Go Go ‘Power Rangers’ (2017 Review)
Is this good? Is this bad? Will my inner-child allow me to judge this appropriately?
“Power Rangers” is a reboot of the classic 1990s action-packed children’s show “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,” which in turn is based on the Japanese tokusatsu “Super Sentai Series.” It’s directed by Dean Israelite and stars a cast of young actors, as well as Bryan Cranston, Bill Hader and Elizabeth Banks. The film is set in the small, fictional town of Angel Grove, where local high school students Jason Scott, Kimberly Hart and Billy Cranston (Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott and RJ Cyler, respectively) are all caught up in detention. Through a series of shenanigans, they come across Trini and Zack (Becky G and Ludi Lin, respectively) as they all discover an ancient, otherworldly construct. It’s there where they meet Zordon (Cranston) and his robot assistant Alpha 5 (voiced by Hader), and attain the responsibility of becoming a powerful team known as the Power Rangers, and to stop the destruction of an ancient, powerful witch known as Rita Repulsa (Banks).
This is the absolute perfect “what if” movie. The answer to “what if they remade ‘Power Rangers’ for adults” question. This is the film we asked for, albeit cautiously. We really owe it to franchises such as the “Transformers” series, because without them, this film would be seen as an impossible reach.
Being a millennial, I was very much a child when “Power Rangers” had its long television run, and I stayed true through each incarnation, from “Mighty Morphin” to “Lightspeed Rescue,” and considered myself a retired fan after “Dino Thunder” (I was already in middle school at the time). So yes, shameful as it is, I know my shit. As you can see, I want this to be good. But was it?
Yes. Surprisingly, it was pretty good. It’s not shockingly “I thought this was going to be shit but it ended up being amazingly amazing” good. It’s just good.
Here’s one thing that the film does better than the TV show: the acting. In a great departure from the “Saved by the Bell” mood that the 90s actors gave us, we now have grounded, realistic, rebellious teenagers. These new actors fit the “teenagers with attitude” description way better than the 90s actors ever did. You have Montgomery as Jason, playing the rebel who ends up having to deal with the most responsibility. Scott plays Kimberly, the girl who does a good job of not just being the obligatory female casting, or the fighting damsel-in-distress, unlike the original. The dialogue between these two is usually filled with charm, whether its casual banter or a proclamation of their contempt for Angel Grove.
But they do something different with the rest of the cast, which helps to modernize them. Cyler as Billy provides the humor and keeps the grittiness from ever getting lower and lower. Of the five teenagers, he is the one with the most charisma But he also serves to represent autistic teens everywhere. Yes, unlike the television counterpart, they made the Blue Ranger autistic, which is a pretty bold and commendable step for something based off a children’s property.
To keep the ball rolling, they then make Becky G’s Trini represent lesbians and confused, oppressed teenagers everywhere. Okay, this film had me at shedding light on autism, but encouraging more LGBT representation? Hats off to you, Lionsgate and Saban. Despite this, I found Becky G’s performance to be slightly annoying until about halfway through the movie, when they developed her much more, and gave her a more integral role in the plot.
While I praised the rest of the cast, I’d have to drop the axe on Ludi Lin as Zack, the Black Ranger. Compared to all these convincing performances, Lin’s is absolutely haphazard. The way he is introduced is to set up how much of a cocky outsider he is, so naturally he’s by himself. He then starts speaking to himself, which is one of my absolute biggest pet peeves in a movie. I despise movie moments where normal-functioning people start speaking or quipping to themselves, the only sensible reason being that the writers assume the audience is too dumb to know what the character is thinking. I get it if a character has schizophrenia or another mental illness, or if the words are limited to comedic inner-banter, but not in this case. He’s someone with decent social-competence and no reason to quarrel with himself, other than provide exposition to the audience.
But like Trini, I did find him to be much less annoying when he opened up. They gave him a pretty touching backstory with his own troubles, and they make his motivations really apparent. And just to keep the ball rolling, he’s also the most foreign one of the group, being bilingual, unlike the original black ranger. Now that I think about it, many of the Power Ranger series’ casts don’t feature any overtly foreign characters, apart from maybe of an alien race.
That is precisely why this casting works. Whether or not you find these characters annoying, you can’t doubt that they’re there for a good reason, and you might even warm up to them as the movie progresses. They also help to introduce bouts of political correctness, but they aren’t preachy or condescending about it (which is really the only good way to go about political correctness). They represent people of various colors, mental states and social capabilities, showing (but not telling) that everyone is capable of extraordinary things as long as they have camaraderie.
I can’t say much about Cranston as Zordon. It’s a great homage, seeing as how Cranston has actually been a part of “Power Rangers” since the original television show, where he voiced many of the villains they face. I do love his voice-work here, and while it took some getting used to, I ended up really liking how they presented him. Rather than a chubby, floating head in a tube, they made him manifest into a wall, kind of like one of those pinpression toys. Not to mention they could have easily made him a one-dimensional character. But they went above and beyond to give him his own arc, his own set of feelings and doubts, and a world of lore behind him.
