In this week's installment of Debate Club, we're showing some love to five incredible movie sequences that brilliantly combine action and music.
There are thousands of great action scenes, and there are thousands of indelible uses of music in films — but when you combine them, they become irresistible. In fact, it's impossible to separate those two elements in your head later. (Seriously, as we were writing this list, we could hear the music as vividly as we could picture everything that was happening.)
Some of our choices use classical music, some use punk songs, some use a traditional score. But they all get your engine running. After all, any amazing movie moment deserves an equally amazing soundtrack...
The freeway chase in The Matrix Reloaded (2003)
Whatever your thoughts on the first Matrix sequel — our feeling is it's decent, not as great as the original and way better than The Matrix Revolutions — everyone can agree that its high point is the insane car chase that starts on surface streets and quickly ratchets up once Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) zoom onto the freeway, pursued by The Merovingian's albino henchmen and the emotionless, sunglasses-wearing Agents.
The Wachowskis' dazzling, ultra-violent sequence is a niftily choreographed spike of pure adrenaline, but it gets an extra boost from "Mona Lisa Overdrive," the song written for the scene by Reloaded composer Don Davis and the electronica collective Juno Reactor. Heavily percussive with a touch of sci-fi bombast and world-music euphoria, "Mona Lisa Overdrive" is a killer track on its own — paired with the scene, though, it's blockbuster nirvana.
'Lust for Life' from Trainspotting (1996)
There is nothing quite like a sardonic musical montage, and no one is better at them than Danny Boyle, and none were ever better than Trainspotting's "Lust for Life" sequence, which put an Iggy Pop song as both the inspiration for and eradication of any sort of enthusiasm or hope for anything. As Renton and his gang pillage and plunder around Edinburgh, the song is the pulse of their never-ending, never-satisfying thirst for... well, anything, something. Like the addictions and hungers of the characters, the song drives them toward nowhere. It gets them there fast.
Bonus points for Prodigy's remix for the underappreciated 2017 sequel.
Opening bank heist in The Dark Knight (2008)
The first few minutes of Christopher Nolan's magnificent sequel to Batman Begins have to do a lot: establish the film's dark tone, introduce us to its villain, and deliver a rousing action sequence. The Dark Knight does all of that and more, thanks to Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard's tense, paranoid score, which immediately puts us on edge even before we meet the Joker, a role that won Heath Ledger a posthumous Oscar.
The scene is a clever example of how to get around boring exposition: We learn about the movie's villain through the bits of dialogue his hired hands (all wearing creepy clown masks) share with each other about the rumors they've heard about the guy. Eventually, though, it becomes clear that the Joker isn't just robbing a bank — he's told some of his stooges to kill the others, leaving him as the sole survivor to ride off with all the money.
Just as The Dark Knight gets going, we already know that we're dealing with a brilliant, depraved sociopath — and that slithering electronic score will keep coming back throughout the movie, almost as if it's hardwired directly to the Joker's deranged psyche.
'Ride of the Valkyries' from Apocalypse Now (1979)
The great sick joke of Francis Ford Coppola's masterpiece is that Robert Duvall's Lt. Col. Kilgore uses "Ride of the Valkyries" to inspire himself while murdering thousands of innocent Viet Cong villagers: To him, the song provides the stirring illusion of triumph so he doesn't have to think too hard about the atrocities he and his men are inflicting. When Coppola shifts to the song for the entire battle sequence, he indicts us — it's exciting and explosive and just about the most monstrous thing humans can do to one another. That smell... is definitely not victory.
The closing battle of Last of the Mohicans
The old (so old now) The Ben Stiller Show had an incredible sketch about the Mohican Master 2000, featuring Daniel Day-Lewis advertising a treadmill because "much of the plot of my movie consists of my character Hawkeye running from one place to another." It's funny because it's true! And what running it is. Michael Mann proved then as now that he's incapable of a boring shot or sequence, but what makes the final battle so thrilling is that famous Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman score, the one you can still find in Nike commercials and MMA ring entrance music today.
What's fascinating is that the music is romantic, almost floral at the beginning and then becomes, somehow, the most inspiring battle soundtrack you can imagine. One of us has actually run a half-marathon to parts of this soundtrack; no matter how long it takes, no matter how far, we will finish.
What do you think of all this? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.