Movie Review: Power Rangers
Saban’s Power Rangers reboot is two mismatched movies in one.
One is a fairly satisfying tale of troubled teens learning to accept themselves and each other. The other is an unsatisfying action movie. The two pieces can’t get the morphin’ grid to fuse Power Rangers into a whole experience.
This review is going to spend a fair deal of time on the complaints I have with 2017’s reboot of Saban’s Power Rangers (minus the “mighty morphin” this time out) franchise. So before I do that, I’d like to get this out of the way: I actually liked the film. I’d much rather have this franchise begging me for ten bucks every other year than Transformers. Theater goers begged to differ. We’ll see why as we go along.
Power Rangers (2017)
Angel Grove is a pleasantly bland small coastal town. It has a secret, one that even it’s residents don’t know about. 65 million years ago, Angel Grove was the site of a final battle between the Power Rangers (led by Bryan Cranston as Zordon) and Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks). Rita was a Power Ranger gone rogue, driven mad with her desire to possess Earth’s powerful Zeo crystal. After his fellow rangers eat it, Zordon hides their power source: the power coins. He then calls down a meteor to obliterate himself and Rita.
Back in the present we meet Jason Scott, a football star with a rebellious side. After ruining his truck, his knee, and his dreams in a prank gone wrong, Jason begins serving detention at the local high-school. There he meets Billy, an autistic teen with a penchant for blowing stuff up. We are also introduced to Kimberly, a cheerleader who is now Ms. Unpopular for making some very poor decisions.
Jason decides to help Billy sneak into the Angel Grove gold mine one night. Kimberly is also there, coincidentally, taking a moonlight quarry swim.Two other teens, Zack and Trini, happen to be close by as well for other reasons. Billy is there with one goal: continue his dead father’s legacy of blowing shit up.
The five uncover the power coins when Billy’s blast uncovers the site of Zordon’s final gambit. After yet another car crash (director Dean Isrealite LOVES slow motion car crashes), the teens realize they have super strength, healing, and a massive urge to go spelunking. They uncover Zordon’s ship and he (surprise! only kinda dead!) informs them that by finding the coins, they are now the new Power Rangers. And BTW, they have to master their powers in eleven days before Rita (surprise! really not dead!) destroys the world. No biggie.
YA? Why Not!
The majority of this movie is above average young adult fare. All of the rangers have their own troubles and don’t want anything to do with saving the world. How they come together, share their wounds with each other, and develop a lasting bond is done fairly well. If you cut off the first 5 minutes of the film and the last 20, you basically have an ensemble version of The Karate Kid. And much like that movie, the teenage drama in this is competent, without a whole lot of pandering or over the top angst. It even covers up some of Power Rangers clunky moments by reminding you that these are awkward, clunky teens dealing with these issues.
The tone does shift from the Y to the A ungracefully a few times (The Rangers first instinct when meeting Alpha 5 is to kill him; not “beat him up” or “subdue him”. They straight up agree that if running away doesn’t work, it’s time for some murder!). Once again, I gave it the benefit of the doubt, as these teens do a pretty decent job of showing you that they themselves struggle with having one foot in the Young category and another in the Adult.
The eleven days leading up to the confrontation with Rita go by pretty quickly, both in the movie, and in my personal sense of how long the movie was running. After those eleven days expire we get to see them kick some ass! Wait? We don’t?
The big problem with this movie is how little Morphin’ these Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers do. They can’t wear their armor until they come together as a team. That takes just about the entire run time of the film. In fact, they can’t even do it once the deadline passes, so they decide to fight Rita in their civvies. It goes about as poorly as you’d expect.
I missed the Power Rangers Hullabaloo by about five years. While I knew about the craze, and had seen a few episodes here and there, I was too old to really care. That being said, I know how the show goes:
- Rita has a “foolproof” plan
- Some/one/all of the Rangers have a personal problem
- Those two things come to a head
- We get some Power Ranger kung-fu action
- We get some Godzilla-style Zord action
- Shit blows up
- The moral of the story is learned
- The show ends on a corny joke
Lather, rinse, repeat.
The show had a roughly 50/50 split of time in “real life” and time spent in spandex kicking stunt doubles around a cardboard set. This movie wanted nothing to do with that amount of action. When they finally get their armor, we get maybe two minutes of Ranger on Putty violence before the Zords get called in. We get maybe 5 minutes of Zord on Goldar action before it’s time for the Mega-Zord. That gives us a solid two minutes or so of additional action. For a two hour movie that marketed HARD on the gleefully silly violence of the original TV series 15 minutes of action is really stingy.
Power Rangers suffers from the conundrum of how to turn short, episodic source material into a feature length film. In my review of HK: Forbidden Super Hero, I concluded that the choice to just stitch five 20-minute episodes together didn’t work. Here, stretching one episode into a two hour event doesn’t quite work either. We get a satisfying character arc at the expense of an unsatisfying action segment.
Power Rangers mitigates the damage three ways, and it mostly works. First, the character development. I already covered it above, but I’ll add that all of the actors, from the Rangers to Rita, give above average performances. They often found that balance between camp and heart that script required.
Secondly the action, when it does come, feels very much like a high definition outing of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. The underwater fight was a very cool way to simulate the team-based “wire-fu” that MMPR traded in. The Zords, for their brief existence, fight like an updated version of the shows puppets. The Mega-Zord is schlocky Kaiju fun.
The last and weakest reason it gets a bit of a pass is by being the first film. You kind of expect a lot of character development in an origin story. Power Rangers is a sad example why Hollywood is increasingly loathe to do origin stories.
The director has stated quite brazenly that he wants to make Power Rangers a 6 movie epic. If that comes to pass, I think this movie might get some hindsight love. But just like the Rangers themselves, if this movie has to stand all alone it doesn’t seem that Mighty.