Power Rangers (2017)
Growing up in the mid to late 1990s, I felt like the only kid not going ga-ga over the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (1993), a live-action television show adapted from the long-running Japanese Super Sentai series, chiefly Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger — though, I must admit, I did eventually jump on the morphin’ bandwagon, this partly due to my mild infatuation with the then pin-up star Amy Jo Johnson, who played the Pink Ranger Kimberly. Americanized by Haim Saban and his partner Shuki Levy (founders of Saban Entertainment), who seamlessly (and ingeniously) integrated stock footage from the aforementioned Super Sentai series with newly shot American material, these color-coded, super-powered high-schoolers, known as the Power Rangers, became a global overnight sensation, this re-packaged U.S. version running for three seasons (some 145 episodes) and spawning two theatrical features, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie (1995) and Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie (1997), both films part of the same ongoing storyline. Needless to say, the Power Rangers were a campy, cheese-coated distraction, and, as a child, I could see the appeal — besides, who didn’t love pretending to be their favorite Ranger ‘kicking ass’ in the schoolyard!
Capturing the same manic energy and harmless silliness of its ’90s counterpart, Saban’s Power Rangers, despite being advertised as an angsty and gritty revamp, is sheer turn-your-brain-off entertainment, this mega-budget Hollywood reboot holding true to that charmingly goofy spirit that made its small-screen ancestor such a towering success, the film never shying away from what it’s supposed to be — a rip-roaring good time.
This new Power Rangers basically follows the same narrative structure as its ’90s incarnation and opens with a brief prologue set in the Cenozoic Era, where we see an ancient humanoid alien, Zordon (Bryan Cranston), and his team of Rangers, battle against a villainous vixen named Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) — seriously, this has got to be one of the worst bad guy names ever! When a meteor hits the Earth, Zordon’s allies are killed, his conscious swiftly being uploaded onto his spacecraft’s computer system, where he must wait until he is re-awoken, this only possible by a bunch of powerful stones that enable Ranger superpowers. Rita, however, winds up being hurled into the ocean, her body sinking to the depths of the sea.
Cut to present day, where we meet the once idolized football star of the rural Californian town of Angel Grove, Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery), a popular jock who’d fallen from grace after a humiliating prank went south — filmmakers assuming that the best way to introduce audiences to our protagonist is via a gag that sees a teenage boy indivertibly masturbate a bull. Alas, what starts out as a ‘bit of cheeky fun’ ends up plunking Jason in a rather serious spot as he’s forced to live under house arrest and attend daily detention with a bunch of high school rejects. It’s here that he forms a connection with badass ex-cheerleader Kimberly Hart (Naomi Scott), who’d been cast out of her own clique after a mean-spirited act lands her in hot water. Jason also befriends the whip-smart, antisocial weirdo Billy Cranston (RJ Cyler), who constantly feels the need to explain how difficult it’d be to ‘cram a bunch of Crayons up his butt.’
This trio eventually wind up at the same decrepit gold mine, where they meet a couple of other outcasts, Zack (Ludi Lin), a rebellious tough-guy with an even tougher life at home (looking after his ailing mother) and misunderstood loner and perpetual ‘new girl’ Trini (Becky G.), the outsiders stumbling onto five explicitly colored alien discs, one for each of the kids, along with a hidden spaceship. After awakening the conscious of Zordon, who is now trapped inside the walls of his craft, the teens learn that they have been chosen to become the next Power Rangers — stronger, faster, accelerated versions of themselves — tasked with the impossible mission of stopping the evil Rita, who has conveniently re-awoken from her 65 million year slumber, hell-bent on destroying all life on the planet.
With screenwriter John Gatins, Real Steel (2011), seeking to make sense of a story penned by four writers, Saban’s Power Rangers goes for a kitchen-sink approach, the flick too jam-packed for its own good. Let me explain. The first two-thirds are a tad too leisurely paced, particularly the middle section, the narrative attempting to familiarize audiences with this latest band of varicolored would-be champions, most of whom are struggling with real-world troubles and weighty internal flaws (think identity, family and redemption), these juvenile delinquents trying to come to terms with their new-found strengths and abilities whilst attempting to bond together as a unit, most of the Rangers (thankfully) gifted with big, unique personalities.
Fortunately, South African filmmaker Dean Israelite — having previously helmed the found-footage time-travel thriller, Project Almanac (2015) — does a bang-up job in bringing this hot property to the 21st century, Israelite expanding on the Ranger mythology whilst ensuring that the teens are kept relatable and sympathetic through both the drama and action, even if this character-building and origin stuff feels a dash drawn-out and cliché. Sadly, I couldn’t help but feel there was a missed opportunity here, with Israelite and writer Gatins failing to even remotely explore the diversity of the mixed race cast. Moreover, the lingering, straight-faced set-up, more often than not, falls into the predictable ‘superhero genesis’ trap, with scenes of Repulsa’s resurgence working as a bit of a saving grace, these fleeting moments hinting at the craziness and loopy gusto of its telly incarnation.
