The Movie Guru: Netflix’s “Thunder Force” a new take on the superhero genre
Traditionally, the superhero genre hasn’t cared much about middle-aged women.
“Thunder Force,” which premiered Friday on Netflix, is here to change that. Rather than granting powers and costumes to would-be models or edgy teens, the movie focuses on a super-team made of two round, middle-aged women with regrets in their lives. Though it has plenty of odd humor in it (no surprise to anyone familiar with Melissa McCarthy’s career), it also has some surprisingly satisfying super fights, training sequences, last-minute saves and even a big heroic moment that tugged at my heartstrings a little bit.
The movie’s opening narration sets up a world where superpowers have only been granted to bad guys. Young Emily’s parents are killed by supervillains, making her dedicated to continue their work of trying to turn regular people into superheroes. Though her dedication leads to a fight with her best friend Lydia, the two accidentally end up back in each other’s lives when Lydia accidentally gets involved in the experiment to give people superpowers. Can the two friends remember how to work together and save the city from the supervillain trying to bring it down?
Though this is a superhero comedy, the movie is careful never to turn the superheroes into a parody. Super injections hurt, and thrown city busses have a steep financial cost in addition to looking pretty cool. There are also some fantastic jokes about the side effects of having to wear the same super-suit for fight after fight, especially when it’s very much not machine washable.
Of course, it’s also a Melissa McCarthy comedy. The actress’ sense of humor tends to lean toward the deeply weird and slightly gross, and “Thunder Force” makes sure to give her opportunities to indulge that. The process of giving her superpowers also gives her a love of raw chicken, and her “romance” for the movie is with a supervillian with crab claws for hands. McCarthy and Jason Bateman have good chemistry, but their scenes together are vaguely unsettling. With McCarthy, that’s kind of the point.
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Though the movie pays more attention to McCarthy (it’s directed by her husband), it also essentially gives her a co-lead in Octavia Spencer. She’s got the more thankless role of the two, being the serious, responsible one, but Spencer does what she can to bring some depth and nuance to the character. She’s also good in comedic moments, though I wish she’d been given the opportunity to do more.
Where both women are at their best, however, is in the relationship between them. Most of us have no idea what it’s like to be a superhero, but there are plenty of us who have tried to repair a relationship with an old friend. Even more of us know what it’s like to regret some of the choices we’ve made and try to move forward differently, and both of those things give their relationship a depth the rest of the movie just doesn’t have.
“Thunder Force” is trying to do a lot of things, and though not all of it works there’s still plenty to like about it. If you’re looking for a different take on the supehero genre, or just like Melissa McCarthy, this might be the movie for you.
Rated: PG-13 for some action/violence, language and mild suggestive material
Written and directed by: Ben Falcone
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Octavia Spencer, Jason Bateman, Bobby Cannavale, Pom Klementieff, Melissa Leo, Taylor Mosby, Marcella Lowery, Melissa Ponzio and more
Grade: Two and a half stars (out of four)
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at email@example.com.
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