Thunder Force

I don’t like reading reviews before I read or watch something. It colours expectations. I mean, I do it because how else do I learn about things, but I do it and don’t do it if that makes sense.

I am very glad I didn’t read reviews before I watched Thunder Force. Which might be the cue for you to close the tab.

I do like reading reviews afterwards. I like seeing other people’s thoughts in order to refine my own.

I am not so glad I read a few afterwards. It helped a little, confused a little. I’m not sure I’m coming from the same place as some of the critics. It’s not a movie where I’m sure the mainstream critics are the right judges. The Financial Times covers many things well, but superhero parodies aren’t usually one of them.

So this review might be a little more hesitant than usual. Let me start, therefore, by giving my background. I’m neither particularly for or against superhero movies. I grew up on British humour, not American humour, although I watch plenty of the latter. I recognise Melissa McCarthy and am married to a woman who loves her movies, but haven’t watched many of them myself. I am not the ideal fan for this movie but nor am I unreachable.

I mean, of course I’m not. I’m the one who suggested to my wife we watch this. I’m the one who saw the trailer and got excited. Two middle aged women fighting crime and cracking jokes is a winning proposition. Deadpool is my favourite superhero movie; this looked like one that wanted to be in a similar neighbourhood, only with Melissa McCarthy and her tone and the rest of it.

Let’s cut to the chase. This is nowhere near as good as Deadpool. The only way it should be stood next to it if there was a before and after of superhero comedy. But does that mean I think it’s just okay, or is it actively bad? I’m not sure. And reading other reviews doesn’t help my shape my thoughts all that much. I don’t have a history with McCarthy’s films with her husband Ben Falcone, and have no axe to grind there. I also don’t have the same affinity with superhero films that might be fueling some of the many negative reviews.

But that is the good thing about writing your own review. It coalesces thoughts.

And my thought is that viewing Thunder Force through the prism of a superhero movie is ultimately a mistake. Thunder Force has the aesthetics but its heart and soul is more kindred to movies like Super Troopers, The House Bunny, and probably everything involving Will Ferrell. It’s the type of American comedy where a bumbling loser is forced to grow up, but only a little, and teaches the more uptight characters a little about living good lives, and it all happens through a bunch of over the top scenes and misunderstandings and crude gags. I can’t blame anyone who thought a superhero movie would be a superhero movie and judged it accordingly, but to do so is to judge a book by its cover. The cover it picked for itself, yes, but the cover nevertheless.

Does this realisation help resolve my thoughts a little?

Yes. As a superhero movie, this isn’t much. It’s not committed to being about superheroes. As a superhero parody, it doesn’t do anything much that felt new from Austin Powers or Deadpool.

As a whatever this genre is where an adult finally grows up, it’s a got a bit of merit – but not really enough to hit just okay.

McCarthy’s great in it. She chews through her lines with gusto. Octavia Spencer, Jason Bateman, and Taylor Mosby are also great, and also use what they are given to the utmost of their abilities.

The problem is they’re not given much. Yes, this is a coming of adulthood movie, but the superhero aesthetics take away too much time from those plot arcs. The dynamic of McCarthy’s big-hearted slacker and Spencer’s relentlessly driven scientist as former best friends, complete with Mosby as the scientist’s precocious teen daughter, is a great one but it kinda just drops into the ether in the movie’s second half. When it comes to genre and fulfilling expectations, this film is neither fish nor fowl nor good red herring.

There is, of course, a way a comedy can succeed despite all this and that’s by being funny and telling a great story. Reader, it did not tell a great story. Every emotional beat, every reveal, was predictable. I don’t usually sit there trying to guess a story’s future but Thunder Force practically demanded it.

Humour wise – I am hit and miss with these types of American comedies so I am not the ideal viewer for this. But I have hits, and this doesn’t provide many of them. It mostly provides misses. The humour about a man with crab arms (Bateman) being offered seafood has about five seconds of humour and then a long period of please stop. The big bad killing henchpeople works the first time and from there after is cringeworthy. The movie aims for the sort of laughs you get from mining a joke for all it’s worth many times and it doesn’t work. In fact, I can’t think of any times the humour without McCarthy and Spencer works.

This is a mess of a review but it seems appropriate for a mess of a movie. I feel bad for saying it as it’s got its moments but I can’t say anything else with a straight face.

You know what? The very best part of the movie are the flashbacks right at the beginning where the younger versions of the leads become friends, and then cease being friends. I thought I was really going to enjoy the movie at that point. Instead things went very sideways. Stories are meant to peak at the end, this one got it all reversed.

Thunder Force attracts a bunch of heat. I don’t agree with where it all seems to be coming from but, ultimately, I can’t argue with it. It’s just not a particularly enjoyable movie.

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