Review by John Dugan
The novelty of the superhero genre has already lost its attraction to many viewers, as the formulaic films completely dominated the entirety of the last decade. Nevertheless, it appears studios will attempt any amount of alterations to achieve a new result, without really changing anything of substance. The most recent attempt of this by Netflix is Thunder Force (2021, Ben Falcone), which, even from the title, gives the impression of being quite generic and vague. The action-adventure comedy follows two childhood friends, Lydia (Melissa McCarthy) and Emily (Octavia Spencer) as they reunite through an accident which infuses Lydia with super strength. Lydia has dedicated her life to giving ordinary people super powers to fight against “Miscreants,” a brand of supervillains “genetically predisposed to being sociopaths”. The premise of the film is not incredibly original, but it works because the film does not take itself too seriously or attempt to explain the science behind these powers in detail. However, while the film is fun to watch, it is not especially revolutionary.
The aspect of this film that Netflix clearly hoped would draw in an audience was the new twist on the genre. Rather than another team of adolescents or twenty-somethings gaining and learning to use a set of powers, Thunder Force focuses on two middle aged, plus sized women in the same situation. While this is a refreshing rewrite of the now overplayed superhero film, it’s not quite enough to compensate for the average plot. The comedy in the film was enjoyable, and despite some slapstick moments feeling slightly out of place I did occasionally find myself chuckling out loud.
However there were moments it seemed that the film was attempting to make “fat jokes” without explicitly stating so, by putting the two main actresses- who would both be considered plus size- in situations that used more physical and ‘gross out’ comedy than might have otherwise been used. This is not inherently detrimental to the film, but coupled with a few moments where the possibility of having queer characters was either hinted at or acknowledged but never confirmed or centered, makes me wonder if they only included these lines and jokes for the sake of being seen as progressive without actually being inclusive.
The film managed to balance its comedic and emotional appeal, but somewhat lacked action. When there was action though, it was dynamic and the stunts were well executed, and the score allowed for a distinctively nostalgic experience of the 80’s. Had Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer not been the leads, some of the comedic scenes definitely would have fallen flat, but overall, Thunder Force was a positive viewing experience.