Indulge, if you will, a bit of basic font talk. Are you an 11-point Calibri plug-and-chugger who goes with what Microsoft Word gives you? Maybe you prefer the sturdiness of Times New Roman or, if you’re feeling saucy about your serifs, Garamond. Perhaps Papyrus and Comic Sans are still very much your jam and you are still very much a psychopath.
Fonts speak not only for the spirit of something’s content but the care shown to it by its stewards. And boy, does that slapdash promotional font for Thunder Force (now on Netflix) ever scream real loud about all of that — from the oil-and-water pairing of Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer as friends turned superheroes to yet more directorial drudgery by Ben Falcone (McCarthy’s husband) that renders Adam Sandler’s longtime water carrier Dennis Dugan distinctive by comparison.
Yes, that’s the Star Wars-ish Trajan on “Force” up there What about “Thunder”? I don’t know. What do you call a font fitting a six-film animated franchise about talking mollusks or something?
As long as one print of My Super Ex-Girlfriend remains unburned, Thunder Force will hardly be in contention for the worst superhero action-comedy. But after the similarly streaming-scuttled Superintelligence, you wonder how McCarthy and Falcone can burn through so many concept comedies so quickly with so little to show for them. Thunder Force would be yet another generally underwhelming vehicle of theirs without co-star Jason Bateman’s welcome return to absurdist comedy, Bobby Cannavale hamming it up in cannon-sized shoulder pads as the heavy, gags about why it’s best to let your henchmen remain anonymous, and a running joke about McCarthy’s newfound need to eat raw chicken. (“My compliments to whomever didn’t cook it!”)
In 1983, cosmic rays hit Earth and caused a genetic shift that formed superpowers in folks … but only in the ones who were sociopaths. Known as Miscreants, these powered people have pummeled poor unfortunate souls for years and took the lives of young Emily Stanton’s parents. In return, Emily vows to figure out how to give good people superpowers.
After Slayer shirt-wearing Lydia Berman saves Emily from bullies one day, the two become friends. Lydia is the fun-loving counterpart to Emily’s bookish pursuits. But a falling out over a forgotten wake-up call that causes Emily to be late for an exam drives a wedge between the two that persists for decades, until they reunite on the eve of a class reunion. These days, Emily (Spencer) is the Oprah of the tech world, a scientist who has just erected Chicago’s version of Stark Tower. Lydia still has her Slayer T-shirt, but she’s a functioning alcoholic who cuts her cereal with Old Style (because Chicago) and pulls double shifts moving cargo containers. The film glosses over the inherent sadness of Lydia’s existence to instead depict her with all the nuance of a distaff Bill Swerski Superfan.
As it turns out, Emily has figured out how to create those superpowers and intends to give herself both super strength and invisibility. But when left unattended in Emily’s lab, Lydia inadvertently injects herself with the super-strength serum. Lest her body blow itself out from the inside, Lydia must continue the treatments under Emily’s supervision. When Emily goes through with invisibility, the two team up as the titular duo to take down the King (Cannavale), a ne’er-do-well mayoral candidate who’s using vicious Miscreants like Laser (Pom Klementieff of Guardians of the Galaxy) and the Crab (Bateman) to do his dirty work.
The whole premise would be more interesting if Emily had to toil away in obscurity because of Lydia’s teenage mistake. But that would suggest Spencer and McCarthy were capable of even the slightest odd-couple chemistry. Spencer especially looks like she’d rather be making any other movie, her own predisposition for comedy seemingly zapped by some energy-sucking entity. With impersonations of Steve Urkel and Nell-era Jodie Foster, dream dance sequences set to Glenn Frey, a Seal singalong and a half-hearted catch-phrase of “taters,” McCarthy counters with even broader bits than her usual, some sticking and most sailing wide right.
From a standpoint of civic pride, Thunder Force aims for a Ghostbusters vibe even harder than McCarthy’s own Ghostbusters film. We’re supposed to believe the Second City has rallied around these superheroines, but their big celebrations seem to draw a few dozen extras at best. And while the action sequences are surprisingly lively, Falcone’s leaden touch nearly everywhere else (as he also wrote the script) just weighs Thunder Force down. (A fat joke about Spencer and McCarthy squeezing into a Lambo? Really?!) For good measure, Melissa Leo slums it harder here than in the Has Fallen franchise, too, uttering lines like “Alright, Thunder Force. It’s time to do what you were made to do.” And yes, Leo’s presence means that with Bateman and Cannavale, you could slap Oscar or Emmy winner / nominee titles over the film’s five biggest actors … but heavens, why would you for this?
At least McCarthy gets to flip the respective dynamics she previously had onscreen with Bateman (in Identity Thief) and Cannavale (in Superintelligence). Bateman’s Crab is a slightly less evil incarnation of his Starsky & Hutch henchman who wears Marty Byrde’s clothes from Ozark with what often appear to be cheap crab sleeves over his arms. It’s one instance where the film’s chintziness works in its favor; Bateman’s mitts look so ridiculous you can’t help but to laugh at both them and the sexual tension he shares with McCarthy. Meanwhile, Cannavale is having way more fun than he did in that dead-eyed Jumanji installment.
Thunder Force boasts more admirable weirdness than the relatively wimpy Superintelligence while stopping short of something sharp like a superhero Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar. Like the film’s fonts, whatever personality it musters is also awkwardly split.