When the third-act does drop, the tone shifts entirely, the picture (at long last) hitting the right zany stride. We see the Zords — pilotable mechanical beasts-turned-assault-vehicles, which have all been wonderfully modernized — charge into battle as the ‘Go Go Power Rangers’ theme song makes its long-awaited return, the ludicrous, wickedly-wacky fight scenes matching the flash, funk and daffy pep of the TV series, the visuals (thanks to a hefty 105 million USD budget) finally reaching the large-scale ambition of the Power Rangers narrative. Remember those tacky primary-colored spandex suits? Well, they’ve all been updated (working more so as a kind of protective armor now), so too have those cheap rubber-looking monster-of-the-week outfits, these replaced with digital nasties; the faceless goliath Goldar, made from flowing molten gold, and Rita’s army of golem-type putties are clear highlights unto themselves. And if that’s not enough, the climax set piece, with its Marvel-esque avalanche of city-crumbling CGI and madcap mecha mayhem (oh, and shameless Krispy Kreme product placement), provides a wealth of clamorous eye-candy — granted, some of the VFX don’t appear to be quite up to ‘blockbuster’ standards, though.
While I’m sure many of you might be thinking that all of this sounds ‘hella cool,’ there is a slight setback, and that is, most of the awesomeness arrives way too late, with everything feeling overly contrived. For one, the eleventh hour entrance of Megazord (who, like the Zords, has also been excellently redesigned) comes off as jarring — how can these kids operate the mountainous mechanoid so seamlessly without ever testing it out first? — while the captaining of the individual Zords suffers from a similar hiccup, the biomechanical beasties literally popping up out of nowhere, the Rangers (again) expertly handling these colossal dino warbots with ease. It just doesn’t add up, especially given that it takes our heroes days upon days to ‘morph,’ then all of a sudden the world is their oyster! It’s all a little too far fetched if you ask me, even for a Power Rangers film. Where’s the build up, where’s the gadget trial and error?
Lead, Dacre Montgomery, Safe Neighborhood (2016), is quite likable as Jason Scott, aka the Red Ranger (head of the team), the Australian-raised actor exemplifying that unifying strength required to band the entire gang together. Naomi Scott, The 33 (2015), isn’t bad as the Pink Ranger Kimberly either, the former siren of Angel Grove High; though, the half-Indian actress never quite surpasses the pull of ’90s Pink Ranger Amy Jo Johnson (who appears in a cameo alongside fellow ex-Ranger Jason David Frank). The clear standout of the teens, however, is RJ Cyler, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015), who brings a ton energy to the role of the Blue Ranger, Billy, Cyler essentially becoming the heart of the group, his charisma and spirit really standing out. Singer-songwriter Becky G. is a little one-note as the Yellow Ranger, Trini, regardless of a short scene that reveals her same-sex orientation, whilst Chinese-Canadian actor and martial artist Ludi Lin, Monster Hunt (2015), does his best as the Black Ranger, Zack, bringing a reasonable amount of depth to a slightly underwritten role.
Good ol’ Bryan Cranston, Argo (2012), bless his soul, plays former Red Ranger Zordon with a straight face, the galactic sage — who exists merely as a visage in a glowy, oversized pin-pression-style wall — now working as the Rangers’ mentor, whereas Bill Hader, Inside Out (2015), feels right for the part of Zordon’s shipwrecked cyborg, Alpha 5, Hader bringing his own quirky nuances to the crack-pot robot — Aye-yi-yi! Last, but certainly not least, we have the talented Elizabeth Banks, Pitch Perfect 2 (2015), who appears to be having the time of her life as the cackling space sorceress, Rita Repulsa — her scenes definitely among the flick’s best.
Cycling back to the beginning while paying homage to the original series, Saban’s Power Rangers is a serviceable effort, Israelite ushering the rainbow-colored Rangers into the modern era, re-launching the franchise for a brand new generation to enjoy, the flick paving the way for a proposed cinematic ‘six-movie’ saga — but let’s not get too ahead of ourselves, shall we? Sure, proceedings are a smidgen too origin-y, a dab convoluted and a wee bit chaotic; but I guess that’s all part of the fun, right? Unlikely to win over any new fans, this spankin’ new Power Rangers, while coming off as a bit dated, should at least give long-time enthusiasts an explosive fix of nostalgic feels!
I’m predicting that some will, no doubt, be shouting ‘It’s morphin’ time!’ as the picture’s ridiculous final-act drops, while others will, instead, be wishing it was ‘morphine time!’ Me, I’d say I’m leaning more toward the former.
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by S-Littner