CHICAGO — Like almost every other CTA bus route, the No. 88-Higgins experienced a major ridership drop last year as people stayed home to slow the spread of COVID-19. Average weekday ridership dipped below 500 in November, according to the most recent CTA data available online, compared to 1,200 daily riders before the pandemic.
There are more popular Chicago bus routes, but it is the humble No. 88 that earns a surprise cameo in the new Netflix movie “Thunder Force.” Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer play childhood best friends who gain superpowers and team up as “Thunder Force” to battle bad guys known as “Miscreants” in Chicago. The project, out Friday, was filmed in the Atlanta area.
In one scene, McCarthy’s character uses her super strength to throw a No. 88 bus into Buckingham Fountain from a spot near Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. She was aiming for a Miscreant. Real-life No. 88 buses travel between the Jefferson Park Blue Line station and the Norwood Park area on the Northwest Side, nowhere near King Drive or Atlanta.
“Thunder Force” was written and directed by Carbondale native Ben Falcone, McCarthy’s husband, and it seems Chicago was selected for the setting because of the couple’s deep ties to the area. A Netflix representative said no one from the “Thunder Force” team was available for Tribune comment, but McCarthy recently told WFLD-Ch. 32 entertainment reporter Jake Hamilton Chicago is “always near and dear to our hearts.”
McCarthy grew up in southwest suburban Plainfield, and she has starred in the Chicago-set projects “Mike & Molly,” “The Boss” and “Bridesmaids.” There are references in “Thunder Force” to the ‘85 Chicago Bears, the Chicago Tribune and the Cubs, but things really go off the rails when it comes to Chicago transit and geography.
A production unit visited Chicago in October 2019 to shoot exteriors using drone technology, and a CTA consultant is listed in the film credits. The movie opens in 1988 with the parents of Spencer’s character riding a Howard-bound train that is destroyed in a Miscreant attack. The digital destination signs indicate these are not rail cars you would see in Chicago in the 1980s. Also, the interior looks a lot like the inside of a train that’s part of the MARTA system, which serves the Atlanta area.
Many of the outdoor spaces don’t resemble Chicago either, and the location mentions need some work. The Miscreants have been targeting businesses on the South Side, so the Thunder Force duo heads to a liquor store on Clark Street to thwart an attack. There’s a separate incident on Grant Street.
“Thunder Force” joins a recent spate of Netflix movies at least partially set in Chicago that don’t have the look or feel of the city, including “Holidate,” “Dangerous Lies” and “The Princess Switch.” Perhaps Netflix’s next superhero team can use its powers to nail Chicago authenticity on screen.