“Thunder Force,” which premiered on Netflix with stars Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer at the forefront as Lydia and Emily, presents two former friends who become superheros after genetically altering their DNA. The film flows well with the traditional comedic expectations of McCarthy, while maintaining a traditional superhero plot inspired by comic books.
The movie has everything that’s expected from a superhero movie: an established city setting, established villains, an origin story and a training montage, but the film doesn’t mock this sort of traditionalism. It is very clear “Thunder Force” is not a parody or a comedy movie that is using comedians as superheroes — it is, at its core, a superhero movie that is trying to be situationally funny. Unfortunately, it’s comedy misses the mark as most of the jokes meant to make viewers laugh are cringey or gross. Lines that are supposed to be funny are awkward and easy to brush off. For any other movie, this would be its Achilles’ heel, but the film’s presentation of women and female superheroes separates it from others and lifts it to success.
The film doesn’t diminish women in superhero roles. McCarthy and Spencer are never made fun of for their age or mocked to fulfill the misfit trope or a comedic plot. No jokes are made to make fun of them for not being the traditional thin reeds Hollywood uses for female superheroes. They are not sexualized, nor is any other woman in the movie. Women’s roles in the movie are taken seriously and never used for sex appeal. By upholding women, the movie’s traditional superhero plot is able to be taken seriously. The awkward comedy in the film is easily dismissed as the viewers focus on is the development of Lydia and Emily’s renewed friendship and their pursuance of justice.
The movie’s empowering portrayal of women excuses its bad comedy. Bad jokes are transformed into part of the character’s nature. This is best seen with Lydia’s characterization as a clumsy, gross, beer-drinking woman. On its own, this would be something which would not be likeable, but by not diminishing Lydia, her character becomes endearing. Her strange behavior becomes one of her quirks, and that becomes funny. This does not mean the movie is a success as a comedy; rather, it means the characters of the movie become more likeable. The awkward sense of comedy makes the characters appear awkward, making viewers connect with the characters more.
“Thunder Force” has odd soundtrack choices that emphasize the uniqueness of the heroes. As they drive off to the location of their first mission, Glenn Frey’s “Smuggler’s Blues” plays — a strange choice for the adrenaline rush a mission would give a superhero. In later scenes, Frey’s “You Belong to the City” plays over Lydia’s romance. The film’s cheesiness highlights the quirkiness of Lydia and Emily, and it demonstrates their friendship and fun relatability of the leads.
“Thunder Force” brilliantly represents women in superhero roles, which has been a struggle with other superhero movies. It places two unlikely heroes, Lydia and Emily, at the center of the film instead of a more archetypal superhero, like Emily’s daughter, Tracy. By presenting Lydia and Emily as respectable main characters and demonstrating their capability to fight crime, the movie aligns them with other main characters of the same genre.
Verdict: “Thunder Force” deserves a watch for its terrific portrayal of female superheroes. It does a great job of endearing them to viewers despite its comedic shortcomings.