Illustration: Kevin K.
Like its famous Megazord, the new Power Rangers proves itself a big, clumsy thing upon which you can see the seams between its quite disparate parts. Yet, still, you have to give it credit: it gets the job done.
The film is based faithfully-enough on the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers series a generation grew up on, but it drastically reverses the way the familiar formula is delivered. While the original managed to dish out the entire setup in the first 20 seconds of a spartan, minute-long intro, the reboot reverses the television ratio; there’s literally a movie of origin story unto itself here before it gets to the 20-minute episode of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers the premise suggests.
Project Almanac‘s Dean Israelite directs the new take, which leans as heavily on The Breakfast Club as it does on its own spandex-covered past. Three-fifths of the leads meet in weekend detention, and the other two are picked up trespassing in a quarry. There’s the disgraced jock, the likewise disgraced cheerleader, the drop-out bad-boy, the girl who never fits in, and the nerd. (Though, an admirable update sees the latter two of the list as, respectively, queer and autistic.) In one of several fatalistic turns, the teenage group find some gems they keep calling “coins” that bestow them with superhero-like powers. After training—and, more importantly, becoming BEST FRIENDS—they abruptly face off against the kind of enormous threat anyone who’s seen a Power Rangers episode knows things escalate to.
The forming of the team’s five-way friendship represents the majority of the film, and, astoundingly, that’s its strongest element. While the original series cast had the vacant smiles and hollowness to match their college pamphlet stock photo look, these actors and writers managed to pull off a feat in decently fleshing out these heroes. They’re now even slightly less chaste and pure. Sure, the drop-out kid still doesn’t drink or smoke, but now there’s nearly swearing, an ’80s-ready sexy swimming scene, and, for some reason, multiple references to masturbation. It kind of works.
Bryan Cranston’s disembodied, CGI head plays Zordon, the Charlie of the Rangers’ Charlie’s Angels, and like with the younger cast, he brings an undeserved gravitas to the role. It’s not necessarily that you’ll care when he talks about fighting “Putties,” but you’ll certainly care more than you did by ’90s comparison. Bill Hader, giving voice to Alpha, likewise improves upon the abysmally-budgeted past, making the doddering android bearable for once. But it’s Elizabeth Banks as a revised Rita Repulsa who really goes all out. Unfortunately, she also signals the decent-for-what-it-is film’s decline.
Though the original Rita recorded her parts from Japan, half a world away, somehow Banks’s cartoonish Rita feels even more removed here. She plays it like a J-horror hobo prospector, creeping around on ceilings, gaunt, stringy-haired, and craving gold so much that she literally rips a gold tooth from a homeless man’s mouth. It’s exactly the cheesy, over-the-top performance aging Power Rangers fans were looking for in this re-imagining. But given that she’s largely a mummy (seriously) before the film’s final act, it doesn’t really gel with anything that’s come before.
Without spoiling anything, the finale abruptly, finally becomes just what was proposed by the entire conceit. And it also falls into the traps of so many of its Marvel and Transformers superhero/giant-robot peers. It’s got Thor‘s faceless automaton ravaging a small town; Guardians of the Galaxy‘s heavy-handed push at friendship, dancing, and vague gems; and Transformers‘ impossible-to-follow action-meets-design that overhauls the iconic to become hopelessly busy. On top of that, it’s then, in these closing moments, that Israelite decides to tack on all his remaining winks and throwbacks. By the time we finally get to the ridiculous set piece expected of the film from the start, it doesn’t make sense anymore.
All that said, the film does deserve credit for improving upon the undeniably-idiotic, formulaic design it was built upon. While some could have done it better, many more certainly would have done it worse, and this is as solid a beginning as several superhero origins to have come before. That its during-the-credits sequence (and producer Haim Saban) tease sequels to come is promising. If not for how much Power Rangers could improve, then to how the hell it’s going to progress in its completely divided format.
Director: Dean Israelite
Runtime: 124 minutes
Cast: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Ludi Lin, Becky G., Elizabeth Banks, Bryan Cranston, Bill Hader