The story of the 2004 Thunderbirds film is the story of many well-loved British properties that land up in Hollywood. You can trace its progress through development hell like the stations of the cross. There’s the original treatment, pie-eyed in its ambition, faithful to Gerry Anderson’s vision of beneficent billionaires secretly working for mankind’s benefit (2023 readers give a hollow cackle). Then a mutation into a “darker” concept – here the producers’ ears prick up – in which Jeff Tracy is more of a Bruce Wayne figure, Alan Tracy is a mercenary and Lady Penelope and Parker are secretly crooks. And finally a decision to play the property as a post Spy Kids take on Austin Powers, with Jeff Tracy’s large adult sons sidelined in favour of spunky teens.

This is the version that was finally made, cratering at the box office and ruining the careers of many involved. So perish all cult favourites. As the successful 2015 TV revival shows, it was quite possible to redo Thunderbirds for a new generation of British kids; the mistake was hammering the quirks of the concept into blockbuster shape for an audience where it had zero resonance. There is no possible American equivalent to Thunderbirds’ post-60s UK peak cultural moment, when playsets based on Tracy Island sold out and Blue Peter presenter Anthea Turner soothed a frantic nation by gamely making one out of sticky tape and bog roll.

And speaking of dubious, lashed-together imitations, the UK’s very own pop-punk boy band take their bow here with the film’s theme, on a double A-Side with “3AM”, yet another of their red-flag whinges about girls. If Thunderbirds the movie was an idiosyncratic British idea hobbled by being forced into Hollywood shape, Busted in general were somewhat the reverse, an American pop form being prettified and Brit-ified for the domestic market. It was a solid marketing concept whose execution was often a lot better than it needed to be: here it finally runs out of steam.

“Thunderbirds Are Go” and “3AM” maintain the Jekyll-and-Hyde versions of Busted we’ve seen on their last couple of hits. The film theme is frenetic, knowingly dumb, geared mostly for the moment when the lads can do the Busted jump. “3AM” is a semi-acoustic grind from an aggrieved ex’s stalky, entitled perspective, though it does have the extremely Busted lyric “now you’re driving in your car / but you won’t get far / cos your car is shit”.

It’s a surprise to learn that – from the credits – it’s the T-Birds theme that’s a purely in-house job, the only non-Busted/McFly credit going to Barry Gray, who wrote the indelible intro fanfare which gives the Busted version Thunderbird 3 propulsion levels. “3AM”, meanwhile, sounds like bad young songwriters trying to prove they’re serious but is mostly the work of pop-rock behemoths The Matrix. So “Thunderbirds Are Go” may be hackwork, but it’s hackwork which comes from a place of genuine affection.

And while a cash-in single for a flop film seems like a shabby way for a band to go out, “Thunderbirds Are Go” works as a last hurrah. The Busted we get on this track was always their most endearing version – likeable lads making bouncy, hook-thick punk-pop for tweens – and here they’re fully embracing it. It’s their least ‘grown-up’ song since “Year 3000”, with even the Bloodhound Gang meets Benny Hill naughtiness they traded in off-limits. In fact the lyrics are very much on their best behaviour, reading on paper as a slightly desperate assertion that the Thunderbirds are still a very cool proposition (“Kids are learning fast / They know that T-Birds kick some ass”). On record, the band lay into the words with enough nonsense gusto to sell the proposition. And fair enough: it does look so cool when spaceships come out of the pool.

Score: 5

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