5 Screenwriting Takeaways: ‘Thunder Force’ offers female superhero movie in the form of farce
April 26, 2021
Thunder Force has Chicago facing a lot of bad guys, aka Miscreants, in the wake of a radioactive blast that gave ordinary humans extraordinary powers — or simply the arms of a crustacean, like Jason Bateman’s wayward crab-armed love interest "The Crab" to Melissa McCarthy’s unexpected superhero Lydia Berman. But Octavia Spencer’s Emily Stanton has a particular bone to pick with them all after losing her parents at the hands of a Miscreant, and she’s on a mission to give humans powers for good. Her unwavering mission sometimes gets in the way of her friendship with Lydia, who’s more motivated by a cold beer than really anything else. Ultimately, the film is about two friends coming together to make good with each other and their city. Here are your five screenwriting takeaways from Thunder Force.
1. The origin of Thunder Force. Everyone loves a good superhero origin story. There’s a reason MCU movies dominate at the box office. Inventing mythology never seems easy, but Thunder Force offers some fun specifics, particularly when Melissa McCarthy undergoes treatments to gain her superhuman strength. Her training regime includes a carnival-like game to test her strength, along with torturous painful robotic injections that give one every side effect — including diarrhea. There is nothing glamorous about becoming a superhero for Lydia, who has no outstanding enemy except for her own ego that has been preventing her from continuing her best friendship with Emily. In fact, Lydia becomes a superhero purely by accident, because as the saying goes, curiosity killed the cat, and when Lydia explores Emily’s equipment she faces the superhuman consequences. Of course, Lydia becoming a superhero forces these two estranged friends back together and sets the story in motion.
2. Superhero chemistry. McCarthy has always been good at complimenting and uplifting her female co-stars and often shines in opposites attract friendship roles à la The Heat and Bridesmaids. Thunder Force writer Ben Falcone has once again set McCarthy up in her sweet spot: Two estranged friends who couldn’t be more opposite. McCarthy is a rogue rebel who operates a forklift and Spencer’s Emily is a bookish CEO on a mission. Their chemistry and humor comes from this friendship. Emily would likely never take a break without Lydia, and the two are most fun together when they're cracking each other up, filling the screen as atypical superheroes, and genuinely enjoying each other’s company. The only problem is, it’s rare that the two get to do this, as the script is often sidelined with the plot, strange bad guys, and attempts at too many gags. A strong female friendship backed by superhero chemistry can be enough to pull you through, and maybe the next time the world gets a superhero movie about women of a certain age, that friendship story will get the most screen time.
3. Crab Is the best bad guy. Yes, every superhero story needs unique villains and this parody story is no exception. Laser, played by Pom Klementieff, takes great pleasure in her femme-fatalness and killing people, whereas Jason Bateman sells being a man with crab arms so hard that one doesn’t mind the complete insanity of the joke. Bateman even manages to deliver an insane backstory of his crab origins so genuinely that one hopes his dark dealings melt away and he comes to the good side. Parody calls for insane risks, and maybe only the minds of Falcone, McCarthy and Bateman would dream up a man struggling with being a man after becoming a crab mutant, but it’s one of the gags of the film that proves enjoyable every time Bateman makes an on-screen appearance.
4. The not-so-clueless one. Most superheroes have a character who is close to the superheroes, but not in on everything. In this story, it's Grandma Norma (Marcella Lowery) who raised Emily on her own. It’s nice to see a character that is a little more in on everything and beloved by Emily, but a bummer when Grandma Norma falls prey to a one-note joke insisting that Emily and Lydia must be lesbians and is dying to celebrate their coming out. While Norma is misguided, rooting for a pair of powerful women is not, and the film mostly does a good job of doing so.
5. No damsel in distress. Perhaps the most refreshing subversion of the superhero trope in this film is the fact that there is no damsel in distress. All the damsels are donning superhero uniforms and saving their city. Maybe it’s silly to put a lot of hope on a superhero send-up of a film to subvert major superhero tropes, be hysterically funny, and endearing all at once, but parts of this film heavily succeed, and every time women get to be in positions of power with little ridicule or questioning feels like a win.
Final Takeaway: While Thunder Force does wear some of its imperfections on its sleeve, it’s a fun ride with McCarthy and Spencer in fine form, particularly when they are given room to play on camera. While all genres are evolving, it’s refreshing to see few women needing saving in a type of movie that has subsisted on the trope for years. Thunder Force feels like a stepping stone to a female superhero comedy that may have the confidence to leave more tropes aside for the sake of a great relationship and friendship story down the line.
Thunder Force is now available to stream on Netflix.
Written by: Lindsay StidhamLindsay holds an MFA in screenwriting from the American Film Institute. She has overseen two scripts from script to screen as a writer/ producer. SPOONER, starring Matthew Lillard (SLAMDANCE), and DOUCHEBAG (SUNDANCE) both released theatrically. Most recently Lindsay sold PLAY NICE starring Mary Lynn Rajskub. The series was distributed on Hulu. Recent directing endeavors include the Walla Walla premiering (and best screenplay nominated) TIL DEATH DO US PART, and the music video for Bible Belt’s Tomorrow All Today. Lindsay is currently working on an interactive romcom for the production company Effin' Funny, and a feature film script for Smarty Pants Pictures. Lindsay also currently works as an Adjunct Screenwriting Faculty member at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. You can follow her work here: https://lindsaystidham.onfabrik.com/