The Tracy familys International Rescue is infiltrated by slaphead telekinetic nutter The Hood (Kingsley), who is hellbent on utilising IRs state-of-the-art vehicles to rob the worlds banks. With The Hood marooning the Tracy brothers in space, it is lef
Any live action incarnation of Gerry Anderson’s legendary puppetathon had a difficult job to do. Simultaneously, it has to invoke wistful nostalgia in a generation raised on Supermarionation in the ’60s, while providing smart, snappy entertainment for a hyperactive generation raised on Sunny D.
Without satisfying either remit, Jonathan Frakes’ colourful, splashy moppet movie lands squarely on the side of youth, serving up a sub-rate Spy Kids that never nails the required light-yet-knowing tone.
What was great about the TV show — and what is largely absent here — was its penchant for peril and appetite for destruction. Frakes shifts the focus from actually rescuing people to The Hood’s machinations, so that the characters you cared about (Scott, Virgil et al) are barely in it. Moreover, he also fumbles many of the show’s signature moments: MIA is the network of slides and collapsible furniture that took the Tracys to their vehicles; the countdown to take off is so rushed that there is no sense of occasion when a Thunderbird soars into the sky. Frakes tries to have fun with the origins — at one point The Hood uses his powers to make Brains (an uncomfortable Edwards) walk like a puppet — but his clunky feel for the material never lets the joke land.
Messing with the mythos wouldn’t be so heartbreaking if Thunderbirds was the rollicking kids adventure it clearly wants to be. Frakes fails to inspire spirit and chemistry in his young leads — early scenes sketching Alan as a wannabe Thunderbird are too on the nose to be affecting — with scenes of them outwitting The Hood’s henchman (aka Shockingly Bad Minions) echoing the Children’s Film Foundation at its worst.
The adult actors fare equally badly. Hamstrung by hamfisted exposition, it is hard to recall when Paxton has been so leaden, Kingsley snacks on, rather than chews, the scenery, and the remaining Tracy brothers are totally characterless and interchangeable.
Yet there are plus points. Myles peps up the proceedings as a sassy Lady Penelope, the animated title sequence is a fun homage and the sleek ’60s retro design is terrific; the vehicles are subtly souped up while retaining every thing you liked about them in the first place. It’s just a shame that the rest of the movie couldn’t pull off the same trick.
Thunderbirds fails to resolve the challenges inherent in turning puppet TV into live-action movies. Despite some incidental pleasures, thin writing, shabby direction and heavy-handed performances make this neither one for the purists nor thrill-seeking kids.