What if Superman lived to give wedgies? What if Spider-Man used his webs to trip people, or Groot’s only mission was to block up sewer lines with his roots?
Welcome to the world of Thunder Force, where the only people with super powers are jerks.
As the movie explains to us, a passing meteor in 1983 granted superpowers only to those “genetically disposed to be sociopaths.” And, because ordinary, law-abiding citizens are just ordinary, law-abiding citizens, that gives these sociopaths—known collectively as the Miscreants—almost free rein … and free reign.
But Emily Stanton wants to change that.
A Miscreant killed Emily’s mom and dad when she was just a kid. Now all grown up, Emily means to finish the work her scientist-parents started: infusing good people with great power. She’ll be the first lucky recipient, naturally, a lab-created superhero, capable of going toe-to-toe with the Miscreants. She’ll give the citizens of Chicago—nay, the world—hope. She’s prepared two lab-made abilities that she’ll give herself over the course of a month or so: injections to give her super-strength, and pills to power invisibility.
And she plans to start the regimen toni—
Wait, who’s that down in the Stanton lab’s lobby? Lydia, you say? Emily’s old best friend from childhood? The friend with whom Emily had a falling out with back in high school, and with whom she hasn’t talked since? The same girl who never thought before she did anything? The woman who might start punching buttons in, say, a high-tech lab, setting off a chain of events that might foil the plans of a well-meaning scientist but still potentially serve as the plot of a wacky Netflix movie?
Well, perhaps Emily can wait to start the injections for an hour or two—just to say hello to an old friend.
It will likely not come as a surprise to learn that Lydia accidentally takes one of the Stanton superpowers as her own—that of super strength. Because of the nature of the treatment regimen (and the nature of the movie), Lydia just can’t stop taking the injections and survive, and Emily can’t make more injections for herself. Thus, one planned superhero begets a dynamic duo: Lydia becomes the muscle of the fledgling superhero squad, while Emily contents herself with invisibility (and a really strong taser).
And, in an unusual twist for this alternate version of Chicago, they use their powers for good.
Both take their superheroing seriously, risking their lives and righting wrongs for the grateful citizens of Chi-town. Emily’s 15-year-old daughter, Tracy, proves to be a big help as well.
But they do more than just run-of-the-mill superhero stuff. They learn some valuable lessons. Emily realizes that while her work’s important, she’s let it come between herself and her daughter. She also learns to value Lydia for her spontaneity and goodness.
And Lydia grows to appreciate Emily’s thoughtful care. And both come to understand that even though Lamborghinis are cool and all, they might not be the most practical vehicle choice for a pair of older, plus-size superheroes.
Emily’s grandmother hosts Emily and Lydia for a couple of dinners; each time, she asks Lydia to say grace. The first time, when both Emily and Lydia are children, Lydia says, “Thank you Lord for this kick-a– food. If Jesus was here, He would crush it.” The second time, Lydia thanks God for “being super cool and stuff.”
When a Miscreant named Laser blasts an angel statue on church property, Lydia goes back to repair the angel’s wing with duct tape. While having dinner with Emily’s grandmother, Emily and Lydia try to tell the grandma something important. Anticipating what they’re going to say, Grandma says that she’s been praying for …
… Emily and Lydia to become a couple. They’d be perfect for each other, Grandma says, and she unwraps a little statue depicting two women holding hands and looking into each other’s eyes as a keepsake. When both say that they’re heterosexual, a disappointed Grandma replies, “you could at least give it a try.”
And that’s not the only time that less-traditional relationships are referenced. When Lydia asks Emily’s daughter, Tracy, how she “meets dudes” when she spends all her time in the lab, Lydia quickly amends her question. “Or chicks, or non-specific genders?” (Tracy says that she’s solely interested in guys, too, for what it’s worth.)
Speaking of, um, less traditional relationships, Lydia finds herself attracted to a Miscreant known as The Crab (for reasons that quickly become apparent). Lydia slips into a fantasy where the two of them sensually dance with one another. They later go on a date where she slowly and erotically rubs butter on his claws. Later, when they’re alone, Lydia sprinkles Old Bay spice on him, he tries to unbutton Lydia’s shirt (which she eventually just rips open, revealing nothing to the camera) and apparently the two get intimate. (Emily later asks Lydia whether she got “surfed and turfed.”)
Lydia and The Crab also romantically eat raw chicken, reminiscent a bit of Disney’s famous spaghetti scene in Lady and the Tramp. We’re told that The Crab developed his crab-ness after being pinched in the privates by a radioactive crustacean.
