Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer portray childhood friends turned superheroes in Netflix’s Thunder Force from director Ben Falcone. In 1983 cosmic rays strike Earth. Within months, those rays, initially declared harmless to humans by scientists, triggered a genetic transformation in a select few, unleashing incredible superpowers. Unfortunately, for reasons still unknown, these superpowers were only unlocked in sporadic individuals genetically predisposed to be villains. Overnight, a new problem for humanity was born.
These new “super human villains” earn the moniker “Miscreants,” and for years ran amok, wreaking havoc. Researchers and scientists worked on DNA/genome sequencing, intending to give regular people the power to fight back against the Miscreants. Among those researchers were Emily Stanton’s parents (Octavia Spencer), killed during a Miscreant attack when Emily was 12 years old. Moving in with her grandmother in Chicago’s Hyde Park area, the studious Emily befriends Lydia Berman (Melissa McCarthy). A blunt, rough-around-the-edges, 12-year-old who was less interested in school and more interested in classic rock.
Inseparable as kids, the duo grew apart as their professional paths diverged. Determined to stop the Miscreants, Emily became a scientist while Lydia pursued a career as a heavy equipment operator. Through a series of events, Lydia finds herself injected with a super strength serum that Emily spent years creating for herself. The duo then decides to team up as heroes and rid the city of Miscreants.
Superhero films are all of the latest rages. So, upon hearing the Thunder Force’s premise, I was interested to see the angle that the film’s writer/director Ben Falcone would take with an original hero. Falcone directs his wife, Melissa McCarthy, for the fifth time. The duo has a great working relationship, as Falcone knows McCarthy’s strengths. One of the things I enjoyed about McCarthy in Thunder Force is Lydia is never afraid to show her flaws. While most would be ecstatic at the idea of having superpowers, Falcone builds an arc for Lydia showing her struggles as she adapts to her newfound gifts. Kudos to McCarthy also avoids easy jokes when she does get her power and lets comedy happen naturally.
Octavia Spencer is always a delight to see on screen, so I was particularly fond that Spencer’s character was intelligent. She refuses to accept mediocrity when it comes to her inventions. I also enjoyed seeing black boy joy and black girl magic in the form of Emily’s staff, which includes her teenage prodigy daughter Tracy (Taylor Mosby). Naturally, given that this is a superhero film, we must have an antagonist who arrives in Bobby Cannavale as The King.
Cannavale has a great time playing big bad, giving orders to his muscle Laser (Pom Klementieff) and The Crab (Jason Bateman). All three actors have great chemistry, and I would love to see them reunite as they play well off each other. Melissa Leo also pops up in a brief supporting role. There were a few plot points that I saw coming, and I was not that impressed with the special effects or action sequences in the film. However, at its core, Thunder Force is all about the friendship between Lydia and Emily, and both McCarthy and Spencer’s real-life two-decade friendship come across on the screen. Moreover, for that alone, Thunder Force is worth checking out.
Final Grade B-
Thunder Force is streaming on Netflix now.