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THUNDER FORCE – Fil Eisler

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The latest high-concept comedy from husband-and-wife filmmaking team Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy is Thunder Force, a spoof of recent superhero movies. The film is set in a world almost 40 years after a ‘cosmic ray blast’ turned some of Chicago’s inhabitants into “miscreants,” lethal villains with superhero-like powers. Melissa McCarthy plays Lydia, a middle-aged woman whose former high school best friend Emily (Octavia Spencer) is now the CEO of a scientific research company. Despite the pair having been estranged for decades, Lydia shows up at Emily’s office complex one day to ask her to their school reunion; while there, Lydia inadvertently injects herself with a serum which gives her superpowers of her own. It turns out that Emily has been secretly developing a way to fight back against the Miscreants by inventing a way to turn regular people into superheroes – and now, with Lydia having taken the serum, she and Emily must join together as the crime-fighting duo Thunder Force. The film co-stars Bobby Cannavale, Pom Klementieff, and Jason Bateman wearing prosthetic crab claws, and much like last year’s Superintelligence was a fun, lightweight action-comedy that had way more laughs than it had any right to have.

Again, like last year’s Superintelligence, the score for Thunder Force is by composer Fil Eisler, who is quickly establishing himself as the in-house composer for On the Day Productions, Falcone and McCarthy’s production company. For Thunder Force Eisler drew on his own personal history as a working musician touring with rock bands and pop artists like Robbie Williams, Ryan Adams, Dave Stewart, Imogen Heap, Kylie Minogue, and Brian May, and wrote an orchestral-rock hybrid score that is just superb. Eisler says, “When Ben [Falcone] and I first talked about what the score should be, it was more of a conversation about how much Ben didn’t want it to be a comedy score and how it had to feel like a legitimate superhero movie … something that’s going to elevate the story but also have fun and not take itself too seriously. When I saw that Melissa’s character was a metal fan, and even mentioned Slayer in the film, I just thought ‘This is it. This is how we can make a kick ass score and have some fun at the same time.”

To help him realize this ‘kick ass metal score’ Eisler drafted in some iconic rock and metal musicians to essentially create a super-group comprising guitarist Scott Ian from Anthrax, drummer Dave Lombardo from Slayer, guitarist Corey Taylor from Slipknot, and vocalist Lzzy Hale from Halestorm, plus virtuoso electric cellist Tina Guo, percussionist Aaron Sterling, and Eisler himself, also on guitar. Eisler combines this with a large and sweeping orchestra recorded in London, and the end result is a fun, engaging, badass action score which entertains from beginning to end.

The “Thunder Force Suite” which opens the score is an amalgam of the score’s main recurring thematic ideas, and begins with a noble John Williams-esque statement of the Thunder Force theme on solo trumpet, heroic and uplifting and steeped in the stylistics of the genre. When the full orchestra comes in, a broad array of swooping string phrases and magical chimes, you know that Eisler is indeed taking this seriously, and I honestly feel he would be a great fit for a Marvel or DC movie down the line – think of something along the lines of what Benjamin Wallfisch did for Shazam, and you’re in the ballpark of what Eisler is doing here. The rock music soloists enter the proceedings just after the 1:00 mark, and combine with the orchestra to present an introduction to what much of the action music sounds like: heavy strings and bold brass writing underpinned with throbbing guitars and bombastic percussion. Just after the 2:30 mark the music changes focus entirely, and presents the first performance of the eerie, snake-like, ominous woodwind motif for Laser, the main Miscreant wreaking havoc across the city. Tina Guo’s slithery electric cello tones make her come across as perhaps an evil reflection of Wonder Woman, while the whispering voices and orchestral dissonances that appear towards the end of the piece veer into horror territory. It’s terrific stuff all around, a taste of things to come.

The rest of the score evolves from the ideas heard in the suite, and also adds to the thematic base with a couple of other ideas, including one for the friendship between Lydia and Emily. Throughout it all Eisler blends his orchestra with the hard rock performances by Ian and Lombardo, the latter a recurring representation of Lydia’s personal musical tastes encroaching on the score that accompanies her story.

The opening cue, “This Town’s Gonna Get What It Deserves,” introduces a set of dark, menacing orchestral-and-choral tones for The King, the shady politician whose huckster front hides a much more dangerous persona. This writing for The King often overlaps with the motif for Laser, although Laser’s theme is not a one-note idea; for example, “Enter Laser” arranges the theme for a more fulsome orchestral combo, accompanied by big throbbing guitars, while the performance in “Social Visit” is especially chilling.

“Angel Wings” introduces the Friendship Theme, a peppy, upbeat orchestral piece which has hints of Thomas Newman in the way Eisler layers the strings against pianos, and intelligently illustrates the enduring relationship between Lydia and Emily. The subsequent statement in “The Special One” is warmly sentimental, but it doesn’t really reach its apex until the finale of the score, but more on that later. Instead, the most prominent aspect of the score is Lydia’s rock music stylings, beginning with the massive outburst of thrash metal in “Lydia Goes Apeshit”. Thereafter Lydia’s rock forms the cornerstone of the movie’s central ‘montage sequence’ which shows Lydia receiving her post-serum superhero training. “Training Begins,” “Seems Like Overkill,” “6AM Day Two,” “Go Time,” “Purple Lambo,” and “Training Complete” are awash in thunderous guitars and pounding drums, with an upbeat, cool, funky vibe that is really engaging. “6AM Day Two” enjoys a fun inclusion of the Thunder Force theme on horns, “Go Time” showcases electronic enhancements doubling the main percussion rhythm, and “Training Complete” features some notably excellent brass triplets.