We learn that Tracy’s father took off when he learned that Emily was pregnant. Some of Lydia’s injections are made in her breasts—which Lydia repeatedly calls her “ta-tas.” The Thunder Force outfits are a bit tight, and other women sometimes display a bit of cleavage. Someone speculates that a rich scientist is likely “hanging out with strippers.” Lydia says that a car makes her ovulate. We hear several suggestive double entendres.
Superhero movies—even silly superhero movies—are violent. But like any good superheroes, Lydia and Emily try to avoid fatalities when they can. Lydia even tells a villain she’s fighting, “I could hit a lot harder, but I don’t want to kill you!”
That villain, Laser, has no such ethical constraints. We hear some talk about how much she loves to kill, and it’s suggested that Laser makes it something of a hobby. At least one guy dies from one of her energy blasts, and she destroys a building or two without any concern for loss of life. She can tie people up and throw them with her energy, as well—which she does.
A man dies, apparently, after getting hit in the head with a flying statue head. Another succumbs to a fatal bear hug. People are thwacked with several flying objects, and someone is knocked out of a window. (He survives, though.) A bomb explodes. People fall from pretty substantial heights. Someone’s limbs are comically torn off (and later grow back). A person nearly drowns. A bus is thrown. People are, too. Several henchmen get tasered, and some suffer lasting after-effects. A girl punches a boy in the face.
Some of the movie’s most painful moments take place before Emily and Lydia even fully become superheroes. Lydia’s first accidental injection of the superhero drug takes place in her face: Several needles get jammed in her cheeks as she screams in pain, and they leave painful-looking welts. This procedure is repeated, it’s suggested, for 33 days, with some variations on where the needles go in. But the consequences of not going through the 33-day program are even more severe: “It’s entirely possible your body could violently explode over the weekend,” she’s told.
The Crab takes great offense when a waiter offers him various seafood dishes. Several threats are made. Lydia’s sparring partners suffer greatly.
In one scene, Lydia says the s-word in front of Emily’s daughter. “Language,” Emily cautions. Lydia then amends her statement by substituting the word “crap.”
“Not better,” Emily tells her.
Elsewhere, characters use the s-word eight more times, and we hear plenty of other profanities, including “a–” (including one usage on a shirt), “b–ch,” “crap,” “d–n” and “h—.” God’s name is misused nearly 30 times, twice with “d–n,” and Jesus’ name is abused twice.
Lydia drinks quite a bit of beer. She quaffs one drink while waiting to be reunited with Emily, then spills it all over Emily’s clothes. Then she asks Emily’s assistant for another. She imbibes at a bar (where a class reunion is being held) and downs other drinks after work and during dinner.
She and The Crab do their best to drink martinis during a date, though the Crab’s claws make it difficult. (He says he normally sticks with shots.) We hear a bit of discussion about champagne.
Someone vomits up quite a bit of water. Lydia confesses she urinated a bit in a track suit. Diarrhea is apparently a side-effect of Lydia’s super-strength treatment. During that treatment, Lydia also develops a craving for raw chicken: She frequently (and disgustingly) eats it. When given a cuff that tracks her physical health, Lydia says she’s worn something similar, but around her ankle.
Three award-winning actors front Thunder Force: Melissa McCarthy (Lydia), Octavia Spencer (Emily) and Melissa Leo (who plays Allie, the duo’s back-at-headquarters helper). Leo and Spencer both have Oscars somewhere in their houses, and McCarthy’s been nominated twice. No 2021 Best Picture nominee boasts such an Oscar-honored cast.
Not that you’d know it by watching.
Thunder Force is wildly silly and more than a bit salacious. It’s a slapstick superhero romp that might provoke a few eye rolls with the snickers. And between the raw chicken consumed, the needles injected and the sexual asides made, it might have plenty of viewers—especially parents—wincing, too.
Though Thunder Force offers laughs, some decent messages and a clever riff on the stereotypical superhero—who almost always look as ready for a fashion photoshoot as they do a fight—these more realistic-looking heroes can go raw in all the wrong ways. Fun? Maybe. For families? Maybe not. It’s telling that Emily herself tries to shield her 15-year-old daughter from some of Lydia’s rough-hewn talk. It’s a good example to follow.
Lydia got the strength. Emily got the invisibility. But when it comes to entertainment, moms and dads have a superpower, too. It’s called the off button, and some may want to use it.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.