Has anyone else ever gone from playing a grandmother in one film to a superhero in their next? This is precisely what Octavia Spencer has done here with this movie following Robert Zemeckis’ The Witches. It’s an interesting juxtaposition and perfectly illustrative of Hollywood’s confusion over what to do with a fifty year old actress.
Of course it would be great that Spencer and her co-star Melissa McCarthy, also the same age, have been cast as action heroes but for the fact that them not being your typical leading ladies is part of the gag. To be fair though, while neither of them being the shape and size of Scarlett Johansson is a deliberate factor, it isn’t where most of the humour in this comedy film lies. There is an extended joke about the two of them not being able to easily get in and out of a Lamborghini but I’m sure most of us would struggle with that which is actually the point; this is a movie about two ordinary people getting super powers and there is something to celebrate in that.
They are women too which is great. Ten years ago it is likely that one of this crime fighting duo would have been played by Jack Black. In fact this film does share themes with Kung Fu Panda and that film, animated or not, did labour more over the girth of its hero. Yep, irrelevant of the quality of Netflix’s Thunder Force, it does put certain types people on screen doing things that those types of people at home don’t normally see these types of people doing.
In terms of that quality, Thunder Force is fine. It isn’t hilarious but it is more than carried by the amiable personalities of all involved and the story is engaging enough. I know that’s not exactly a glowing endorsement but compared to some of Melissa McCarthy’s other work Thunder Force is a pleasant surprise. She has done really good stuff with director Paul Feig, Bridesmaids, Ghostbusters, Spy, The Heat, but quite a few of her comedies are awful. Especially those, like this one, that are directed by her husband Ben Falcone. Their collaborations on The Boss, Tammy and Life of the Party have all been pretty dire but not as bad as Identity Thief and The Happytime Murders. McCarthy herself is generally not the issue but some of the material she has had to work with has been terrible so yes, Thunder Force, for all of its mediocrity, is a bit of a treat. Of course Octavia Spencer’s filmography includes Hidden Figures, Snowpiercer, Fruitvale Station and The Shape of Water so while she has had some misses too, this one is not among her greatest hits. (I have to acknowledge McCarthy for Can You Ever Forgive Me and St. Vincent. This woman needs more straight roles.)
The set up of Thunder Force is that the world already has super powered people (three it seems, maybe two) but that they are all sociopaths so Spencer’s Emily uses her intelligence, wealth and kind nature (think of her as a cross between Tony Stark and Nadia Hussain) to give other people the abilities to fight them. McCarthy is Lydia, a childhood friend of Emily, who would never be a contender for the super soldier serum (she’s kind of a cross between Steve Rogers and Sarah Millican) but stumbles into the lab and gets juiced in the face. Soon enough the two of them have super strength, invisibility and the power to leap logic in a single bound.
This doesn’t lead to any great set pieces so in this respect if no other it does challenge genre conventions, but there are some amusing one liner. Is Thunder Force unmissable? No, certainly not, but if you have watched Palm Springs on Prime already (and only if) then it’ll keep you entertained for a hundred minutes.