I will give Rainbow Rocks this, it is a significant step in the right direction after Equestria Girls. It has a basic three act structure, establishing everything needed for the story in the first act, following through with the battle of the bands whilst they try to figure out the counter song and in the end wrapping things up with a big final conclusion. Most of the plot points in this movie are given time to develop and in a way this helps them build a consistent setting in which to frame Sunset Shimmer’s character arc. The songs do have some variety to them, since each band does at least sound rather different.
Compared to EG’s more haphazard structure, in which it had two mostly unrelated halves of slapstick comedy and rushed conflicts being capped off with a big dumb, unrelated ending. Little to nothing was consistent. There was no particularly effective arcs and all the songs were too samey.
If the first movie was just a disorganised pile of wood, nails and paint. Then Rainbow Rocks is a simply painted shed that holds a few rusty tools for the garden.
In the end though, achieving a basic story structure and not contriving everything is hardly something to write home about. As far as I am aware there’s two main things that this movie has going for it: The songs and Sunset Shimmer.
It is pretty hard to mess up the songs in a musical* and Rainbow Rocks at least has enough polish to entertain those coming in to enjoy some well produced, catchy songs. But that’s also a pretty low standard, in general I did feel that the songs were at least a step up from the last movie.
The last movie’s songs were all generic pop songs with generally the same tone, instruments and singers, which generally served little purpose to the thin plot. Rainbow Rocks not only adds variety with the villains (and other bands), most of their songs actually serve a point to the plot! By making the siren’s powers musically based, they do help make relevant their bewitching and the protagonist’s attempts to counter them.
Musically however a similar design philosophy went into this movie. Most of the songs are catchy pop songs. Their lyrics are often very functional to the plot or otherwise rather meaningless in general.
“Better than ever” is a catchy generic pop song where they literally and conveniently sing about how “We are all together” and how “Now, it’s better than ever”. This song is mostly a repeat of the intro song, those guys being together in a band is pretty obvious and their happiness has to be told to us because... erm... we couldn’t just see (or guess) that they are having fun in the band? In the long run, other than the setting up the wings/ears thing, this song serves little to no purpose and made me feel really trepidatious about the upcoming movie.
“Battle” is a catchy ballad where the antagonists literally sing about how they should have a battle of the bands. This time, their spell is done more subtly than just them singing “we are casting a spell” (even if it’s clearly producing a green mist, the fact they relied on the visuals to a tell the story, is kinda laudable for these movies). The song helps both introduce and establish the nature of the antagonist’s to the audience (once and for all). The fact their song is a catchy sing along, fits pretty well with them being sirens. The focus on their melodious voices works efficiently with the lyric centric storytelling and with the fact that they are sirens, and hey! They did a song that sounded different and was less direct than some generic pop group telling us literally stuff that doesn’t even matter!
“Bad counter song” is Twilight’s, erm, bad counter song... yeah. I do kinda like how her lyrics are heavily based on the siren’s original song and trying to reverse it. The song is “bad” primarily because the audio levels are off and that M6’s competence has plummeted because the plot needs it to. I personally don’t like how perfect/well-produced how all the rest of their performances are (or will be) because at these times when they deliberately make it poorly produced, I don’t feel it’s because they are a real band but rather because the plot has turned off their god powers (and possibly given them a huge nerf).
“Shake your tail” is a generic catchy pop song where they literally sing that “We’ve just got the day to get ready”, that they “...don’t know what’s gonna happen” and.. yeah you get the picture. Whilst what they sing is rather perfunctory (woo party! and the state of the plot), at least something’s going on via the dumb random sabotages going on (for this song only, for some reason). It does at least play into the M5 falling apart arc, but the song and goings on are rather perfunctory and dumb.
“Under our spell” is a catchy ballad where they literally sing about how everyone... is... under their spell. I guess at least I prefer this because it helps reinforce why the villains are bad, by not only linking their control of the current events in that world, but by also zipping through said events via a montage (i.e. they control not just their world, but the movie atm). Compared to the clunky sabotage plot point, having a short song where the villains steal the camera to tell us that they’ve stolen it, is much more suitable to the story. And hay, the points I made about them doing a catchy ballad still fit and still differs from the protagonists.
“Tricks up my sleeve” is something else... she’s all singing about how awesome she is. Which yeah fits with Trixie. It’s different from the rest, which adds some nice variance (which could kinda be seen with Snip/Snail’s song as well). I find it kinda annoying but also kinda fun to listen to which also fits with Trixie. For Trixie’s limited role and the time it was used I feel that this song was a much needed change from having the two main bands styles over and over again.
“Awesome as I wanna be” is likewise RD’s rocking ego song. At least she’s not singing “My ego is too large” instead she’s just stealing the stage and she is clearly singing a song all about herself. Also the protagonists can actually do a different style of song! It’s just a shame that it’s kinda implied by the context that the new musical direction is not good... I also don’t like why or how it ends, but eh..
