‘Thunder Force’: Octavia Spencer and Melissa McCarthy Team up to Defeat Evil

Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer become a force to be reckoned with in Netflix’s “Thunder Force.” Written and directed by Ben Flacone, McCarthy’s husband and frequent collaborator, this action comedy follows two very different high school friends who become an unlikely superhero duo in their forties.

“Thunder Force” has a thoughtful but overly long set-up. The story begins in the nineties, after Emily Stanton’s (Spencer, Tai Leshaun as a teen) scientist parents are killed by genetically-mutated supervillains known as miscreants. Soon after moving in with her grandmother (Marcella Lowery) and starting a new school in Chicago, she gets slapped with the nerd label due to her intelligence and always having the right answers in class. Fellow outcast Lydia (McCarthy, Mia Kaplan as a teen) comes to her defense, and the two become inseparable, despite their different personalities –– Emily is extremely focused and driven, while Lydia is more into having fun. Sadly, the two fall out after Lydia convinces Emily to take a study break that leads to her missing her AP exams.

In present day, brilliant scientist Emily is Chicago’s “prodigal daughter,” having just returned to the city to finally finish up what her parents started and defeat the miscreants. Meanwhile, Lydia works a construction job and is most likely an alcoholic –– at one point we even see her pour beer in her cereal. Despite the number of years they have been out of touch, she feels a void due to Emily’s absence in her life. After Emily fails to show at their high school reunion, Lydia surprises her at work, and a drunken mishap leads to her being injected with a formula Emily had been developing to give herself super-human strength. 

Seeing no other alternative, Emily, along with her colleague Allie (Melissa Leo), and her genius daughter Tracy (Taylor Mosby), who’s already a college grad at 15, pushes Lydia into rigorous superhero training. Emily, meanwhile, settles for the lesser power of invisibility. Spencer is rather stiff and restrained during these early scenes, leaving it up to McCarthy to do the heavy lifting, both literally and figuratively.

After more than 40 minutes, Lydia and Emily finally become Thunder Force. For a film about saving the world, the pacing here is pretty slow, but it picks up a bit after the ladies do their first round of ass-kicking and the villain of the film, mayoral candidate William “The King” Stevens (Bobby Cannavale), comes into play. Jason Bateman also brings some flavor as The Crab, the most sensitive member of The King’s gang of baddies who becomes Lydia’s love interest. Evil-doing isn’t just a man’s game here, as Thunder Force’s biggest threat turns out to be a powerhouse miscreant known as Laser (Pom Klementieff). Things also get interesting as Lydia learns to be responsible with her newfound power, finally understanding the importance of self-control.

Like some of Falcone and McCarthy’s previous films, “Thunder Force” contains a lot of drawn-out jokes, and some land better than others. However, some of the absurd little touches really kill, such as having Thunder Force’s theme song be “Kiss from a Rose” by Seal. The romance between Lydia and The Crab is also something special, and a highlight of the film is a sex scene complete with seasoning and claws ripping off buttons.

Thunder Force” releases April 9 on Netflix.