Sometimes the best true tales make for bad stories. It's all remarkable, sure, but ultimately we get bogged down by biographical detail that doesn't relate to the theme or overdone POW tropes. Thankfully then Steve and Bale are around to enliven the material - there are numerous striking shots, surreal and of a huge scale - but I wonder what this could have been were they willing to make it more of a movie.
You can guess this is Spielberg's first attempt at a serious WW2 drama because the full weight isn't there, Indian Jones seems to be somewhere in the outskirts and slips in time and again with the deception that your watching a family friendly adventure. Bale does a great performance but the film is just too focused on him throughout. Some backstory with the other characters would have given the film more depth.
Spielberg can be a far more lyrical director than he gets credit for, and the wordless passages of Empire of the Sun are among his best: a small boy, framed against a large, hostile world that Spielberg is smart enough to leave largely abstract (and beautifully textured). The feeling of helplessness can ache. Bale is phenomenal, and while the film is not as fully realized as it could have been, for that we have A.I.
Spielberg's precursor to Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan. His first major WWII film that is no where close to the previously mentioned films, but it has a true heart, strong performances, and stunning cinematography. Not a masterpiece but a stepping stone in the oeuvre of one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.
While it's far from a bad film, "Empire of the Sun" is a story about the horrifying and dehumanizing effects of war that is all too often directed and scored like a rousing Indiana Jones adventure. Finding myself held at a distance from the movie as a result, I couldn't help but wonder how the Steven Spielberg of "Munich" and "War of the Worlds" would better serve this very same material.