Melissa McCarthy’s moderate new superhero comedy vehicle stars McCarthy opposite Octavia Spencer, and is written and directed by her husband, Ben Falcone, who has a cameo as a hapless henchman called Kenny – the subject of what may or may not be a South Park gag.
In an alternate universe where the US is threatened by super-villains called Miscreants, Lydia (McCarthy) is a big-hearted kid from Chicago who in high school protects a super-smart girl called Emily from bullies; they become best friends who lose touch in adulthood. Lydia grows up to be a lonely, boozy worker in a packing plant but Emily – now played by Octavia Spencer – becomes a tech zillionaire developing genetic treatments to turn ordinary people into superheroes. When Lydia drunkenly blunders into Emily’s lab, insisting on taking her to a class reunion, she accidentally plugs herself into the equipment and gives herself super-strength. And so exasperated high-achiever Emily figures they might as well team up to form Thunder Force, battling a Miscreant called Laser (Pom Klementieff – Mantis, from the Marvel Cinematic Universe), together with a bad guy called the King (Bobby Cannavale) and his associate the Crab, someone with pincers for arms – a role for Jason Bateman that again proves Bateman’s comically self-aware likability has never worked as well as it did in the role of Michael Bluth in TV’s Arrested Development.
As ever, the comedy is mostly in the premise and the opening act when the heroine’s still-pristine loser status activates the irony and the laughs. From there on, the action needs a growing measure of seriousness, although there is some banter between the King, the Crab and the cringing henchmen subordinates, and a nice role for Marcella Lowery as Emily’s mum, hoping that Emily and Lydia might be a couple. This is by-the-numbers stuff, not quite funny enough for comedy or having enough of the crazed seriousness that marks out a successful superhero franchise.