‘Thunder Force’ doesn’t push the cinematic needle

“Thunder Force” – Marvel Studios made 20 feature films that eventually led to directors Anthony and Joe Russo’s beyond-massive two-movie epic, “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018) and “Avengers: Endgame” (2019) with a combined 5 ½ hours of screen time.  The cosmic storyline needed every single one of those 330 minutes because Thanos (Josh Brolin) – the chief antagonist – wiped out half of the universe’s population, and The Avengers attempted to bring trillions of living creatures back from oblivion.

Talk about big stakes!

Well, “Thunder Force” is a superhero comedy set in Chicago, as two best friends (Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer) reunite and become superheroes to fight a local mob boss.  Writer/director Ben Falcone – who is McCarthy’s husband – isn’t reaching for the stars here, but that’s not the point.  Instead, he hands Melissa a golden opportunity to weave her self-deprecating humor into a character with Superman-like strength, and the results are admittedly laugh-out-loud funny at times.

(Note that Octavia has a very different power that will not be revealed in this review.)

Regrettably, “Thunder Force” – which is Lydia Berman (McCarthy) and Emily Stanton’s (Spencer) two-women team name – has a razor-thin plot that falls into predictable spaces around – of all things – a mayoral race.  It’s an idea with all the emotional gravitas of refilling an empty stapler or purchasing paper towels.

(Although, a year ago, the latter became an unexpected Olympic sport in grocery stores everywhere, but let’s not digress.)

This film’s opening, however, offers some promise:  “In March of 1983, a massive pulse of interstellar cosmic rays struck Earth and its population.  These cosmic rays triggered a genetic transformation in a select few, unleashing unimaginable superpowers.  Unfortunately, these superpowers were only unlocked in rare individuals who were genetically predisposed to be sociopaths.  These new superhumans came to be known as miscreants.”

Hey, it sounds like “The Fantastic Four” (1994, 2015) meets “X-Men” (2000) and “Suicide Squad” (2016).

We meet Emily in 1988, and life serves her a tragedy in a flash.  A miscreant kills her parents, and she – a straight-A student – vows to continue her mom and dad’s work to unlock superhero skills in ordinary people.  The script burns calories for seven minutes during Lydia and Emily’s childhood, which feels almost as unnecessary as a similar plot device in the dreadful “The Fantastic Four” (2015), where a young Reed Richards and Ben Grimm were BFFs before becoming Mr. Fantastic and The Thing, respectively, as adults.

However, Mia Kaplan and Ben and Melissa’s daughter Vivian Falcone are perfect kid-doppelgangers for McCarthy, so that’s pretty darn cool!

Fast-forward to the present, and Emily unlocks the secrets to out-of-this-world abilities for Lydia and herself.  Rather than save the planet from miscreants, this dynamic duo set their sights on one particular baddie named Laser (Pom Klementieff), who shoots lightning out of her hands and is happily burning up anyone or anything in The Windy City.  Well, they also run into another one, The Crab (Jason Bateman), who looks like you or me, except he sports orange claws for arms, and before you ask, “Does he butter them up?”, Lydia does in a bizarre daydream sequence borrowed from “The Shape of Water” (2017).

From there, the film devolves into every “The A-Team”, “Magnum, P.I.”, or choose your ‘80s action/crime drama episode that you’ve ever seen, which may explain why it includes multiple music references from the period, like Van Halen, Slayer, and Glenn Frey’s “The Smuggler’s Blues” and “You Belong to the City”.

McCarthy dove into a similar ordinary-lady-becomes-a-superstar film in “Spy” (2015), Paul Feig’s riotously hilarious and complex action flick, where she plays an office dweller CIA agent who finally gets her chance in the field.  Rose Byrne, Jason Statham, Allison Janney, and Jude Law came out to play with McCarthy in an effective comedy that almost feels as notable as any James Bond movie.

However, “Thunder Force” dials down – story-wise – into neighborhood politics and a limited set of villains (like “Deadpool” (2016)) despite its massive global promises during the opening scene.  Still, this movie is no “Deadpool”.  Instead, it feels like “Spies Like Us” (1985), where Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase train to become international spies, and if you’ve ever seen this John Landis picture, you’ll know that the very best moments are during the first act’s training sessions. ]

Well, “Thunder Force” is available on Netflix, and if you have the service, check out Lydia and Emily’s superhero prep.  It’s a blast – where McCarthy pulls a truck, heaves a 170-pound sphere like a champ, and much more – for about 25 minutes during the film’s first half.  The rest seems optional, and use your remote, if needed.

⭐ 1/2  out of  ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Image and Trailer credits:  Netflix

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