Somewhere in the South Pacific lies a secret island, home to the luxurious compound built by billionaire former astronaut Jeff Tracy. It’s not just some picturesque piece of retirement property. It’s the headquarters for the Thunderbirds, a heroic international team of young pilots (Tracy and his sons) committed to saving the world one disaster at a time.
These selfless Good Samaritans are named for their five impressive Thunderbird vehicles ranging from reconnaissance rockets to an orbiting space station. But there’s trouble in paradise. It seems the youngest son, 15-year-old Alan, resents his father’s mandate to stay in school and grow up a little more before becoming a crack-shot rescue hero. Little do they know that Alan will soon get his chance to prove he has the right stuff. An old nemesis, The Hood, plans to lure the Tracy men into a trap, seize control of the compound and use the family’s state-of-the-art vehicles to commit crimes, framing the Thunderbirds in the process. To the rescue comes Alan, aided by a pretty peer (Tin-Tin) and a brainy sidekick (Fermat), as well as the aristocratic, pink-clad superspy Lady Penelope and her manservant, Parker.
The Tracys perform good deeds without respect for politics or compensation. The rescues are selfless. In fact, no one even knows who the Thunderbirds are, so it’s clear they aren’t in it for personal glory.
When Alan acts irresponsibly, Dad rebukes him with “You put everyone in danger when you act selfishly.” Later, Alan arrogantly ignores his father’s instructions—and his friends’ better judgment—which creates problems that he regrets. He also faces consequences when, in frustration, he mocks Fermat’s stuttering. (He later apologizes.)
Kids saddened after being separated from their parents are suddenly more appreciative of them. The Hood tries to poison Alan’s mind against his father in a way that invites Christian families to talk about Satan’s deceptive whispers. Parker refuses to strike a woman, saying that he cannot hit a lady. Alan’s sibs think all is lost when it’s left to their baby brother to rescue them, but Dad expresses faith in his youngest son. Faced with a decision to let his enemy live or die, Alan shows mercy (“I don’t want to save your life, but it’s what we do”).
The Hood professes to be a student of Eastern martial arts and uses telepathy to control people’s minds (his eyes narrow and turn red). Tin-Tin has a genetic predisposition to this telepathy as well.
A man ogles a woman in tight pants, then is repulsed by her homely face. That same female is attracted to Brains, and straddles the scientist in a sexual manner when he’s tied up in a chair. Boys notice that their female pal Tin-Tin is “blossoming.” Tin-Tin sneaks up on Alan and Fermat, catching them in their boxer shorts. Parker is pleased to hear that the newest fashions feature higher hemlines.
A girl bites a man’s hand. During a brawl, Parker and Lady Penelope engage the enemy with punches, kicks, thrown objects, a skillet to the face, etc. A boy kicks a man in the crotch. People are locked in a freezer and left to die (they escape). Lady Penelope pulls a gun on The Hood. The Hood blows up part of the Tracys’ space center, causing an explosion that sends one of Alan’s brothers violently flying across the deck. When other Tracy men race to his aid, they are ambushed and deprived of oxygen.
Baddies get power-foamed by kids manning a slime cannon. One chase ends with a villain getting smacked with a hornets’ nest. (He is stung numerous times, resulting in welts on his face.) Telepathy is used to toss people around. A machine made up of grinding gears threatens to make mince meat out of Alan. A monorail is destroyed and a car full of people ends up at the bottom of the Thames River. A wave of fire nearly toasts the children. Men are imperiled by a vicious oil rig fire.
Crude or Profane Language
Two uses of “d--n.” A mean schoolmate calls Alan “Thunderturd.” A couple of cagey near-profanities also warrant mention: Angry at a teacher for punishing him with a lengthy assignment, Alan wishes he had responded disrespectfully in class with the line “You can take your 10,000 words and stick ’em up your ...” (he gets interrupted before he can finish it). Given an order by the evil Hood, a stuttering adult starts to sound out a word beginning with “f” and gets a shocked look from the villain before the verbally challenged man says “no way!” instead.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
We try to teach children not to be shallow and prejudiced, but it’s hard when films like this reduce characters to paper-thin stereotypes. Take Fermat for example. The brainy boy has thick glasses, a stutter and asthma (all that’s missing is the pocket protector with 47 pens in it). People aren’t complex personalities; they’re symbols dumbed down for a quick ID. Also, Alan shows disrespect to his father.
Thunderbirds is based on a cult British sci-fi series from the 1960s inhabited by a cast of marionettes. There was a novel “cool factor” to a TV show in the pre-Star Wars era that bucked cell animation in favor of puppets. And if the acting was a little wooden we knew why. But this live-action version’s stiff performances and insufferable dialogue (which shifts back and forth between banality and technobabble) are embarrassing. Furthermore, the lackluster story will have viewers old enough to tell time checking their watches well before the 30-minute mark. So who is the target audience? Undemanding children wanting an excuse to break from their summer Nickelodeon marathon and munch popcorn in the dark. They’ll get a few pro-social messages, but won’t be challenged a whole lot.
When it comes right down to it, this sub-par action film isn’t about a family of fraternal heroes as much as it’s about the whiny youngest brother, Alan, who isn’t willing to mature before joining the team. It focuses on how this disenfranchised teen and his two pals earn a place at the grown-up table. Meanwhile, the four elder Tracy brothers are as nondescript and interchangeable as members of a knockoff boy band. And Dad exists only to bark orders, utter platitudes and eventually invite poor Rudolph to join their reindeer games. Anthony Edwards deserves better than a nerdy scientist with an unconvincing stutter and an impossibly goofy receding hairline. And why an actor of Ben Kingsley’s stature signed on is anyone’s guess.
During the opening credits (and in the media press kit) the five futuristic Thunderbird rescue vehicles get introduced before we meet a single human character. It’s a sign of the film’s priorities. Look for colorful reconnaissance rockets, shuttles, communications satellites and underwater life-saving crafts at a toy store near you. However, parents who want an action flick safe enough for pre-teens and intelligent enough for adults should skip this illogical, high-tech bore and rent the first Spy Kids again. For all of its gizmos and gadgetry, there’s an emotional emptiness to Thunderbirds that all of the effects shots in the world can’t overcome.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Bill Paxton as Jeff Tracy; Ben Kingsley as The Hood; Brady Corbet as Alan Tracy; Anthony Edwards as Brains; Sophia Myles as Lady Penelope; Soren Fulton as Fermat; Vanessa Anne Hudgens as Tin-Tin; Ron Cook as Parker; Rose Keegan as Transom; Deobia Oparei as Mullion; with Philip Winchester, Dominic Colenso, Lex Shrapnel and Ben Torgersen as the elder Tracy brothers