Melissa McCarthy has had a funny career. She didn’t come to prominence until her breakthrough supporting role in Bridesmaids in 2011 when she was already in her early 40s but since then she’s become a household name and been hailed as one of Hollywood’s best comedy actresses. In 2020, she was ranked 22nd on the New York Times’ “25 Greatest Actors of the 21st Century (So Far)” list, with her starring role in the brilliant action comedy, James Bond-esque parody Spy being picked as their favourite performance of hers. And while that is one I really enjoy, I wouldn’t put it above her against type lead role in Can You Ever Forgive Me? from 2018, which rightfully earned her critical acclaim and many prestigious award nominations.
That same list, however, shouldn’t be taken at face value, for it omits many great actors, including her history-making and award-winning Thunder Force co-star, Octavia Spencer. These two team up for the superhero action comedy that has finally been released on Netflix.
It’s the fifth collaboration between McCarthy and her husband Ben Falcone as director – who has co-produced, co-written and had small roles or cameos in nearly every major film she’s had a starring role in. However, those in which he has been behind the steering wheel have received mixed reviews and most were not box office successes. And while I have still liked some of those films, most were certainly not particularly great, with McCarthy being the main or only attraction of them and usually not much else was especially praiseworthy about them. But how does this one fair?
The film follows the reuniting of two old friends, Emily (Octavia Spencer) and Lydia (Melissa McCarthy). Emily is a scientist who has developed a serum that can give ordinary people superpowers in a world terrorised by super villains. Carefree Lydia visits her in her lab and despite warnings to not touch anything, she accidentally gets injected with the serum which gives her superhuman strength. Emily, on the other hand, gets the power of invisibility. Now, these two former and once again friends must join forces to defeat the super villains, or “Miscreants”, led by The King (Bobby Cannavale).
Many of McCarthy’s films since Bridesmaids have featured a lot of the same cast members; Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig and Rose Byrne were all in that, while Rudolph appeared in Life of the Party, Wiig in Ghostbusters and Byrne in Spy. And this film is no different. Those three actresses aren’t in Thunder Force but apart from husband Falcone, Cannavale was also the villain in Spy and Jason Bateman co-starred in Identity Thief.
Except for Sandra Bullock who had equal lead billing status with her in The Heat, Melissa doesn’t usually have a strong co-star that can rival her in star power and comedic genius. But Octavia Spencer rises to that challenge and conquers it, even at times outshining her despite her character’s more introverted nature. A very diverse actress with dramas, thrillers, horrors, sci-fis, animated films and comedies under her belt, she already appeared in black comedy-drama Pretty Ugly People alongside McCarthy in 2008, though neither had main roles.
McCarthy is often a marmite actress these days, with many often thinking of her as a one-trick pony who plays the same goofy but also shouty, feisty sort of character who swears a lot one minute then makes a fool of herself the next. And yes, she does most the time, but she does play parts like that to a tee. Spencer on the other hand, is considered to be a more versatile actress and appears to be more universally liked. Together, the two play off each other very well in Thunder Force, with McCarthy as Lydia sticking to what she knows best, but Spencer as Emily having a lot more depth as a behind the scenes clever clogs now thrust into the limelight and the action to help fight the baddies.
The superhero genre is most often a winning one. They’re current and hot, but filmmakers must avoid too many derivative plots, cliché characterisations, and been-there-done-that action sequences (and after the big budget blockbuster success of the MCU films that have done everything, that’s hard not to do).
With Thunder Force, all the building bricks of a superhero genre are used and there, and overall it’s nothing that fresh and unique – even the idea of everyday people becoming superheroes (accidentally or otherwise) to save the city/world is a tried and used story. But it is by no means a poor attempt at a superhero or basic action comedy film; there’s some good action and plenty of comedy, and a few strangely funny scenes. Superhero films are exciting but rarely are they surprising or do they stand out in a sea of the same kinds of stories. However, Thunder Force does take a while to really get going as the first 45 minutes focuses on the ladies’ history and the rigorous tests and training they do before trying to fight crime.
Most of the CGI and action sequences are done well (and you’d hope so, really), except the part which you can also spot in the trailer where McCarthy lifts up a bus. It literally looks like they’ve just badly superimposed her head onto someone else’s body. Why it looks so fake I don’t know or why that was necessary if it is, is also a mystery, but I’ll let that tiny hiccup slide.
Falcone and McCarthy co-produced Thunder Force along with Marc Platt, who has a string of iconic, award-winning and critically acclaimed films under his producing credits, including Legally Blonde, Wanted, Bridge of Spies, La La Land, Disney’s live-action version of Aladdin, and the upcoming film Cruella. So it is perhaps due to him and the dynamic combination of McCarthy and Spencer which makes Thunder Force a return to form for the married couple.
Thunder Force is an enjoyable, sometimes thrilling and very much a laugh out loud watch. It may be nowhere near to competing with the big boys of action comedies or superhero films, but it’s certainly one of McCarthy’s best since Spy (and we’ll treat it as a Spy 2, but a bit different, seeing as we never got a sequel to that).