In no way do I want to diminish the vast talents of both Octavia Spencer and Melissa McCarthy, the two co-leads of Netflix’s new superhero comedy, Thunder Force. Spencer’s an Oscar-winner, McCarthy a two-time nominee, both bounce effortlessly between comedy and drama, and—most importantly—they are the stars of flawless cinematic achievements Ma and Spy, respectively. I mail a letter addressed to “Hollywood” daily demanding sequels to Ma and Spy, possibly leading to a three-part crossover event. None of this should be forgotten. However! In the case of Thunder Force, there is simply only one thing to discuss. It has consumed my every waking thought since the credits rolled, a whiff of Old Bay on every inhale I take. I speak, of course, of Jason Bateman as a character named The Crab, a man who is also a crab.
Look at this. It’s art. It’s cinema.
Here’s the gist: In Thunder Force, written and directed by Ben Falcone, the Earth was struck by “a massive pulse of interstellar cosmic-rays,” gifting a select few humans with superhuman abilities, all of whom were “genetically predisposed to be sociopaths.” Much like the film industry, most branches of government, and 95% of Zack Snyder’s filmography, all of the power had been granted to assholes. This includes unimaginably dangerous figures like Laser (Pom Klementieff), who shoots nuclear blasts from her fingertips. This also includes The Crab, a man who was bitten on the nards by a radioactive crustacean and now has big claws for hands. Mr. Krabs-ass supervillain. Dr. Zoidberg-looking mafioso. A perfect, flawless bit of anti-comedy, and not just because it calls to mind that time Michael Shannon convinced everyone General Zod had flipper hands in Batman vs. Superman.
[This is where we take a brief but vital detour to remember Michael Shannon did, in fact, tell a journalist he was wearing flipper hands to play Zod in Batman vs. Superman because Michael Shannon is an agent of chaos. “I was in my costume, and I couldn’t use my fingers because in the sequel I have flippers instead of hands,” Shannon said, telling a comically unnecessary, objectively funny lie. This has nothing to do with Thunder Force. Just keep Michael Shannon and his false tale of the flipper hands in your memory, always.]
Back to Thunder Force. I call The Crab “anti-comedy” only because it works best when it’s barely a joke. Bateman, a treasure, has never been funnier than when he’s just doing his usual exasperated deadpan schtick while also wearing impractically large crab claws. It’s a visual gag that defies any sort of dissecting-the-frog examination. Even writing this much about it is borderline unhelpful. It’s just very funny in the indescribable way most very funny things tend to be. He’s a man, you see, but he’s also got these big crab claws. I don’t know what to tell you.
Not to hard-left-turn into negativity for a piece that’s 100% about Jason Bateman wearing cartoonishly large crab claws, but the crab claws, in all their magic, do highlight the major weaknesses of Ben Falcone as a comedy writer-director. (Womp, womp.) Falcone seems like a super chill guy, is usually pretty dang funny in small supporting roles—including here, as a henchman who gets the crap tasered out of his face—and the commitment to maintaining a creative partnership with his wife, McCarthy, is incredibly endearing. But it’s just… not working, man. Thunder Force is probably the best of a string of movies that also includes Superintelligence, Life of the Party, and Tammy, but Falcone still displays a tendency to commit way too hard to bits that aren’t landing. (A reoccurring raw chicken gag comes to mind here, as does the word “Bingo.”) It’s telling that the most memorable joke in Thunder Force requires nothing from its director other than letting it exist, and the second the film calls extra attention to it—or, say, designs an extremely ill-advised fantasy dance sequence around it—the bit loses its unexplainable magic.
Let that lesson gleam, like the neon sign atop a suburban Joe’s Crab Shack, for all comedy filmmakers of the future: Just let the crab hands be crab hands.
The studio has made a major shift for many of its upcoming high-profile projects.
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