The elevator pitch for Thunder Force is kind of genius: “What if we made Shazam! with 40-year-old women?”
The Zachary Levi-starring pic is a favorite among DC fans (it earned $365 million worldwide), so it makes sense to try and recreate that magic by spinning the formula into a Melissa McCarthy comedy. But while Thunder Force has a few memorable moments, it lacks the wit of Henry Gayden’s script, which was the main ingredient that resulted in Shazam! being such a winner.
Ben Falcone takes writing, directing and producing credits on this formulaic piece, which relies too heavily on the fish-out-of-water comedy of Shazam!, as well as McCarthy’s awkward and lovable star persona. She plays Lydia, a single, ready-to-mingle construction worker in Chicago who spends her weekends thirsting over men, as well as trying to reconnect with her BFF Emily (Octavia Spencer), who’s a mega rich scientist on TV.
On the eve of their high school reunion (held at a dive bar, for some reason), Emily decides to make amends, inviting Lydia over to her ultra-modern headquarters, where there are all sorts of needles, gadgets and buttons that scream “do not touch!” You can already guess where this is going, right? After Emily leaves the room, Lydia becomes a girl inside a candy shop, touching every button and trying every needle, while she injects herself with the only serum for super strength, because why would there be more than one serum for super strength?
Cue the montages of Lydia lifting 20,000 pounds, jumping 20 feet and breaking punching bags. While Van Halen blasts on the soundtrack, Emily takes the other serum, going through her own training montage to harness the power of invisibility. Eventually, they suit up as Thunder Force to take down Chicago’s mayor (Bobby Cannavale) and his squad of mutant henchman: energy-bolt shooting Laser (Pom Klementieff) and The Crab (Jason Bateman), whose “superpowers” are crustacean arms and a stale sense of humor. We kid you not.
To be fair, Bateman is the best part of the movie, mainly because he’s the only one in the film who came up with his own lines. Everyone else is saddled with Falcone’s dialogue/script, drudging through a beat-for-beat rehash of Shazam!, from the bullied kid prologue to the training montage to the final showdown. There isn’t much here that hasn’t been done before and it all feels a bit stale.
The story is familiar and all over the place, and it often seems like the film is having an identity crisis. Kids will know nothing about Seal or Jodie Foster, so it’s hard to stomach the comic transitions, which turn on a dime from 90’s callbacks to juvenile banter, and families looking for something to watch on Netflix will be taken aback by the sexual innuendos.
McCarthy does everything in her power to save the project, but no amount of physical comedy can erase the fact that this movie is simply not funny. The humor relies on all sorts of childish jokes and gags, farts, burps and pukes, all things you’d never expect in a family flick.
But that’s the bulk of it, playing on that broad humor. Despite the best efforts of McCarthy, and a winsome Spencer as her sidekick, Thunder Force is more like Shazam! Lite. It wants us to laugh at genre tropes, but this crude and unoriginal dreck is just comedy Kryptonite. While it may play well with the Netflix crowd over the weekend, don’t expect it to remain for too long in the online conversation after the next few days.
Thunder Force wants us to laugh at genre tropes, but this crude and unoriginal dreck is comedy Kryptonite.