If you thought Alpha 5 was annoying in the television show, then you can rest your worries because Bill Hader fixed him up good. The original’s voice was so high-pitched and screechy; basically in typical 90s fashion (or how the 90s thought Aliens would sound like). This time, he just kind of does the same thing he did as Fear from “Inside Out,” except less screaming. His design had me slightly worried but I got used to it.
Now, Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa has me split down the middle. On the one hand, I do like that at least ONE person in this entire film is trying to recall the absurdity and campiness of the original series. At the same time, I found her to be over-the-top, and incredibly outlandish compared to the rest of the grounded cast. She is guilty of overacting here, which is both a blessing and a curse. The prosthetics on her are amazing though, from both start to finish. She starts out as an outright horror character, which is something I didn’t expect to see even in the gritty version of a children’s property.
If you kept up with me for this long, you know that a recurring theme here is that this film takes several risks that are rather uncharacteristic of a children’s property. Sure, there are hints of silliness to try and match the youthful appeal of the original, but they also throw in more mature bits of humor, about things such as drug tests and jacking off a cow (no joke). Me personally, I welcome these jokes. If anything, this is much more of a film for the adults who grew up watching “Power Rangers,” rather than children. The maturity really shines through in the form of character development and chemistry.
I must say that if you are bringing a child to watch this, keep in mind there will be mild swearing, and several mature jokes.
A common criticism (ad nauseam, pretty much) is that this film is a forced collision between two different movies. Two thirds of the movie is essentially the origin story, which focuses mainly on character development. At the same time, this is the section that appeals to the audience the most, whether you’re fans of the original or not. No one comes into anything titled “Power Rangers” and expects to feel for the characters. But through one particular scene where all the characters develop a kinship, we develop a peculiar attachment to each of them. It was at this moment that I’m glad these people are the ones I’m spending five more movies with (Yup, that’s right).
But when it sticks to the original, it definitely sticks, and that’s where the last third of the movie comes in. If you’re looking for cool looking suits fighting monsters with martial arts and gymnastics, you will get it. If you’re looking for giant robot dinosaurs battling another giant monster, you will get it. And MOST OF ALL, if you want to, at least once, hear the iconic theme song, you will get it. In all it’s pure, epic goodness.
But this is where I have to defend my appreciation for this movie, because many people will come in accusing me of being “blinded by nostalgia.” Despite having these borrowed features from the original show, there is really nothing nostalgic about it. The action here is far better than most of the show’s episodes. There is no silliness to be had apart from what would be silly by realistic standards (as opposed to having two obligatory bully characters).
Even some elements taken from the show are vastly different. Case in point: Rita, who in this film is actually getting shit done by herself rather than sitting up in some moon tower yelling at everyone.
Even the formula of the show is broken up here. Back then, everything was so fast-paced to where every time a new series was brought in, the new team of Power Rangers would unrealistically form intimate familial connection and extraordinary abilities within 20 minutes. This film actually shows you that the Power Rangers had to train for this, both physically and mentally. They didn’t just have these abilities bestowed upon them as a result of the plot rushing it together. You see them work for it, which is something I really appreciated about it.
I had to bring that up because many of the people who didn’t like this film will be quick to see reactions like mine and guilt me for “nostalgia.” But that “tone difference” that they’re faulting this for is the reason why you can’t pin nostalgia on this. All that means is that everything I liked about this film has been on its own merits, maybe (at most) perpetuated by quick little homages to the original.
I suppose before I wrap this up I should mention one more thing. Not really a problem, but more like something I wish happened: I wish they played the theme song more. It was wonderful hearing the iconic theme song, perfectly borrowed from the 1995 film, and at the height of its “Power Ranger-ness.” But I felt that if they really were gonna throw it in there, they should have totally owned it and at least left it playing for a bit longer. If not that, then at least make an instrumental cover to play in the background during the climax, rather than GODDAMN KANYE.
This is a film that has fans and critics alike split down the middle, but it’s pretty clear that everyone who hates it is hating it for the same two reasons: (1) It has a massive tone-clash towards the end, and (2) It caters way too much toward product promotion for Krispy Kreme donuts. I do agree with the latter, make no mistake. But when I hear people complain about this tone-clash, it reminds me of people who complained about the “slow parts” of every other superhero film, whether it’s “Captain America: Civil War,” or “Batman v Superman.” Apart from being a “Power Rangers” movie, this is also an origin story film. And for something as ridiculous as “Power Rangers,” it definitely requires a slow initiation process. To get us going on a six-movie deal, the creators will have to help casual viewers acclimate to the premise, because chances are the naysayers are the ones who skipped out on this franchise as children, and therefore missed their window of opportunity. Ironic how a movie based on a children’s property requires a mature level of patience from the audience.
As I said before, if you came into this wanting to see colored suits, martial arts, explosions and giant robots, you will get it. If you’re dragged into this film but appreciate elements like character development and chemistry, you will get that too. As someone who enjoys both, I actually would go so far as to say I loved this movie. I don’t care if I’m alone on this, but I can comfortably say that I loved the “Power Rangers” movie.