In 2017, moviegoers are wary of any film labelled a remake, reboot, or reimagining. If there was ever a classic series that lends itself to a big budget do-over, it’s the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers — or Power Rangers as the cool kids are calling them these days.
The Power Rangers burst onto audience’s TV screens in 1993. The live-action children’s show featured a team of ass-kicking teenagers who defended the planet from the evil witch, Rita Repulsa. Each episode contained lots of martial arts, spandex, and rubber monster costumes. Despite having production values on par with a 70’s grindhouse flick, the series exploded in popularity. Power Rangers went on to become one of the millennial generation’s defining shows. Flash forward 25-years and there is finally a Power Rangers iteration with production values that match its ambition.
The film kicks off in the Cenozoic era, as the universe’s last Power Rangers team fall at the hands of Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks). Zordon (Bryan Cranston), the final Ranger, goes down during battle, but not before the team’s robot sidekick, Alpha 5 (Bill Hader), locks his essence away.
Go Go Power Rangers!
Flash forward millions of years to the present day where we meet Jason (Dacre Montgomery), our point of view character. If Jason’s town of Angel Grove were Riverdale, Jason would be Archie. Jason is a small-town athlete destined for big things. When a silly prank goes wrong, Jason injures his leg, wrecks his dad’s truck, and ends up with a semester’s worth of weekend detentions. It’s in detention where he meets Kimberly (Naomi Scott) and Billy (RJ Cyler). Kimberly was recently booted from the high-school in-crowd and Billy is a social outcast who admits he, “Sits somewhere on the spectrum.”
The trio randomly crosses paths with two more outsiders, Zack (Ludi Lin) and Trini (Becky G.), near a local mine. When part of the mine collapses, they discover 5 mysterious coloured coins. The “power coins” imbue the teens with superhuman abilities. As the group slowly wraps their minds around what’s happening, the activation of their powers awakens Rita Repulsa. It’s up to Zordon to teach the new Power Rangers how to master their powers before Rita Repulsa summons the monstrous Goldar and destroys the Earth.
Power Rangers is what happens if The Breakfast Club and Transformers had a baby and then let Pacific Rim raise it. The story brings together a group of teens who drive mechanical dinosaurs, fight alien monsters, and merge into a giant Kaiju fighting machine. The plot certainly offers a lot to chew on. Power Rangers provides a bit of something for everyone — action, hijinks, action, high-school drama, more action. How much mileage you get out of the film depends on your level of appreciation for the Power Rangers brand or genre movies. If neither of those options sounds appealing to you, this film won’t give you much bang for your buck.
Make My Monsters Grow
Considering this is a 2-hour origin story, you would think the film would really explore who these Rangers are. Well, you would be wrong. Power Rangers gives us the typical high-school posse made up of the jock, the loner, the mean girl, the awkward guy, and the bro. The cast do a suitable job and they’re all perfectly likeable but the script doesn’t give them much more to do than behave as basic teen-movie arc-types.
Though uneven at times, the film has its moments. Power Rangers looks like a $100 million movie. I mean this as a compliment. The action sequences are fun, over-the-top, and keep escalating towards a massive CGI climax. Except for Goldar’s look, I enjoyed the costumes and production design — sorry Power Rangers traditionalists, I prefer the slick new metallic costumes over the tights! There’s also an amusing training montage half-way through the movie. I liked watching the group’s friendship blossom as they attend classes and manage their secret lives. Films like Batman v. Superman bleed all the fun out of comic book movies. It’s a treat to see a group of superheroes laughing, having fun, and enjoying their powers.
One of the best parts of the film is that it’s not afraid to embrace its kooky roots. The live-action superhero genre is often afraid to embrace camp. How many times have movies toned down a vibrant comic book costume into a dull muddy mess? How often do studios take films to humorless and violent places in the name of “maturity?” Power Rangers does no such thing. In fact, it races off in the opposite direction. The characters keep their off-the-wall names, Elizabeth Banks spews beautifully atrocious dialogue, and there are a ton of Easter Eggs for long-time fans. And you know what? Power Rangers is a better movie for it. Give credit to director Dean Israelite (Project Almanac), for fine-tuning his film with exactly the right kitsch to pastiche ratio.
Power Rangers reminds me of 2014’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, another big budget reboot of a mega-popular kid’s show/toy line. Ninja Turtles combined bankable nostalgia factor with a glossy new sheen and a huge promotional push. Ninja Turtles failed to live up to expectations. The sequel, Out of the Shadows, course-corrected the previous film’s errors. Power Rangers is a better film than 2014’s Ninja Turtles. However, there is much room for improvement. With the Ranger’s origin story out of the way, I can see a sequel improving on this movie in every conceivable way.
Power Rangers is the type of film that many people will like but few people will love. 12-year old me would have thought Power Rangers was the greatest movie ever, at least until the next blockbuster movie dropped a few weeks later. The movie’s worst offence is that it relies on too many clichés. Power Rangers is a decent popcorn flick but it doesn’t offer anything moviegoers haven’t seen done better somewhere else. If the series survives its ho-hum start, Power Rangers shows the potential to become a genuinely solid franchise. I’m excited to see what this series does next.