The world is often unkind to film collaborations between real-life couples, but while Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow called it quits after Bounce (2000) and Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez called it quits after Jersey Girl (2004), others keep right on trucking through the negativity. Ben Falcone has directed four previous features starring Melissa McCarthy, his wife and one of the world’s funniest humans, and while the three theatrical releases all made a profit, they’re also almost universally reviled. The fourth, Superintelligence (2020), went straight to HBO Max where it also found itself lambasted critically. Turns out the fifth time is the charm, though, as their latest collaboration, Netflix’s Thunder Force, is a silly, warm, and frequently funny time at the movies.
Lydia and Emily have been best friends since grade school where the former helped the latter stand up to obnoxious bullies. Emily was orphaned after a Miscreant — one of a group of sociopaths who were mutated by cosmic rays in the early ’80s and given superpowers, which they now use for evil — killed her parents, and starting from a young age, she’s dedicated herself to finding a way to fight back. The two parted ways for years, but in the present day, when Lydia (McCarthy) goes to visit Emily (Octavia Spencer) at her high-tech lab, she accidentally injects herself with a newly invented super serum that was meant for her friend. Emily takes the other half, and soon the two have powers of their own: Lydia is super strong, and Emily can turn invisible.
And just like that, the super duo known as Thunder Force is born.
Thunder Force takes the basic template of numerous superhero movies, dumbs it down, and then proceeds to have an utterly silly time with the concept. Falcone, who also wrote the script (and plays a small but funny role), keeps things loose and playful, despite the threat of carnage, with frequent dips into absurdity that actively repel any feeling of seriousness. The movie arguably would have benefited from a more consistent commitment to goofiness — think Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar (2021) — but it still delivers entertaining action, a little heart, and more laughs than all four previous Falcone/McCarthy comedies combined.
As should be expected, McCarthy is front and center on the comedy front as she continues to be a master at drawing out the giggles from nearly any situation. Some bits get away from her, but others highlight her comedic creativity and delivery with laugh-out-loud results — come for her Urkel impression, but stay for her Jodie Foster riff. She’s matched beat for beat by one of the film’s Miscreant villains, The Crab (Jason Bateman), a normal guy who chose a life of crime after developing crab arms from his shoulders down to his pincers. The character would feel right at home in Mystery Men (1999), and Bateman’s dry delivery squeezes every last laugh out of the ridiculous premise. His “crab walk” out of the frame, pincers snapping in the air, is the definition of stupidly fun. He and McCarthy even share an ’80s-inspired dance number that is pure joy on wires, and that’s not even the most ridiculous moment we get between them.
The rest of the cast may not be up to their level with the laughs, but they’re all in on the goofiness. Emily is a character afraid to cut loose, and Spencer’s performance follows suit before eventually relaxing into the silliness. Pom Klementieff nails a mean little Miscreant called Laser, Melissa Leo keeps a straight face as Emily’s assistant, and Taylor Mosby does good work as Emily’s brilliant daughter Tracy. The always great Bobby Cannavale plays a mayoral candidate who goes by the name The King, and he absolutely revels in the character’s shadiness.
Falcone’s script does layer in a handful of reveals, but all of them, without fail, will be seen miles away by anyone who’s watched more than a dozen movies. The obviousness doesn’t hurt Thunder Force, though, as its mandate towards goofy fun takes precedence over all else. The same goes for lip service paid to the idea that the damage done by heroes might outweigh the good they do as the idea is broached and then quickly forgotten. The friendship at the film’s core works a bit better, as does the relationship between Emily and Tracy, but it’s all slight asides next to the jokes and smashy-bashy action.
No one will mistake the action set-pieces here for a Marvel film, but it is entertaining even on a budget. Walls crumble, lightning strikes, and McCarthy clocks more hours on wires as she leaps, falls, and flips through the air. The action is creatively staged to make McCarthy and Spencer viable superheroes, and it’s engaging stuff wrapped in silliness.
One hopes that Thunder Force marks a turning point for Team Falcone/McCarthy, even if that means the duo’s future collaborations are limited to sequels on Netflix. There’s a whole world of Miscreants out there, and only a fool would pass up the opportunity to watch a crab-loving, raw chicken-eating, ass-kicking Melissa McCarthy reign ridiculous hell down upon them all.
Thunder Force is now exclusively available to stream on Netflix.