The movie and merchandise (let's face it, this whole thing is about selling toys) must have done better than I thought, because not only is Hasbro going back to the well again with another movie, but there's an actual Equestria Girls TV series coming, following the continuity of the movies. First is the flick. All the principals from the TV series are here again, so this should work out great, right?
...well, no. Not this time. Rainbow Rocks tries to keep the momentum of the TV show and the previous movie. But it wobbles horribly because of the conceit of it's plot.
The movie starts off during the ending events of the previous movie. It turns out passage between Equestria and our world is a little more common than we thought. The movie opens on the Sirens, a trio that, as the name indicates, gain and use their powers through music. They had been cast out of Equestria, and it turns out they wound up here. One night, they see rainbow effects happening in the distance (this is the climactic battle between Sunset Shimmer and Twilight and her friends in the original movie). Recognizing it is Equestrian magic, they set out to locate it and use it to power themselves up again and take over the world.
Back at Canterlot High, Sunset Shimmer is having trouble living her past down -- the only real friends she has are the other five counterparts of the ponies here. The Sirens enroll at the school just in time for the big musical exhibition, and use their influence to turn it into a battle of the bands. With everyone at odds instead of cooperating, it creates negative energy they can feed on. The only ones unaffected are Sunset Shimmer and the others. So they contact Twilight back in Canterlot to help counter the dark magic with music.
At first blush, the movie seems to be heading in the direction of Suite Pretty Cure, which used the magic of music as its Golden Thread. But the movie is actually your basic jukebox musical. Daniel Ingram, the series' music composer, has to do the heavy lifting here, with twelve -- count 'em, twelve! -- musical numbers and performances occupying the 75 minute running time. And as much as I hate to say it, he just isn't up to the task. The music is fine and acceptable. But it's fine in a generic, Disney pop kind of way. It really doesn't sell anyone that it's as awesome as it's supposed to be. The music, unfortunately, falls under the B-movie trope of the "informed attribute" -- if the characters in the movie weren't telling you how impressive or whatever something is, you'd never guess (see also: She's All That, where you'd never guess Rachel Leigh Cook is supposed to be ugly if the other characters in the movie didn't constantly remind you of it). As a result, the musical numbers are pretty obvious in their themes and musicality, and you don't get into the tunes so much as just wait them out.
(I should note that the "rap" by Snips and Snails is actually borderline painful to listen to. I admit I sold my manhood cheap and left the theater for a bathroom break after they dropped the first stanza of their dope science.)
Because of all the songs crowding up the run time, the character bits get pushed to the wayside. The personalities and quirky humor that make the series so enjoyable gets the short end of the stick here. The characters aren't really influencing what happens, events go down and they are sort of along for the ride. Rainbow Dash is usually an asshole, yes, but she's not usually THIS bad. Nor is Rarity usually THAT superficial. Some background gags are there to remind you of who they are, like when Twilight opens a drawer on Pinkie Pie's nightstand and inside are cookies and a half-eaten doughnut. One scene where characters are taking pictures shows the pictures taken, and the last one, Trixie has just suddenly turned up in front of the photo subjects in a pose proclaiming her awesomeness. But the characters behave more like plot devices than characters, with only Sunset Shimmer seeming to actually come alive during the procedings.
The worst is Twilight, who suffers a crisis of confidence exactly when she needs to. In the first movie, Twilight constantly has to deal with her fear of failure and rejection -- she even does it in Canterlot before the plot begins, when everyone tells her she'll make a great princess and she challenges those notions that she'll automatically be a good leader. She was constantly leaning on Spike and his advice. Here? He might as well have not shown up at all. Twilight lets her fears about the faith everyone puts in her fester, once again behaving in ways she wouldn't just because it serves the plot (see also the episode Green Isn't Your Color). The characters don't really do anything through the course of the movie, it unfolds in spite of them, not because of them.
It also drags. In the first movie, there were two plots, as Twilight sought to recover her crown and also repair the fractured friendships of the counterparts at Canterlot High. Here, there is only the A plot, a battle of the bands that the girls have to learn to play in, and it's really too flimsy to hang a story on. Fans of the G&P Trixie will be thrilled she gets some good screentime, but her running gag of "disappearing" wears out quickly, just like the running gag of talking about how horrible the Fall Formal was and then telling Sunset Shimmer, "Uh...no offense."
(I will say, however, that the stinger not only sets up the Equestria Academy TV series, but it directly addresses something I've been wondering since I saw the first movie. That had me smiling as I left the theater.)
Rainbow Rocks is simply an idea. Not a movie, not a story, but an idea. And it really needed some more time in the oven before it was ready. Lots of people are saying it's better than the first movie, but I disagree. The characters are off, the humor is forced, and the music just doesn't soar like it needs to. The first Equestria Girls was being discounted on video around the Christmas season after it was released. I suggest waiting a little beyond that, until the price really comes down, for this one.