Over the last few years there does seem to be a pattern to the types of films that Netflix makes. On one side of the pattern are the auteurs who finally get to make their long gestated passion project will little to no interference. (Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7 and David Fincher’s Mank are recent examples of this.) And then there are most of the rest of them, which kind of feel like someone walked into a store named “Unfinished or Discarded Scripts” and announced, “We’ll take ’em all!” (One caveat here: it certainly feels like this might be changing. Between the deal for the Knives Out franchise and the just-announced Sony deal, it does appear Netflix is also looking at a third way to go here.)
And that’s the disappointing thing about Thunder Force, because there are some good ideas here in this movie (written and directed by Ben Falcone), because it sort of feels like you can tell someone almost said something. Some executive somewhere thought about making a call to tidy this movie up and punctuate the stuff that works. Then that executive, who had just dialed seven of the ten numbers needed to complete the call, figured it would be too much of a hassle and hung up the phone and said to himself or herself, “Eh, good enough.”
Lydia (Melissa McCarthy) is at her Chicago area high school reunion when she sees on television that her now famous and financially successful former best friend, Emily (Octavia Spencer), is in town. Buzzed on reunion booze, Lydia shows up at Emily’s corporate offices and tries to convince Emily to go to the sad party. It should be mentioned here that Chicago is also filled with super-powered people refereed to as Miscreants. It’s a world with only super villains and no heroes. Emily’s company is working on a procedure to create heroes out of normal people and, wouldn’t you know it, Lydia, still a bit sauced, injects herself in the face with the super serum that will, eventually, after 30-ish more injections, give her super-strength. Meanwhile, Emily has been taking a pill that gives her the powers of invisibility. Together, they decide to fight crime under the title of Thunder Force.
It’s weird, because it feels like the time is ripe for a lighthearted parody of a superhero movie. Along these lines I think about My Super Ex-Girlfriend quite a bit. A movie that came out two years before Iron Man and, well, stumbled in its delivery. (The screenwriter, Don Payne, would go on to co-write two Thor movies before he sadly passed away from bone cancer in 2012.) It’s not a particularly good movie, but the concept of someone just happening to date the secret identity of a famous superhero is a pretty nifty idea. And Thunder Force reminds me a lot of My Super Ex-Girlfriend. A movie that, on paper, is a pretty good idea but just fails in the execution. Also, instead of remaking movies we already like, I wish someone would take another crack at My Super Ex-Girlfriend. There’s a lot that could be done with an idea like that one.
There’s a somewhat convoluted group of villains that includes Chicago’s mayor (Bobby Cannavale, in full Andrew Cuomo mode) who is staging attacks on himself by a Miscreant in order to gain sympathy in a bid to win reelection. Something that does work is Jason Bateman as The Crab, part of the villainous crew. Bateman looks mostly like himself except he’s wearing these ridiculous crab arms. And as he explains, he was bitten by a radioactive crab in the genitals, so now he has crab arms. Now, see, that’s pretty good. If a human is bitten by any radioactive creature, why is it always in comics the human gets the best features? And Bateman deadpans his way through this movie on almost a one-person mission to save it. And you know what, he almost does.
But, alas, the problem with the lighthearted superhero parody/comedy always seems to be, and this one is no exception, is they, in the end, just turn into superhero movies. Just versions that aren’t as good as the real thing. Look, a lot of Marvel movies are already funny. Some, like Thor: Ragnarok, are already full-blown comedies. So it’s hard to tell what this movie is trying to be, and end the end just kind of becomes just another superhero movie, despite Jason Bateman’s best attempts at preventing that. I swear, someday, someone will nail one of these premises.
‘Thunder Force’ begins streaming via Netflix on April 9th. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.