Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone are back, six months after the release of their last (and worst) film, “Superintelligence.” Their latest work, Thunder Force, is a superhero comedy telling the story of best friends Lydia (McCarthy, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”) and Emily (Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water”), who become the superhero duo known as “Thunder Force” after Lydia accidentally gains strength powers. And when mayoral candidate “The King” (Bobby Cannavale, “The Jesus Rolls”) exacts a plan to get rid of the election’s winner while working with the evil miscreants known as Laser (Pom Klementieff, “Uncut Gems”) and The Crab (Jason Bateman, “Game Night”) to put them in power, it’s now up to “Thunder Force” to defeat the miscreants and stamp down The King’s evil plan. While the film contains excitingly kinetic action sequences and somewhat decent performances from its actors, Thunder Force is yet another painfully cringeworthy Ben Falcone picture to watch, without an ounce of proper comedic timing and a compelling story to draw audiences in.
The same problem has plagued Ben Falcone’s filmography, which Thunder Force pitifully exacerbates: It has no idea when to stop a joke. The comedic bits that are funny (which happen once in a blue moon) stretch themselves to shred until it becomes terribly awkward. For example, when Lydia starts to gain strength, she accidentally injures her trainer, which then becomes a recurring bit. The first two instances are funny enough, but the longer it sticks with the joke, the more tired it becomes. The same can be said for every unfunny comedic moment, which starts with Lydia’s awkward love with raw chicken. Okay fine, the treatment she undergoes can only make her eat raw food, but do we really need to see at least three different scenes of gross-out humor involving Lydia deliciously savoring raw chicken. It wasn’t funny the first time, and it surely isn’t funny when you’re doing it for the third time.
The only proper hilarious bits are found when McCarthy hangs out with Jason Bateman’s “henchman with a conscience” vibe as The Crab, where Lydia falls in love with him in a surreal dance sequence. Bateman is the best part of the movie because he seems to be the only one to understand how awkward comedy works. Any awkward comedy needs to bathe itself fully in the concept for it to be funny and never stop when it only reaches “surface-level” funny. By having crab claws for hands, Bateman’s awkwardness makes for terrific physical comedy, and his performance never stops being funny. He always finds new ways, with McCarthy, to continuously have fun with the concept, even though his arc ends with . . . raw chicken.
The awkwardness also finds a bit of footing when characters interact with Cannavale’s The King, a somewhat compelling (but terribly predictable) antagonist. Cannavale brings some form of levity (and humor, too), making for great banter between the heroes and The King’s henchman. It’s the plot surrounding The King’s ploy that feels completely ripped off from legitimate superhero films. That’s not to say that the superhero antics aren’t entertaining — they’re the best part of the movie (with Jason Bateman); it’s the plot that feels uninspired. I mean, when Melissa Leo shows up as Emily’s assistant, some audience members can look at her outfit and cold demeanor while she talks at Lydia to automatically associate her as a double-crossing antagonist. Guess what? She eventually double-crosses Thunder Force and works for The King. In almost every action comedy, there’s this “shady protagonist” that doesn’t necessarily hide that they’re working for the villain if you look closely enough. It’s a tired trope in many action comedies that either needs to be reinvented without falling into the familiar beats or dropped entirely. The more you do it, the less inspired it becomes.
However, there’s something in Falcone’s staging of superhero action that feels fresh and creative, which could be associated with the only time he can be considered a serious filmmaker. There wasn’t an action sequence in Thunder Force that didn’t feel entertaining — Falcone understands the kinetic excitement of superhero cinema brilliantly. Lydia makes henchmen fly off through walls, while Emily uses a taser to comedically stun other antagonists. It’s no secret that Falcone and McCarthy are both fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (they even landed a role in the upcoming “Thor: Love and Thunder”) and the action sequences here feel particularly reminiscent of Peyton Reed’s mechanics in the restaurant fight in “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” Oddly specific, yes, but it’s also one of the few action sequences of the entire MCU where you’ll find many clichéd henchmen flying around the space while being easily battled by Ant-Man and The Wasp. That same exhilaration is found in Thunder Force, but most of the film’s action sequences are plagued with terrible humor, making its tension falter a bit.
It’s quite odd to watch a superhero movie with such incredibly visceral action mastery that fails at almost virtually anything else. Falcone’s lingering joke problem is the number one reason why his movies don’t work. The acting is mostly good; there’s palpable chemistry between McCarthy and Spencer. Cannavale fully bathes himself in the corrupt politician antagonist, and Jason Bateman is having the time of his life. The talent is there for a great comedy, the budget is there to blend the comedic antics with action properly. All Falcone needs, for a successful comedy, is to know when to stop a joke and know the difference between “awkwardly hilarious” (see “Barb and Star go to Vista Del Mar”) and “painfully cringeworthy” (see any other Ben Falcone comedy). If Falcone relied on the stars and their comedic talents instead of a terribly unfunny script without a sense of comedic timing, it could’ve worked. But alas, let’s hope his next film will be better — he’s getting there, slowly but surely.