I have already gone on for far too long, so let me try to be brief with the finale’ songs by just covering how they worked (or didn’t in general)... the problems from before are here again, such as the literal-ness and that both sides are repeating prior styles. But I actually think that in this case, the literal-ness doesn’t matter so much within a literal musical battle and to be fair the two sides shouldn’t change their styles last minute, also to be doubly fair, the siren’s song is the most deep and booming balad and over time the M6 become less pop-y, more balad-y and booming too, which I thought was an appropriate and strong change to both the music and story. So to try to quickly wrap up the ending songs; I am kinda sick of the songs styles at this point, but I have to admit that the ending music fight does work pretty well.
So to wrap up my opinions on the music. I feel that the implementation of the siren’s ballads was a really good musical and thematic choice. The rock and Trixie songs added a bit of variety (a little too late if you ask me). BUT the problem between all these songs is how literal, repetitive and pointless they could often be perceived. There’s about 20mins of song and that’s a bit much when you’ve only really got two types of songs, that are so similar to one another.
I ‘hope’ next time they really do try to increase their musical flexibility, I remember performing Potiphar fondly because it is just so crammed with so many different musical and vocal styles that makes it both a joy to perform and watch for me. I would happily sing Potiphar every day of the week, but you’d have to force me to sing ‘better than ever’ to completion. www.youtube.com/watch?v=kKOJfr…
Now let’s move from the songs, to the story and/or arcs in the movie. As before, the movie could easily be seen as having a three act structure. So to start with let’s look at each act individually.
I define the first act to be roughly between the start and when Twilight finally returns. As you should expect from a first act, they fill the time with establishing the villains, where they came from, why they are a threat now (equestrian magic coming back to this universe). Our protagonists are principally introduced via “better than ever” (bleh). Sunset Shimmer gets prime time meeting both the antagonists and using the magic book to contact Twilight.
In general I feel that the antagonists steal the spotlight in this act. They have a way better song and more personality on screen than the protagonists. This act does most things alright. Though the protagonists song is rather lackluster and following that song with Flash Sentry really didn’t help me endear myself to them either. The guy is so pointless and shallow, he adds nothing and takes me even further out of the movie with his stupid inclusion. Also plot points like the magical book and how quickly/easily Twilight gets back to this universe feels way too convenient/contrived. Though personally I do feel that this can get a bit more of a free pass during the first act. Also personally going back to the tired ‘Starswirl/Celestia/Luna defeated this creature in the distant past’ trope didn’t sit well with me, it’s always that reason and shouldn’t that make our villains really old? Eh whatever.
Act two I define to be between the protagonist’s first failed attempt to confront the villains and just before the final showdown at the end. During this time the protagonists grapple with trying to counter the villains with a counter song, whilst slowly over time they disintegrate. On one hand I will lawd the movie with spending the majority of it’s time slowly tearing our leads apart whilst they consistently grapple with one issue. It at least gives us a very clear sense of direction that the prior movie really lacked. The problem is that is almost too simple an arc spread too thinly over too long (the 2nd act is the majority of the movie).
So whilst I can give some props for having AJ/RD clash repeatedly, FS wanting to do her own song, Rarity’s vanity causing problems and Twilight failing at making the counter song. It’s also too clear where this is all going. They will clearly only get the counter song at the end, after this very heavily telegraphed fall out between them. I cannot stress too heavily that this is the meat of the movie, the stage has been set and now they are on stage they are now just building up to the ending confrontation.
I think a big problem with how our leads are handled is that they are made out to be incompetent and stupid. We could have done a story where they formed a band and trained/struggled to gain competence from the ground up, but since their opening song has already established that they have (had) god mode turned on, they are sort of stuck just arbitrarily gimping them and lampshading their plot until they can gain god mode again.
I am not a fan of how the leads/story handles the counter song and their anonymity (aforementioned lampshades). The mechanics between these two sides isn’t that hard to make a guess at. The sirens use music to entrance the easily swayed masses. To counter them you obviously have to perform music to sway the masses back. So why, if this plot is so simple, do they just keep sending Twilight into a corner to ‘write the counter song’? That’s just so stupid, Twilight has hardly ever done anything important on her own. It’s frustrating to see Spike (who only has 4 or so moments in this movie) basically do what he did back in boast busters, praise how awesome Twilight is despite this clearly being the dumb option. As I said in Twilight’s kingdom, they have propped up Twilight to be so significant & competent, but have made her a terrible in-universe mary sue, due to how little she deserves it.
The leads also have this stupid idea that they should hide their identity. As if it wasn’t obvious that they weren’t under the siren’s spell. As if they hadn’t basically tried to call the sirens out at the start of act 2. As if the sirens hadn’t singled them out during their first song. Girls, this is just a simple musical battle. You don’t need to be all sneaky, you just need to perform like you did at the start and this would all be over.
