Warning: contains spoilers. Last week Netflix released the Chicago-set feature film Thunder Force, starring Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer and Academy Award nominee Melissa McCarthy as well as an extensive cast of recognizable faces.
This family friendly, slapstick, “action and adventure comedy” is currently ranked #1 in the U.S. in Netflix’s top ten trending list.
And there are a few good reason why. The film begins with an explanation of how and why the planet is plagued with extraordinary humans called “Miscreants” who display superpower traits.
“In March of 1983, a massive pulse of interstellar cosmic-rays struck the earth and its population. These cosmic-rays triggered a genetic transformation in a select few, unleashing unimaginable superpowers. Unfortunately, these superpowers were only unlocked in rare individuals who were genetically predisposed to be sociopaths. These new superhumans came to be known as Miscreants.”
Immediately after that brief explanation, we witness a Chicago train in 1988 being attacked by Miscreants and the entire train appears to be vaporized, instantly killing the parents of a young Emily Stanton (Bria D Singleton) who vows to make it her life mission to stop the Miscreants.
Young Emily is a high achieving student who is bullied for her intelligence and called a “nerd.” We are also introduced to a young Lydia (Vivian Falcone) who was sleeping in class and passive aggressively insults one of Emily’s bullies.
Outside on the playground Lydia punches Emily’s bully Wayne and forces him into a dumpster because “that’s where the garbage goes.” Lydia and Emily become friends even though they are polar opposites. Emily is a very gifted and intelligent scholar with life goals while Lydia isn’t. The two solidify their friendship with bracelets and we are fast-forwarded to their teen years in high school.
Hyper focused on saving the world, teen Emily (Tai Leshaun) fails socially and teen Lydia (Mia Kaplan) tries to spend time with her and convinces her to take a break from studying so she can take a nap, promising to wake Emily so she can continue to study for her Advanced Placement exams. Unfortunately they BOTH fall asleep and the duo break off their entire friendship over the incident.
We are again fast-forwarded to see an adult Lydia (Melissa McCarthy) working at a shipyard moving shipping containers around in what appears to be the current time.
While walking home from work, Lydia witnesses a Miscreant attack perpetrated by the villain known as “Laser” played by Pom Klementieff, who we recognize as Mantis from Guardians of the Galaxy 2, as well as Avengers: Infinity War and End Game. Laser seems to be able to throw around electricity or some other kind of energy beam.
Lydia tells her friend that she “has” to go to her high school reunion and her friend asks if Emily will be there. Lydia says that they haven’t spoken in years and that she doesn’t even know how to get a hold of her. Her friend gives her the phone number and encourages her to make amends and rekindle their friendship.
The reunion takes place at a bar and as she waits for Emily to arrive, Lydia watches the news on the TV. She sees that billionaire mayoral candidate William “The King” Stevens (Bobby Cannavale) was also attacked by Laser and he makes a speech claiming that she will never take down “The King.”
When Emily (Spencer) doesn’t make it to the reunion, Lydia physically goes to Emily Stanton’s giant building in Downtown Chicago to track her down and try to fix their estrangement. After squabbling with security, Lydia is cleared to go up and visit Emily in her swanky office.
The two awkwardly chit-chat and Lydia attempts to convince Emily to go back to the reunion with her. While left unsupervised, Lydia somehow manages to activate a system that restrains her and injects her face with multiple needles. As it turns out, Emily has been formulating super serums and this very evening she was planning on to inject herself with super strength serum.
Now that they have begun the process with Lydia, Emily and her team decide to complete the transformation with Lydia and Emily will have to use the invisibility serum on herself without the super strength. Lydia moves into the laboratory to train after it is explained to her that stopping the treatments would result in her death.
Emily’s 15-year-old daughter Tracy (Taylor Mosby) begins Lydia’s orientation and Lydia makes an allusion to a Chicago-based TV show Family Matters, which falls on deaf ears as her audience is completely ignorant when it comes to pop culture references. Lydia bonds with Tracy over Fortnight, much to the chagrin of Emily.
For several minutes we see the progression of approximately a month as Lydia gets stronger and learns how to control her superpower. At the end of the training, the two are shown in their Thunder Force uniforms, which apparently can not be cleaned and they debate over what to name themselves.
Former CIA agent and Emily’s right hand woman Allie (Melissa Leo) bring the hero duo down to the garage where they are introduced to their purple Lamborghini and are informed that they are beginning their first mission: a Miscreant known as “The Crab,” who has been terrorizing the South Side for the past 6 months, robbing stores almost daily with his crew. They are sent to catch him in the act on Clark Street.
