When it comes to the career and performances of Melissa McCarthy, my personal relationship with the actress seems to be very much a case of one step forward, two steps back. She’s hit plenty of cinematic highs (for me) with the likes of Bridesmaids, The Heat and Can You Ever Forgive Me?, hell, I even loved the unfairly maligned Ghostbusters remake. On the other end of the spectrum, though, are things like The Boss, Tammy, Life Of The Party and The Kitchen, films that frankly I think are borderline awful. A striking common factor in most of the McCarthy movies that I don’t love is the creative presence of, and collaboration with, her husband Ben Falcone. With Thunder Force being another of these joint ventures, I can’t say that I was particularly excited to dive in.
And unfortunately and inevitably, my suspicions were proven valid right from the get go. Set on a version of earth that is filled with super-powered villains known as ‘miscreants’, Thunder Force tells the story of two childhood friends Lydia Berman (Melissa McCarthy) and Emily Stanton (Octavia Spencer) who, after a period of estrangement, reunited in adulthood and inadvertently become a crime fighting superhero duo using the technologies that Emily has developed over the course of her celebrated scientific career.
I mean, to be completely honest, nothing about the premise of Thunder Force is much better or worse than the dozens of more celebrated superhero narratives in cinema, but from the flat humour to the incessant and noticeably grating improv to an overall story that doesn’t care to explain itself at any given moment, the film just starts stupid and continues on a downward curve all the way to the end.
There is something about older, more ‘normal’, female protagonists taking on roles like this that feel naturally appealing to me, but the caveat there is that what is produced needs to actually be good to get me going. Simply putting fun actresses in such a situation doesn’t cut it, and Thunder Force is never particularly interested in giving the audience anything more than McCarthy doing her usual shit and Spencer being forced into an awkward straight woman role that completely wastes her talents.
Crucially, the film just isn’t funny enough to be a regarded as a decent comedy, isn’t ‘actiony’ enough to compare it to other comic book style films, and isn’t actually bad enough to come around full circle into being a dreadful but ironically hilarious watch. 85% of the comedy isn’t funny enough, 100% of the sci-fi element aren’t explained enough, and 90% of the action sequences are about as low stakes as they can possibly be. I’m no mathematician, but those numbers don’t add up to anything good.
There is nothing I can say about Melissa McCarthy’s performance here that you won’t have seen before for pretty much every movie in the last five years. At this point, these Ben Falcone movies really do just feel like a 90 minute opportunity for McCarthy to spread her improv wings. The funniest she’s ever been is arguably Bridesmaids and maybe The Heat, but the fact is that we’re coming up to over a decade since those movies came out, and half of the pleasure of those performances at the time was the unpredictable quality of McCarthy’s personas and characters. It’s now 2021, and we’ve seen her do the same thing what feels like a thousand times at this point. Her best recent work is absolutely Can You Ever Forgive Me?, and she has an Oscar nomination to prove it. That film has more structure, more scripted dialogue, more restrained direction than anything she produces with her husband, and the differences in quality are clear for everyone to see.
As Emily Stanton, Octavia Spencer feels completely wasted in her role as the straight woman character to McCarthy’s joke a minute Lydia. The friendship dynamic is a fun one, very much a chalk and cheese, opposites attract kind of thing, and whilst there is a certain pleasure in watching these two real life best buds having fun on screen together, none of it ever feels anything more than just ‘fine’. We’re talking about two actresses who have five Oscar nominations and one win between them. Frankly, they should be striving for much better than this incredibly meh shit.
Overall, you can tell that Thunder Force is not a movie that did anything for me. With the exception of one Jodie Foster joke that produced an audible chuckle, the film just sped along without giving me much, if any, enjoyment at all. As long as studios keep giving Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy money to make these films, they will. I’m happy to find the odd one in a dozen that is actually good, but at the end of the day, as that a good enough success ratio to keep giving this partnership a chance? It might be a magic relationship in real life, but something sure as hell does not translate when it comes to their movie making.