Everything else is action, and it’s really superb, especially when Eisler makes use of the Thunder Force theme in an action setting. I mentioned in my review of Superintelligence that the action writing in that score ‘makes me look forward to the prospect of him scoring a serious action-adventure movie that requires more of these sorts of bold musical strokes,” – and Thunder Force sees him doing just that. Both “What Does This Button Do?” and “Cooked” contain some unexpectedly powerful orchestral action, “The Stanton Building” contains a twinkling, magical, aspirational statement of the Thunder Force theme, and “Super Suits” presents the Thunder Force theme as a slow, majestic fanfare, underpinned with Lydia’s rock guitars, but everything kicks into high gear in “The Diner Attack,” which erupts into an enormous action sequence of bruising orchestral rock for throbbing guitars, light chorus, relentless strings, and allisions to Laser’s theme.

After that the score rarely lets up. “Like Thunder” is an enormous statement of the Thunder Force theme, “I Like ’em Thick” is a fun jazz/funk arrangement of the Thunder Force theme related to Jason Bateman’s Crab character, “Boom” has a compelling Mission Impossible spy movie vibe, “In the Public Eye” reprises the Thunder Force theme again, and “It Feels Like I Need to Kill Them’ reprises the menacing music for The King and Laser, the two supervillains. I noted that some of the chord progressions in the strings in this latter cue had a hint of David Arnold’s Stargate to them, which is never a bad thing.

The brief “Dumpster Fight” is an explosion of heavy orchestral rock, and the “The Crab” sees Eisler writing some intricate percussive string patterns as part of the tense buildup to the finale cue, “Boss Battle”. Here, Eisler brings his orchestral action writing up to its most powerful, injecting a real wow factor into the music. It starts small, with a menacing tone that reflects the King theme heard in the first cue, but it kicks into high gear after the 90 second mark, showcasing Eisler’s complicated combination writing, and featuring standout moments for flutter-tongued brass, frenetic string patterns, as well as statements of both the Thunder Force theme and Laser’s theme. The last minute of the cue is especially terrific. “Thought This One Through” returns briefly to the Friendship theme – poignant, emotional – as Lydia makes a personal sacrifice to save her friends, and then the finale in “Thunder Force Out” reprises the Thunder Force theme in its most epic statement yet.

Rounding it all out is an original song, “Thunder Force,” featuring Lzzy Hale on lead vocals, and all the other instrumentalists jamming along, shredding guitars and hammering drums like it’s Sunset Boulevard in the 1980s. Many people don’t know this, but 1980s big hair rock and metal is my second favorite genre of music, and this song is as authentic as it gets. It’s terrific.

What I like about Thunder Force is that, while the film is at times very silly, Eisler ignores that aspect of the movie entirely and scores the action, the drama, and the pathos. It also helps immensely that the musical and compositional skill on display here is outstanding; as I mentioned, the rock elements featuring Scott Ian and Dave Lombardo are about as authentic and legitimate as it is possible for them to be, the main Thunder Force theme is genuinely bold and heroic, the music for Laser is appropriately unsettling, and the action music is complex and sophisticated. Top that off with a headbanging rock anthem, and you have one of the best comedy scores of 2021 – lightning never strikes if you can’t force the thunder!

Buy the Thunder Force soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Thunder Force (written by Fil Eisler, Scott Ian, and Cory Taylor, performed by Corey Taylor, Lzzy Hale, Scott Ian, Dave Lombardo, Fil Eisler, and Tina Guo) (3:42)
  • Thunder Force Suite (5:26)
  • This Town’s Gonna Get What It Deserves (1:32)
  • Angel Wings (1:12)
  • History of the Miscreants (1:15)
  • Lydia Goes Apeshit (0:35)
  • What Does This Button Do? (1:43)
  • Enter Laser (0:58)
  • Super Person (1:22)
  • The Stanton Building (1:02)
  • Training Begins (1:04)
  • Seems Like Overkill (0:33)
  • Social Visit (2:37)
  • 6AM Day Two (1:10)
  • Cooked (1:02)
  • Go Time (1:14)
  • Super Suits (0:33)
  • Purple Lambo (1:18)
  • The Diner Attack (2:59)
  • The Special One (2:06)
  • Training Complete (1:04)
  • Like Thunder (1:14)
  • I Like ’em Thick (1:12)
  • Hold It Calamari (0:56)
  • Boom (2:50)
  • In the Public Eye (0:51)
  • It Feels Like I Need to Kill Them (2:09)
  • Dumpster Fight (0:51)
  • What Brings You By (0:48)
  • The Crab (1:38)
  • Boss Battle (5:30)
  • Thought This One Through (2:14)
  • Thunder Force Out (2:26)

Running Time: 56 minutes 48 seconds

Milan Records (2021)

Music composed by Fil Eisler. Conducted by Alfonso Casado-Trigo. Orchestrations by Tim Davies, Jeremy Levy, Jordan Siegel and Ryan Humphrey. Featured musical soloists Scott Ian, Fil Eisler, Dave Lombardo and Aaron Sterling. Recorded and mixed by Nick Wollage. Edited by Ronald J. Webb. Album produced by Fil Eisler.

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