When they appear on the scene, the robbery is in progress and we see that “The Crab” is played by none other than Jason Bateman(Ozark, Horrible Bosses) and after “Hammer” (Lydia) incapacitates his crew, the two share a bizarre moment where she fantasizes about him to the song You Belong to the City in an elaborate and comical dance number.
One of Crab’s henchmen appears and “Bingo” (Emily) uses her taser on him, only the taser is set too high and she almost cooks the man from the inside, all of which is caught on cell phone video. After “Bingo” manages to remove the taser from the man’s face, Crab collects his cohorts and leaves, winking at “Hammer” on his way out the door. The store clerk asks if the duo are Miscreants, to which they reply, “NO. We’re Thunder Force”
The city celebrates the two as superheroes and newscasters ask, “Is Thunder Force a match for Laser?”
The King, The Crab, and Laser are having a meeting to discuss their latest problem: Thunder Force and it’s revealed that while publicly The King is against Laser and other Miscreants, they are all in cahoots with each other and The King has his own superpower.
The King brings Laser to Emily’s office and offers them a position in his organization and informs them of his political aspirations and threatens Emily’s grandmother who raised her after her parents were killed.
Thunder Force publicly endorse the candidate running against “The King,” which tips the scales in the polls, knocking The King out of the race, which triggers a murderous tantrum and he kills a valued member of the team accidentally.
After losing the mayoral race, The King sends Laser to attack Thunder Force and “Hammer” and Laser duel it out in a diner without resolution other than the complete destruction of the diner. Lydia literally throws a city bus at Laser, but misses and hits Buckingham fountain. Luckily no one was hurt and Emily must reimburse the city for the bus. Lydia and Emily revisit their childhood drama and Lydia takes off and has a date with The Crab.
On the date, the Crab explains that he was bitten by a radioactive crab on his genitals. After growing crab leg arms with pincers, he decided to begin a life of crime, but explains he’s only “half-creant”. While the two have obvious chemistry, Lydia questions whose side he’s actually on.
The next day Lydia goes into Emily’s office and apologizes for throwing the bus. The two make up and Lydia tells Emily all that she learned on her “fact finding mission” date with Crab, which is that he intends to kill everyone who attends his party for the new mayor-elect. Emily is disgusted to discover she went out on a date with Crab. Lydia tries to convince Emily that they can trust him.
As the two are off on their mission to save the party-goers, Tracy overhears Allie speaking to Laser and discovers that her mom has been set up by one of her most trusted associates. Tracy incapacitates Allie and manages to give her mom and Lydia a tiny bit of warning before they are caught in an explosion. They are unharmed and Tracy informs them of Allies betrayal. Thunder Force battles against Laser and Lydia pins her against a wall with a dumpster.
The King is dismayed to hear that Thunder Force was able to overpower Laser, but we see The Crab smile as he hears the news. The King and his henchmen, including Crab, head off Thunder Force while they were attempting to find the bomb and Lydia and The King battle it out.
As Lydia “The Hammer” battles against The King, Emily “Bingo” disarms and beats each of his remaining henchmen, unfortunately, Laser joins the party and Emily fights against Laser herself. Just when it seems that Bingo is about to lose the fight and perish, out of nowhere, Tracy appears in her own super suit, exhibiting super speed and saves her mom’s life.
The Crab tries to help Lydia, but The King is much stronger and rips off his claws. Lydia uses a steel beam as a bat and hits The King out into the city as if he were a baseball. Once they discover the whereabouts of the bomb, Lydia decides that she is the only one who can save them by using her body as a shield as the bomb explodes in the Chicago river. She, of course, survives because this is a PG-13 movie, the criminals are all caught, and they all live happily ever after.
Look Thunder Force isn’t going to win any awards, but not all films need to. It’s cute and funny, but did get boring and slow at times. The special effects are above average, but not perfect.
It’s definitely meant to be a family film to be enjoyed with kids, BUT there are some silly jokes for adults as well as a bit of nostalgia sprinkled in here and there.
Pom Klementieff steals the entire film with her over-the-top portrayal of Laser in her ridiculous costumes and super dry delivery of comical lines, especially when she calls the duo “nerds” repeatedly throughout the film.
Octavia Spencer and Melissa McCarthy engage in some physical humor and have great on screen chemistry with each other at times appearing to be close to breaking during some scenes. Overall it’s a fun and lighthearted film for anyone to enjoy.
Bottom Line: Thunder Force is an Almost Reel See.
Joia DaVida reports on the entertainment industry in both Chicago and Los Angeles.