I scrolled through Netflix with only a modicum of hope that I might find something the whole family would like and hasn’t already watched 20 times . . . because it’s month 267 of this pandemic and we’ve exhausted the entire Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+ catalogs.
My scrolling came to an abrupt halt as I hovered over a picture of Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer dressed in some fab black neoprene suits and knee-high boots. As the trailer began to play, my eyes got wide and a giggle escaped.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing—a new superhero movie, except these superheroes looked like me!
Thunder Force, which premiered on Netflix this month, tells the story of childhood best friends Emily (Spencer) and Lydia (McCarthy) who reunite on the eve of their high school reunion. Emily, a successful geneticist and CEO, has just developed a formula to give superpowers to ordinary people in an effort to fight against the Miscreants—a superpower-possessing gang that’s been terrorizing the country for decades. Through a comedy of errors, Lydia ends up being injected with the formula and Chicago’s newest crime-fighting duo is born.
While McCarthy shines as the wise-cracking, rock-music-loving, unintentional hero, Spencer plays a more buttoned-up and reserved character still living in the shadow of her parent’s untimely death. Not surprisingly, Thunder Force—written and directed by McCarthy’s hubby, Ben Falcone—has plenty of physical comedy, bad puns, and tongue-in-cheek references to other superhero movies that delighted all three of my teenagers.
But what makes this movie a stand-out to me is the fact that the heroes are two plus-size, 40-something women—one of whom is a mother to a teenager! As a plus-sized, 40-something woman raising three teenagers, I can say without a doubt there are very few movies out there that reflect me in this season of life, and almost none where the leading woman is the heroine. The superhero genre has long been criticized for a lack of positive female representation. While Marvel and DC Comics have been doing a better job in recent years by finally making a Wonder Woman movie and even giving us a female Captain Marvel, the reality is female superheroes are almost always portrayed as sex symbols—dressed in leather catsuits, or uniforms that are just one step away from being a bustier and miniskirt.
In Thunder Force, McCarthy and Spencer show us women can be smart, funny, beautiful, and tough without having to fit into society’s standard view of what strong and beautiful should look like—or a size 2 catsuit.
Even better is that their age, and the fact that Emily is a single mom, are non-issues in the movie. They aren’t superheroes in spite of their age and family status—these two unlikely heroines are saving the world because no one else had the guts or brains to do it, plain and simple.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the movie also stars Jason Bateman as half-Miscreant (and half-crustacean) villain-turned-good-guy who lends his usual brilliant deadpan comedic delivery. And if you are old enough to feel represented by McCarthy and Spencer, you are old enough to remember plastering your bedroom walls with Jason Bateman posters ripped out of your Teen Beat magazine.
While the initial reviews for “Thunder Force” are lukewarm, and much of the movie contains bad CGI acrobatics, I applaud Falcone, McCarthy, and Spencer for turning the tables on an often shallow and formulaic genre, and representing real women in unconventional leading roles.