Overview: A group of wayward teens comes together to become the mighty morphing Power Rangers. 2017; PG-13; Lionsgate; 124 minutes.
Full Disclosure: I missed the boat on Power Rangers when I was growing up. I was the right age to become enthralled by its goofy wonders. References made their way into my personal pop culture zeitgeist perspective enough for me to recognize the resurgence of Ivan Ooze during another blockbuster’s promotional run, but I never dove in headfirst.
In some ways, Power Rangers always seemed to me to be the perfect property to reboot. From my understanding, the series was never too violent and always maintained a sense of family friendliness. There’s a nostalgic attachment to it in certain circles and an update–particularly with a cast of racially diverse actors filling the roles of teenagers-with-attitude-turned-intergalactic-fighting-force–could draw in the superhero crowd and. As for the family friendliness, we could always use some more of that. And who doesn’t love the simplicity of the titular team name? Power Rangers. That name just sings.
Reboots with Attitude…and Tonal Issues: The logistical setup is simply for Power Rangers is by definition “Been there, done that.” For any tried and true story, it’s either presentation or a masterful look at characters’ inner workings that separate the mediocre from the entertaining. Power Rangers falls somewhere in the middle. Not quite middling but never able to capitalize on its own potential.
It’s not quite clear who the Power Rangers reboot is for. There are moments that fit in with a strong CW aesthetic that will certainly keep the teenyboppers content. Blossoming camaraderie between the team is nourished by the same energy of a John Hughes film. Ideally this should fit well with a coming-of-age superhero movie. But Director Dean Israelite opens the film with a joke about bull masturbation. Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa ventures into full-on camp, embracing the roots of the material more than maybe anything or anyone else in the movie. All these fluctuations in tone and content make the movie feel busier than it actually is. But, it’s in the cast that Power Rangers finds its saving grace.
With full sincerity, Elizabeth Banks is a treasure and her mustache-twirling villainy almost works in coherence with the movie. The rest of the cast, while all quite good, can’t match her sheer ferocity. She doesn’t just chew scenery, she makes sure to add extra condiments on the side. I just wish there were opportunities and room for Banks to bounce off the other cast members.
The Rangers all share enough chemistry that others may not find the disparity an issue. The group has an infectious sense of friendship, the kind that is not easily replicated and must come from a group of people who legitimately enjoy one another’s company. And what a diverse cast this is, with only one white male on the team. In writing this review I was convinced Becky G and RJ Cyler were the standouts until I remembered Bryan Cranston plays a floating computer head and Bill Hader is a sassy robot sidekick. These characters and performances won’t let you down.
While it’s nice to see a movie with superheroes representing LGBTQ and autistic members, these opportunities should be baseline barometers of acceptability, not remarkable leaps in progressive content. If Power Rangers does get a sequel, it does leave opportunities to build up these characters outside of instances that feel more like addendums than character traits. Then again, nobody else is currently doing it at all.
Go Go Power Rangers (or Don’t): To the credit of all involved on Power Rangers, the finale is fun. Not in the disposable sense of “fun,” either. It’s a simple note but the movie does an effective job of nailing a core thesis on the power of friendship. Through friendship, anything is possible. Especially when teamwork allows you to use giant robots to create an even bigger robot. Admittedly, this is partially hindered by a restricted budget. Similar to those in the original Maze Runner, action set pieces are shot as if they have twice the budget and it shows in the CGI. For further reference, there’s a reason the Pacific Rim battle sequences took place primarily at night and in the rain. It does no favors when a behemoth villain is made entirely from gold. When a giant robot fights a giant monster, ridiculous is just the name of the game. There’s nothing wrong with ridiculous as long as it’s framed through a lens of believability on a film’s own terms. The inadequacies merely intensify in the weightlessness of the CG creations (the exceptions being Cranston’s head and sassy-robotic Bill Hader). It’s almost too big for a movie that spends a majority of its runtime circling around character interactions. But damn it if this team didn’t have some quality moments along the way.
Overall: At its worst Power Rangers is an example of another studio product trying to ape the success of Chronicle, a movie that is now five years old. At its best, it actually provides some bursts of entertainment and a cast that is more than capable of carrying a franchise.
Featured Image: Lionsgate