In a way Sunset Shimmer does act like an audience surrogate. She is the only one with enough of a brain to suggest the counter song, but she lacks confidence, frowning and poking the bunch of idiots in the right direction from time to time. Of the leads she’s easily the most likeable, though being not a brain dead flanderized moron she doesn’t have much competition.
Oh also, in terms of the execution, this movie at least a lot less (terrible) gags in it than the last movie. Pinkie Pie is still detestable and there’s an annoying and dumb repeat gag with people mentioning in Sunset’s company how she was a demon. But I prefered the humour in this movie, mostly because they were trying a lot less hard to throw in gags in every 5 seconds. In fact I did rather enjoy the villain's interactions, Sonata is the loveable idiot of the group, who they use mostly for comedy. Compared to jokes like Rarity’s dress in the sabotage sequence (where she ends up crying), the jokes at Sonata’s expense are a lot less mean and appropriate if you ask me.
Though to try to wrap up act 2. I felt bored by this mostly because we are just waiting for the protagonists to reactivate their cheat codes. I am glad they took their time to orchestrate the falling out of the M5, that we weren’t just spammed with gags or meaningless distractions. But by having little to nothing at stake during the 2nd act really hurt this movie in my eyes. The only things that really stand out are the songs, the villains and Sunset...
Act 3 is the big finale. Given the fairly competent establishment of the villians’ mechanics this final fight is where the movie shines the most for me. Yes we have waited all this time for it and once again the leads just pull the answer out of their arses because they are friends. But what holds this together is the completion of Sunset’s character arc, she’s sat back for too long and she really steps forward to turn things around. With our only interesting lead having taken the initiative of the story, there’s just enough time for a well executed final battle and victory..
The final act is supposed to be where we wrap up the story and that is what it did pretty well in my opinion. The foundations the finale is based on are poorly built but stable. The biggest problem in a way is that they contrive a reason for Spike to be useful, when he has hardly any point to this movie.
Sunset Shimmer (from what I’ve heard) has received a lot of praise in this movie. I would wager that it’s because she is the main lead of this story. She takes a prominent position of being the awkward new-guy, who of the main group does most of the important stuff. She talks to the villains first, she suggests the counter song, she comforts Twilight and often works as a mediator and voice of reason for the group. I think how they used her was brilliant for making her a background protagonist, we know that she’s pretty capable but she only really steps into her own at the end.
The issue I have with her character though is that she is basically Twilight mk2. Both started off as rather humble, normal guys who in the end of the day pull the team together. Beyond shy-ness and competence she doesn’t really have that much of a character. I think in a way it’s telling that what she did at the end (her big moment in this movie) is pretty generic. Telling the others that they are arguing and turning on cheats to join in is something any generic character can do. Also I find it a bit difficult to reconcile how she was the antagonist of the last film, she was framed by Celestia as someone who was self serving, impulsive and impatient. But in this film all that character has been stripped away to leave no identifiable character flaw beyond shy-ness. If she was quick to anger, or more ego-centric than the others... I could see how she could’ve fallen to the dark side. But no. She’s just a bland protagonist whose main distinguishing feature is that she’s not crazy.
In fact, of this movie, I think the strongest inclusion was the villians. As I’ve described, sirens fit really well with a musical setting where we do a lot of singing about the plot. The villains are effective/interesting because of their ominous control over the story. Personally I liked the villains much more than the protagonists, they have the best songs (musically, thematically and in terms of choreography), they are doing interesting stuff, they have a plan and they aren’t incredibly stupid. I thought their personalities were rather colourful for what time we got with them, one is a loveable idiot, the other is snarky and reclusive and the last always talks about what they are doing. Between a crowded bunch of ineffectual idiots and a few driven, charismatic and competent villains, I was rooting for the sirens. The only problem I have with them is (in my opinion) their terrible visual designs, but I’ll take an interesting person with poor aesthetics to watch rather than a pretty boring one.
I guess at this point I should cover the other characters. Twilight, Spike and the M5 did hardly anything important this movie. Twilight was put on a silly pedestal and failed. The M5 were there... they fell apart due to internal disputes or external factors, but otherwise they are just the same 5 headed hydra that is used as a magical beaker to excuse the ending.
So since my hands are getting a little tired at this point. Let’s try to wrap this all up. In the end this spin off series still lacks anything to really call it’s own. The fact we’ve jumped to the human world and high school setting doesn’t really feel like it means anything. Everyone that is important comes from Equestria (sirens/Sunset/Twilgiht?) and the only important natives are either just carbon copies of our gals in Equestria or Flash Senty!
Rainbow Rocks is a simple movie, it’s biggest fault is that it’s 2nd act is waaay too long. If you would cut that down to the right size, then it would actually be a fairly good short movie. As it stands however, the movie is stretched too thin for what little story and content it has.
*Enough to really annoy people who enjoy musicals. There’s probably some musicals people don’t like out there, but I struggle to think of a song being really disliked in an otherwise liked musical show (unless it’s intentionally bad, typically).