Passing the Buck: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie
Do you remember the 90s? I always think that I do. I look fondly back on t-shirts tied with scrunchies, neon colors and stupid catch phrases. However, like many people my age, my memories are colored with the rosy glasses of nostalgia. Sometimes, a movie comes along that tears the glasses off your face and smashes them with the righteous fist of reality. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie is one of those movies that delivers the cold, hard truth of the 90s. Good lord, is this movie terrible.
The dialogue is cringe-inducing, the clothes are visually offensive and the catch phrases don’t even make sense. But you know who loved this movie? Really, really loved this really, really terrible movie? My 7-year-old, Fiona. From the moment she saw an air board, she was sold. She loved it so much, she has made me listen to the made-for-the-movie Alpha 5 song at least 4 times in the past 24 hours.
For a little background, the Mighty Morphin movie was the very first Power Rangers project that was completely American-made. Prior to its release, the Power Rangers TV show had taken the beloved Sentai shows from Japan, re-edited the fight scenes (featuring Japanese actors in full body armor) to suit their needs, then filmed the after-school special scenes with American actors and smooshed it all together. In other words, it was a completely new experiment in Sentai. A risky endeavor with everything to lose, and lose it did. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie bombed at the box office.
Fiona’s favorite character in the film ended up being Alpha 5, the bumbling robot companion of Zordon whose catchphrase is “Aye-yi-yi-yi!” She also enjoyed the character Dulcea, but only because she turned into an owl.
“She’s just like Jareth!” she said.
For the record, Dulcea was not just like Jareth from Jim Henson’s Labyrinth. Dulcea was actually just like The Sorceress from He-Man. A sexy lady who doesn’t age and has great knowledge that helps the heroes in their quests but is confined to a single location. It’s not a very subtle rip-off.
Terrible acting and writing aside, the Power Rangers movie actually does have a truly impressive amount of hand-constructed scenery and costumes that are worth admiration. Buildings and ruins that would be green-screened and replaced today were painstakingly crafted using chicken wire and plaster for the movie. The fight choreography is also surprisingly good. They used flying liberally in the scenes, and there’s lots of great wire work in there. Fiona especially liked the move where the White Ranger flying kicks a bad guy in the face a bunch of times in quick succession.
“That’s the best move because you can’t actually stay like that (horizontal, in midair) in real life, so it’s super powerful,” she explained.
The costumes worn by the villains are particularly notable. In the time of CGI, it’s far more cost effective to paint some dots on someone’s face and fill in the details later. Every one of the monsters in Power Rangers is meticulously constructed, and obviously underwent hours in a makeup chair.
That being said, when they do use CGI in this movie, it’s uncomfortably bad. So bad, your child isn’t going to understand what’s happening.
“That looks like a video game,” Fiona said. “Why does that look like a video game? It’s like, “I’m a video game robot. Don’t control me, though because I hate being controlled.’” (Her words. My guess is as good as yours.)
You see, my daughter was born in 2009, as year as Pixar’s Up. Fiona telling me that the CGI in Power Rangers looks like it’s a video game is, frankly, generous. It looks like it could have been from a video game that came out in 1999. Everything is too shiny and doesn’t quite integrate into the scenes around it. The ultimate battle scene in the film is between the Rangers in their terribly computer animated new Zords and Ivan Ooze who has taken possession of a giant ant robot’s body so his face is superimposed onto its head. It takes out any sort of weight and suspense the battle could have had because it is so very, very artificial looking. The use of CGI in the movie is jarring, and I have trouble seeing how it could possibly have been a good decision to utilize it so heavily.
To recap, Fiona loves Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie, because she loves Alpha 5 (who has approximately 4 scenes total in the film), she thought the air board the White Ranger rides was really cool and now wants to get into snowboarding; she thinks the idea of having a robot that is shaped like an animal is pretty great. It’s reason enough for a 7-year-old to sit through multiple viewings of this crap, but as an adult I just couldn’t get into it. And I loved this movie when I saw it as a kid. I thought it would be a fun experience to see it again.
The Power Rangers themselves experience absolutely zero character growth in the film. They barely even have lines, let alone plot significance. The movie also has more than a little sexism embedded into it. Between the scantily clad Dulcea and Pink Ranger, and the Pink Ranger’s constant need to be rescued, this film has little to be excited about if you’re a young girl looking for strong role models. Fiona, of course, has a weird self-imposed aversion to girl characters and was all about the White Ranger. So no harm done there. The overall plot of the movie is hard to decipher. It feels as though someone took a bunch of bad 90s tv tropes, threw them in a bag, shook it up and dumped it on the writer’s desk and was like, “there you go, dude, tubular movie stuff.” The fact that I loved this movie so much as a kid will have me questioning my taste for at least another week.
Fiona, however, did make a good point as we sat watching.
“God, this is awful,” I said, finding the CGI battle scenes hard to sit through. A tiny hand flew over and bopped me on the shoulder.
“Quiet, mom,” Fiona said, “It’s a good movie. I like it.”
Sometimes all that matters is entertainment.