather spend time with the normal Spencer who keeps the film grounded rather than with McCarthy who delivers one bad joke after the other.
The script is poorly written with unfunny and tiring jokes that can suck the life out of any enthusiastic film viewer. The jokes fall flat one after another and the scenes get less and less funny as the film progresses.
During the ‘waltz dance’ scene, this author had to pause the film and physically distract herself because it was utterly cringeworthy and discomfort inducing. There are certain lines such as “She’s not a nerd. She’s smart. There’s a difference”, which is repeated throughout the film as a running gag. But it is neither a funny line nor creatively worded. The statement is too obvious and matter-of-fact to be special. Some lines are funny when uttered for the first time but lose sting when they are repeated. For example, a character admits to being a “half-creant” and the protagonist mishears him to be “half-Korean”, which she says out loud, sighing infatuatedly. It is a humorous moment but when this gag is repeated later, it is no longer funny, it becomes useless, akin to beating a dead horse. Even the superhero aliases are unimaginative with Lydia going by the Hammer (because of her super strength), and Emily going by Bingo because she has the power of invisibility (she can slowly creep up to you and appear in a flash, going “Bingo!” Get it? Get it?!!). However, one memorable scene is the dinner scene with Grandma Norma where some good relationship jokes are cracked. But that is all.
The film was painful to watch. However, it got so much worse with the introduction of Jason Bateman’s Jerry aka The Krab. His arms are crab’s hands (his backstory is revealed through straightforwardly expositional dialogue: Jerry gained Krab hands and superpowers when he was attacked in the testicles by a radioactive crab). His giant crab hands not only makes for a ridiculous sight and some cheap gags, but they look fake and on the brink of being props for a B-grade spoof film. The makeup is indeed poor as the pincers look like acrylic paint and glue. This is when the filmmakers seem to be declaring that they are no longer taking the story or movie seriously. Literally, anything goes at this point.
Taylor Mosby shines as Emily’s precociously intelligent teen daughter Tracy who becomes an aid to the duo’s superhero missions. She is a breath of fresh air because she is the only character who is of the same age as that of the target audience for this superhero film. This author has her eye open for Mosby’s next projects.
Bobby Cannavale plays the primary antagonist named William Stevens aka The King, a powerful businessman who is running for mayor in the city elections. Cannavale does his best with what he has got but with uncreative and over-repeated lines such as “I am not King, I am THE King!”, there is very little he can do to salvage his performance.
Pom Klementieff is well-styled (with her bleached eyebrows and black leather jackets) and competent as the femme fatale-ish Miscreant named Laser. One hopes to see her essay such roles in better quality films that actually have respect for the superhero genre.
The director and writer of this insufferable picture is Ben Falcone. He is also the real-life husband of the lead actress Melissa McCarthy, and together they have made a series of forgettable comedies such as ‘Tammy’ (2014), ‘The Boss’ (2016), ‘Life of the Party’ (2018) and ‘Superintelligence’ (2020) (although ‘Life of the Party’ is admittedly a decent heartwarmer).
It is a mystery how Falcone continues to secure support for his projects despite one miss after another while other filmmakers go to directorial jail for a DECADE after making a single subpar film. It is an even bigger mystery how despite having the talented McCarthy and other such actors and crew at his disposal, Falcone can be so consistently terrible. Perhaps that is his superpower.
‘Thunder Force’ is available to stream on Netflix India. It is currently in the Top 10 films of the week.