Review: Power Rangers
It's hard to believe it even now, on the day of its release, but we have a new Power Rangers movie - set to ignite a brand new franchise based on the original 1990s action series for kids (which itself was adapted from the Super Sentai franchise from Japan). Personally speaking, I was never a hardcore Power Rangers fan, only getting into it on the tail-end of its popularity in the late 90s/early 2000s (between Power Rangers Lost Galaxy/Lightspeed Rescue/Time Force), but I'm familiar enough with the core concepts and characters of the series to have some kind of interest in seeing how the film rebrands itself to appeal to a modern audience.
Just like the endless barrage of comic-book based superhero films that are fraught with tired origin cliches, Power Rangers spends most of its runtime developing the five teenagers at its core, eventually culminating in a voracious extended action sequence where they fulfill their roles as Earth's protectors against the forces of evil. Here, all the teens are outcasts with their own distinguishing problems; Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery) has just been put in Saturday detention after an ill-advised prank costs him his dreams of playing football, Billy (RJ Cyler) is the introverted weird kid (on the spectrum, a facet that only gets mentioned once), Kimberly (Naomi Scott) the popular cool girl who loses her social status after a texting mishap, Zack (Ludi Lin) the strange kid who lives in a mobile home with his ailing mother, and Trini (Becky G) a loner who defies the social norms set out by her family.
These five characters are brought together at a salt mine where they discover five different coloured coins, which bequeath them superhuman abilities (in an extended sequence that feels lifted right out of Sam Raimi's version of Spider-Man). They later return to the site of these changes and are introduced to Zordon (Bryan Cranston), the alien warrior who once commanded the Power Rangers 65 million years ago, whose essence now lives within a gigantic spaceship where he is looked after by Alpha 5 (voice of Bill Hader), a sentient android. 65 million years ago, Zordon failed to stop ally turned enemy Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) from taking control of the planet, and ordered an asteroid attack on Earth to prevent her from succeeding. Now she has returned (conveniently right around the point when this new team of Rangers has come together), and its up to these teens to take control of these gifts and learn to work together to stop her.
For the most part, Power Rangers doesn't work at all. It manages to be both too long (running just over two hours) and be too fast paced, with an editing style that races through plot points to pack in as much story as possible, even when these bits sometimes go nowhere and could have been removed for a much better narrative flow. The first act starts off on a good note, and is enough to convince the audience that maybe it's not the total cash grab that was expected, but eventually the pacing slows right down in the middle and drags. There's a lot of padding here to make the film a serious blockbuster effort to be matched against others in the genre, but here it just comes off as extraneous.
I was reminded a lot of Josh Trank's 2015 misfire Fantastic Four while watching this, mostly from the idea of rebooting a superhero team many people weren't really asking for, with a young-ish cast and an oddly weird tone (both films were also shot in Vancouver, BC as well). While 'tonally inconsistent' is a term that has been used to describe many comic book films recently (especially the DCEU), here it really applies; there are sequences where the tone moves between uproarious humour to gritty seriousness in the span of a few minutes, and at times its hard to tell what the intended reaction is supposed to be. It all ends up making for an experience where you're not sure whether to laugh or be confused - I did end up laughing a lot anyway because most of these moments are utterly ridiculous as it is. The film even features a scene where a teen inadvertently jerks off a bull, before the title even comes up.
The best part of the film also comes from this element of weirdness, and that's Elizabeth Banks' performance as Rita Repulsa. The villain who is brought into the story in the weirdest of ways, Banks spends much of her on-screen time scheming and cackling under heavy makeup, killing various townspeople and absorbing gold (yes, gold) to create her monsters. It's always fun whenever she shows up, and I wish we could have seen the film that she thought she was going to be in. Nevertheless, it's worth watching the film for what she brings, at the very least.
While much of the film's marketing emphasis has been around the Rangers suited up and doing battle, as depicted in nearly every episode of every instalment of the show to date, it's quite shocking that we don't get this element under the final 20 minutes of the film. It comes off as lazy and in a hurry, when it really could have taken up a third of the film on its own (not saying we needed a 45 minute action scene, rather that much time of the Rangers as Rangers, and not doing tiring training montages). This part feels extremely derivative of the action sequences from Michael Bay's Transformers films, and perhaps the film is aware of this (as we get a deliberate reference to said film, and a nearly unforgivable piece of product placement, embedded into the story itself).
Despite all these shortcomings, I didn't hate Power Rangers nearly as much as I thought I would. It's no disaster, merely average with some solid moments, and if you're lucky enough to watch it with other fans of the original series, chances are it will enrich the experience. I wish that Lionsgate had done the right thing and hired director Joseph Kahn to make this over Dean Israelite, as it seems that Kahn's fan film was the impetus to put this feature film into production. As Israelite's second feature (following the much delayed Project Almanac), he has some handle on telling the story from a millennial perspective, but trying to appeal to this new group, many of whom have no connection to the series, doesn't work as well as it should have. 90s kids are the ones who will be supporting the film, for purely nostalgic reasons, and even though we do get more than a few shoutouts to Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, it can't help but feel like this audience is largely ignored in favour of attracting the social media-addled generation who probably couldn't care less. Power Rangers is worth seeing if you grew up with the show or it holds a special place in your heart, but everyone else should probably stay clear of it.