Power Rangers - Review: A Flawed but Very Fun Reboot
Many people have joked from the trailer material about this new Power Rangers film riffing on The Breakfast Club in how it brings the infamous 5 “teenagers with attitude” together. Those people were right. Not just in the setup of relative strangers meeting in a Saturday detention but most of the character arcs follow that 1985 John Hughes format to show the group slowly connecting and becoming a unit. We even get a similar “bare their souls” scene. The thing is though, it’s the film's single greatest strength and one of the many reasons why this is a successful reboot and franchise launching film. This is a film about the teenagers under the shiny masks. Full disclosure, I’m writing this as a childhood fan of the show but it’s my inner grown-up that got the biggest kicks here.
When 5 high school students from Angel Grove find some mysterious glowing coins in a mountain, it’s the beginning of their journey to being the new Power Rangers team. They must stop the evil Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks – Pitch Perfect) from obtaining the power of the Zeo Crystal buried beneath the Earth with some mighty morphing.
Starting with the big bad here in a critical sense, Power Rangers does have a glaring brightly coloured problem in how mixed its tone is and how that will translate into a target audience. This is not the camp affair of its spawning TV series yet occasionally it tries to be. While this is far from being a dark and gritty affair, it is comparably a much more serious approach in making its characters and various aspects of its lore more believable.... which is great!
The film is essentially an origin story for the Rangers and it takes its time to develop its new generation Jason, Trini, Billy, Zack and Kimberly so that they feel more fleshed out than their 90's cousins did after many seasons. As a result, this film has very limited appeal for younger children. All the big action comes towards the end and such, your kids will quickly get bored of people talking about their feelings (confirmed by the very bored young girl in row in front of me). Instead the appeal of Power Rangers lies more on young adult audiences for its relative teen movie features and grown up 90's fans looking for a throwback.... yet the occasionally silly & goofy moments appealing to that camper style (there’s a Mega Zord version of Devastator’s balls moment from Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen) will make them uneasy and even cringe. As I’m about to tell you, I still liked this a lot but if Powers Rangers wants to continue as a franchise (which I want it to), like any teenager, it needs to decide which version of itself it wants to be.
Now on to the good: the developing friendship and emotional arcs of the 5 Ranger characters is excellent as are the less known actors and actresses playing them. Not only is it enjoyable to watch as we seem slowly breaking down their walls of insecurity towards each other but the emphasis on their connection plays huge dividends during the climatic action. In fact, one particular last stand style sequence in said Rita battle felt as emotionally powerful as something similar from Guardians of the Galaxy. The tweaks and alterations made to the characters not only make them feel more current and relevant, stopping this feel like a 90s throw back, but instil vulnerabilities to make them more endearing.
While Trini’s LGBT status is merely a glancing reference, placing Billy on the autistic spectrum is far better than making him a generic nerd character. Jason’s more rebellious than his classic jock self, Kimberley’s far from a princess cheerleader and Zack is a reckless adrenalin junky. There are even some strong changes to the wider Power Rangers lore. The open pre-historic moments show Zordon as the Red Ranger of his team, defeated and betrayed by Rita as their Green Ranger before a big sacrifice play crashes the dinosaur destroying meteor into the Earth, taking them all out. That is infinitely better than a head trapped in an energy tube and an evil witch in a dumpster on the moon. The origins nature of the story is also a solid hit. In almost a parody of the show, there’s an emphasis on training and learning to become Rangers rather than immediately becoming lethal fighting machines (#morphinainteasy). This may a bit too many training sequences but for the most part they are presented in a fun fashion.
The film has a good visual style to it, not just confined to its suited action. An early car chase sees the camera on a permanent slow horizontal spin inside Jason’s truck, panning around to chasing vehicles, scenery and even staying fixed during a crash. Director Dean Israelite (Project Almanac) takes care in framing and presentation of many sequences to make them feel more fluid. Then ether is the big ass CG climax, which is also a visual treat. The new armored Ranger suits in action make spandex look like better off forgotten and the Iron Man like face/visor removals help keep the real actors in the game. Similarly, the rock golem like new “putty patrol” look much better as shambling constructs than forbearers in grey morph suits. The new gun touting Zords look awesome and we actually see a great deal of them fighting as individual units rather than immediately becoming Mega Zord like almost every Rangers episode ever. Although Goldar is nothing more than a hulking sentient pile of molten gold, the effects of his rendering look good, and while it has nothing on the likes of Pacific Rim, the Goldar Vs Mega Zord fight is decent enough.
The cast MVP goes to RJ Cyler’s (The Earl in Me, Earl and the Dying Girl) for being the heart of the team and the entire film. He really feels like the lovable yet misunderstood science and engineering whiz of his character. Dacre Montgomery makes a strong lead as Jason and look out for him in Stranger Things Season 2. Naomi Scott plays well against “damsel character” expectations, and while Becky G’s Trini and Ludi Lin’s Zack get less on screentime than their fellow Rangers, they’re still entertaining. Let’s give massive credit where it’s due to Bill Hader in making Alpha 5, one of the most annoying characters in TV history, not only bearable but frequently funny. I wasn’t crazy about Elizabeth Banks as Rita though. She looks great but more than anyone else has embodies the film’s identity crisis of camp Vs serious. Bryan Cranston as Zordon does as well can be expected for a face on a wall.
In good and bad ways, this is best compared to Michael Bay’s first Transformers movie. It isn’t perfect but if given the chance, it’s a lot of fun and with a better emphasis on character-building it bodes well for sequels. If you’re an old school fan, you’ll likely have a blast watching many flaws of the show being remedied or getting in joke shout-outs (like kids thinking the Yellow Ranger is a guy). For the uninitiated, this also makes for a good casual viewing experience but leave the kids at home if you can. Stick around more the mid-credits tease and give it a good Judd Nelson fist pump as you leave.