It’s Morphin Time
Power Rangers is the latest big-screen reimagining of Haim Saban’s popular 90s TV show. An action film with YA and sci-fi elements, Power Rangers is directed by Dean Israelite and stars Dacre Montgomery, RJ Cyler, Naomi Scott, Bryan Cranston and Elizabeth Banks. The film takes place in the small town of Angel Grove, where five teenagers meet in unlikely circumstances and stumble upon an ancient power, hidden away for millions of years. These five misfits are unexpectedly given superhuman strength, and with the convenient arrival of the evil Rita Repulsa (Banks) plus her desire to pretty much destroy the entire world, our five heroes must unite and master their abilities in time to defend the future of mankind as a team of, you guessed it, Power Rangers.
Power Rangers was a significant part of my childhood as well as that of many millennials today. The action-packed, stitched-together cheese fest that was the original Power Rangers TV show was not exactly the most revolutionary piece of child entertainment, but I remember the 6-year old me loving the show for its action sequences and colour-coded fighters. Thus, with the growing notion that Hollywood keeps churning our unnecessary sequels, remakes and reboots, it was only a matter of time before someone decided to turn this beloved property into another full-length motion picture. In all fairness, now may be as good a time as any for a reboot, considering the last two big-screen attempts of Power Rangers – Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie, were both released more than 20 years ago. But the key question is really whether we need a Power Rangers movie in the first place, as both its predecessors were critical as well as box-office flops. In addition, fans of the original series might have simply outgrown the premise and may no longer be as interested. Nevertheless, the film is here and we all want to know how good it really is. Can Dean Israelite improve upon his work in 2015’s not-so-popular Project Almanac? And can our five relatively unknown main actors help a dead franchise morph into a cinematic Megazord?
The first two acts of Power Rangers is not the campy, overexaggerated trainwreck that many predicted the film to be. Drawing doubtless inspiration from Chronicle and the Breakfast Club, the majority of the film is very much the journey of five individuals to find something greater within themselves. This makes for some warm-hearted and much-appreciated character development, in addition to some well-edited sequences and fun set-pieces, resulting in the film being quite enjoyable overall. The third act, however, becomes a bit of a mess both tonally and action-wise, but does seem to do this deliberately for nostalgic purposes. Fans of the original show as well as those intrigued in seeing potential breakout performances from young stars will probably want to turn their attention to this film.
The Breakfast Chronicle
What drives Power Rangers’ potential success is most definitely the charisma of the five titular characters. For a group of ‘unknowns’ (excluding perhaps RJ Cyler of Me, Earl and the Dying Girl fame), each of the Rangers are given a believable backstory that diversifies the squad while steering clear of stereotypes. Dacre Montgomery’s Jason Scott isn’t your average mindless jock, Naomi Scott’s Kimberley Hart isn’t just the pretty cheerleader, while Cyler’s Billy Cranston isn’t just the brains of the bunch. The three are arguably the standouts from the cast, which is not to say that Becky G and Ludi Lin didn’t also put in good performances, but more a reflection of the screenplay’s emphasis on their characters. That said, all bring their own personal spark to the general electricity of the film. The team are also supported by another solid Bryan Cranston performance as Zordon, the mentor-like spirit of an ex-ranger, while Bill Hader’s role as the talking robot Alpha-5 is noteworthy but doesn’t add much to the film in the end.
There is quite a bit to be praised about the first hour and a half of Power Rangers. The characters have been mentioned, but it is their dialogue and settings that also add to the positives. Director Dean Israelite manages to maintain a darker, more realistic tone to the film, while ensuring that the more humorous bits of dialogue didn’t get in the way of the grittiness. In other words, when it comes to the rangers themselves, Power Rangers doesn’t take itself too seriously to be considered melodramatic, while simultaneously being as organic as a Power Rangers film can possibly be.
While there is a significant portion of the screenplay linked to the popular doughnut joint, it serves only as a representation of the film’s inconsistencies and uneven elements. While the first half had us locked in to authentic YA dialogue from actual young adults, that eventually turns into ‘Krispy Kreme’ being mentioned at least 5 times in the space of 20 seconds. This occurs when there is a significantly noticeable shift in the third act from a character-driven plot to an action-driven one. Once the rangers actually become the rangers, all the seriousness turned mostly to silliness, in what is a very Transformers-esque final battle with lots of fiery explosions and buildings getting wrecked. Elizabeth Banks spares us from the cringeworthy portrayal of Rita Repulsa from the 90s, but still maintains a bit of the over-the-top cheesy dialogue fans have come to recognise. Her character design looked reasonably menacing but her fake manic laughter and pretentious dialogue almost ruined it, while her scariest scenes were reduced to jump scares. This all resulted in Rita and the entire third act feeling slightly disjointed from the rest of the film. But again, I can understand if the filmmakers meant for that to be the case in order to please a wider audience. The issue then becomes hurting the viewing experience for people who really enjoyed the first two acts.
This is not to say that there aren’t flaws in the first two acts as well. These mostly boil down to minor continuity errors and plot execution. The way the rangers meet feels completely contrived, and one can only wonder at how well the rangers’ discovery of their powers coincided with the return of Rita Repulsa. It isn’t really explained why Rita wants to destroy all life on Earth, and why that wouldn’t also include destroying herself in the process. And on that note, not much of the Power Rangers mythology is explained clearly, leading one to wonder who and where Zordon’s people came from. True, given a choice I would prefer character development over more exposition of the lore, but it’s never a great sign when one comes out of the theatre thinking: wait, that didn’t really make much sense.
Do stick around for a mid-credit scene that will likely get Power Rangers fans excited, and hopefully get non-fans excited as well. Power Rangers Is definitely not a bad film but it has much to improve upon if its sequel is going to be both profitable and critically liked. What keeps me optimistic is that the franchise has now been established with strong, likeable actors, who are part of a mostly enjoyable movie which has done several things right. The franchise needs a better-written antagonist and I regrettably have to call for an end to the goofy, cheesy elements which defined the 90s Power Rangers. While the difficulty of achieving this and still maintaining the Power Rangers vibe is acknowledged, I can’t help but feel that this could have been a better-made film if it wasn’t as creatively tied to its predecessors.
Overall Rating: 7.2/10