A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Thunder Force is about childhood friends Lydia and Emily, who reunite as superpowered adults (Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer) to fight off villains. It boasts positive, diverse superhero representations but also has quite a bit of action violence and salty language. Lydia and Emily demonstrate cunning, courage, and teamwork, and Emily and her daughter are brilliant Black scientists whose inventions will save Chicago. The women get involved in brawls and knock-down fights, many of which include violence in the form of explosions, falls, tasers, and gun shots. People get squeezed to death and electrocuted and fall out of skyscrapers. One of the villains, Laser (Pom Klementieff), could frighten some viewers with her intensity and professed love of killing, and another's eyes turn a menacing red when he gets angry. Lydia flirts with a villain known as The Crab (Jason Bateman), imagines dancing with him, goes out for a romantic date, and goes home with him, where they start undressing each other. Language includes several variations on "s--t" and "ass," as well as "bitch," "damn," "suck," "hell," anatomical terms like "balls," "butt," and "tatas," and taunts like "morons," "loser," "psycho," "idiot," "dork," "wack job," and "nerd." A character mouths "What the f," and another stops at "mother--." Ultimately, the movie offers the message that superheroes can come in all shapes, sizes, educational levels, and genders -- and that honesty and integrity win out over lying, cheating, and scaring or hurting people.
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What's the story?
Childhood friends Lydia (Melissa McCarthy) and Emily (Octavia Spencer) have drifted apart as adults in THUNDER FORCE. Lydia works as a crane operator and has made a hobby of guzzling beer in her spare time. She lives in the pair's native Chicago, which is now terrorized by evildoers known as Miscreants, who were created when cosmic rays struck Earth in the 1980s. Star student Emily, driven by a desire to avenge her Miscreant-killed parents, attended Yale and now runs a major tech company. She has developed a way to give humans superpowers in order to fight the Miscreants. When Lydia accidentally receives the treatment, giving her super strength, Emily gives herself invisibility powers, and the two join together as "Thunder Force." They'll go head to head with evil mastermind The King (Bobby Cannavale) and his band of villains, including fire-throwing Laser (Pom Klementieff) and morally conflicted The Crab (Jason Bateman). Emily's brilliant 15-year-old daughter, Tracy (Taylor Mosby), assists.
Is it any good?
Spencer plays straight woman to McCarthy's goofball antics in this fun, female take on the superhero genre. New ground is broken in terms of representation, but otherwise Thunder Force follows familiar formulas of "good guys vs. bad guys" with a comic twist, meaning its appeal to audiences will rest almost entirely on its stars. McCarthy invariably delivers the funniest lines and has the best pratfalls of Thunder Force, and her fling with Bateman's crab-man is priceless. She and Spencer, who seems a little less comfortable with the physicality of her role, make a great pair, and the script does a sufficient job of setting up their deep childhood bond and divergent paths. Memorable scenes include the duo crooning '80s ballads, squeezing in and out of their too-tiny Lamborghini, and reacting to Emily's grandma's conviction that they're secretly a couple. When Grandma Norma (Marcella Lowery) produces a wedding cake topper with two women, one Black and one White, Lydia cracks a joke asking which one is supposed to be her -- which is really the script's only reference to the two friends' different races. The fact that they're heavier, older, and a different gender from standard-issue movie superheroes is also treated as somewhat of a non-issue, outside of the Lamborghini gag and a couple of one-liners.
That doesn't mean that the film, which was written and directed by McCarthy's husband, Ben Falcone (who also has a small role), avoids issues of identity or representation. Thunder Force sends a clear female empowerment message, including having a woman named Gonzales as the mayor of Chicago, and it pokes gentle fun at older generations' attempts to be respectful of changing social norms, like when Lydia stumbles over her words trying to ask Emily's daughter the gender of the people she dates. McCarthy's blue-collar, beer-guzzling, hard rock-listening, pro sports-watching Lydia is perhaps the film's biggest stereotype, and it wouldn't be hard to draw connections between real-life fear-mongering politicians and Cannavale's The King, but both comic portrayals are played for laughs, not jabs. And with purposeful mention of the villainous mastermind being captured alive at the film's close, Thunder Force leaves open the possibility of a sequel.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Thunder Force's main characters differ from many other movie superheroes. Why is it important to have superheroes who represent a range of races, genders, sizes, and other characteristics?
How does the violence in Thunder Force compare to what you've seen in other movies? What's the impact of media violence on kids?
The opening credits and some other sequences are meant to look like comic strips. Have you seen this device used in other movies? What does it add to the film?
- On DVD or streaming: April 9, 2021
- Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Octavia Spencer, Jason Bateman
- Director: Ben Falcone
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Superheroes, Friendship, Great Girl Role Models
- Character strengths: Courage, Teamwork
- Run time: 105 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some action/violence, language and mild suggestive material
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: May 4, 2021
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