Thunder Force

Thunder Force ★★½

The goal of Ben Falcone’s “Thunder Force” is to deliver a silly, amusing, and safe comedy, a superhero movie we can laugh with in the moment but forget the second the end credits start rolling. Still, on this level, the work fails to impress because it lacks two key ingredients that can elevate a low achiever: originality and energy so infectious that viewers cannot help but to like the work even though they may have trouble pointing out exactly what draws them to it.

Here is a world in which people who have sociopathic tendencies can develop superpowers after the planet was bombarded by radioactive cosmic rays in 1983. Since then, Miscreants have used their abilities to steal, intimidate, and terrorize. Clearly, the world needs a superhero who can stand up against them. Young Emily, an aspiring geneticist, has an idea: she will create one.

The premise has the potential to entertain, but Falcone’s screenplay is not interested in delivering details that can make the premise interesting and worthy of exploration as long as there is a gag being paraded on screen, whether it be someone falling over furnitures, a civilian being thrown across the room, eating raw chicken, CGI facial inflammation, or Melissa McCarthy going off-script to Hammer—wink—us over the head with a joke until it becomes awkward and cringe-worthy. But the thing about this approach is that it is especially vulnerable to diminishing returns. Notice when there is no gag in sight, a deafening emptiness pervades the screen. If this story were set in rural Alabama instead of downtown Chicago, crickets would be heard in the distance.

The Octavia Spencer, who plays adult Emily, and McCarthy duo is workable because the actors evoke their own charm that just so happen to function on a similar wavelength. Halfway through, however, I couldn’t help but wonder if it would have been the better choice to have these two play against type: Spencer as the tomboyish, bull in a china shop loudmouth and McCarthy as the brainy, silent, posh type. Having these two talented actors play characters that we know they can do in their sleep, there is no excitement, no fresh take. McCarthy’s signature obnoxious humor, for example, was better utilized in Paul Feig’s “Bridesmaids” and “The Heat.” Here, her brand is diluted. And so what’s the point? Wouldn’t it be more entertaining if she played the opposite of what she was used to or comfortable with?

There is no interesting villain. Superhero movies have been around for a couple of decades now. So why is it that Falcone appears to be adamant in presenting us with the most uninspired antagonists imaginable? One has super strength (Bobby Cannavale), the same as McCarthy’s Lydia, one is named Laser (Pom Klementieff) who—surprise!—shoots laser beams, and one is a half-crab, half-human played by Jason Bateman. Not once are we made to believe that they are a real threat to our heroes and the world they inhabit. As a result, dramatic stakes are non-existent—even during action sequences. We simply wait for all the commotion to end.

Admittedly, “Thunder Force” made me chuckle a few times. I enjoyed the flirtations between the McCarthy and Bateman characters: human hands gently caressing giant, buttered crab pincers is so awkward, one is compelled to snicker or guffaw in order to release the discomfort. But I must say: bizarre humor like this is preferred over the usual, tired training montage, best friends fighting over nothing but they must because the plot requires them to do so, or stopping yet another bomb from going off and killing civilians. I wished that this film worked against the superhero formula and tapped into a creative that was worthy of the big names on the marquee.

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