I can’t say when it happened, but at some point during Thunder Force, my soul left my body. To be clear, we aren’t talking about some transcendent spiritual experience. No, this was like being emotionally Hoovered by one of those Harry Potter Dementors. Maybe it was the scene where two people feed each other raw, slimy chicken cutlets. Maybe it was watching a character repeatedly barf on someone’s shoes. Somewhere on this cinematic torture-rack, I realized Thunder Force was going to exact a penance of 106 minutes from my life. All I could do was survive the onslaught of chilly cheerlessness, and pray the next film would bring back the sunshine.
After that dour paragraph, what I’m about to say will sound odd and contradictory: The idea for a good movie is buried deep within Thunder Force. And when I say deep, I’m talking somewhere far below the mole people and troglodytes. Like, any deeper and John Hammond will try to clone it and build a theme park. Basically, the film riffs on the theme of everyday humans enhanced into superheroes. Lydia (Melissa McCarthy) and Emily (Octavia Spencer) are estranged besties who are reconnecting as the story begins. Emily’s a brilliant scientist; Lydia struggles through a blue-collar existence. Meanwhile, the world is under siege by augmented thieves and killers, known as Miscreants. As Emily’s parents were murdered by Miscreants, she vows to develop the genetic enhancements and wipe them all out.
Naturally, Lydia does a full-on Mr. Bean routine and bumbles into Emily’s top-secret lab. Does Lydia accidentally hit all the wrong buttons and trigger Emily’s lifelong experiment? You bet your biscuits she does! Does Lydia get enhanced strength and durability? Unfortunately, these questions are rhetorical. She does, and the movie somehow grows both sillier and more boring. As Lydia’s powers grow, Emily begins to self-medicate with her own invisibility serum. This leads to a protracted montage of the two women training to harness their abilities. It’s here Lydia discovers her craving for raw chicken, which she slurps by the pound. “You can really taste the phosphorous!” She screams through a mouth full of gooey food. We also get extended riffs of Lydia complaining about her supersuit’s B.O. I’m using these examples as proof that when I say this film is excruciatingly unfunny, you know it’s not hyperbole.
Thunder Force also lacks any excitement. The action scenes are devoid of tension; nothing in this movie has any stakes. Our heroes are indestructible, and the bad guys fly around like rag dolls. Jason Bateman shows up as a Miscreant with crab arms (yeah, you read that right), and his performance matches the enthusiasm of a dad asked to sing “Baby Shark” for the fortieth time. And I can safely say that Bateman’s crunchy pincer hands don’t result in one genuine laugh. Not. One. That goes ditto for Bobby Cannavale’s Miscreant politician, who wraps his victims in Chris Farley bear hugs. We don’t even get a teaspoon of comedic irony from this. More than anything, this is a film of things that just happen.
As for the performances, I don’t know what to say. McCarthy and Spencer have been nominated for Oscars. Spencer even took one home. Of course they could make a better movie. They’re real and funny, and can bring undeniable power to their work. Here, both actresses try too hard to make this look easy. Unfortunately, the material just isn’t here, and that’s not their fault. (Actually, the film was written and directed by Ben Falcone, McCarthy’s husband. So, I’m gonna blame this on her a little bit.)
Thunder Force left me cold and lifeless. There was a strange aftermath where I didn’t know how to laugh anymore. Few recent movies have felt like such a hollow product, meant to rake in money without even a hint of entertainment value. It’s still tough to pick the best picture of 2021, but I can definitely point you in the direction of the absolute worst.
106 min. PG-13. Netflix.