First thing’s first; I loved the Power Rangers when I was little. Like Spider-Man, X-Men and Justice League, Power Rangers was one of the most-watched programs in my household. Unlike many, I did not grow up with the original incarnation – Mighty Morphin – I was introduced to the franchise thanks to the 2003-rendition, Power Rangers: Ninja Storm. However, as I grew, I went back and discovered the charm and cheese of the original series. I had the toys, games, costumes; you name it, I probably had it.
So, the day has arrived. A whopping 14 years later, the Power Rangers grace the big screen. This 2017 Lionsgate reboot comes from Project Almanac helmer Dean Isrealite, and features an incredibly talented – and young – cast. Isrealite’s Almanac was a fine-little film, but the director is gifted a grand budget this time around, and he really embraces the colour and fun of the original series.
Telling a similar story to the 1993 TV show, Power Rangers follows five teenagers; each with a reason as to why they are outsiders and “freaks.” The five discover an ancient spaceship buried underground, and are gifted the “Power Coins.” The team must shape up and become the Power Rangers before Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) conquers Earth in a few very short days. The team of heroes will need to find the power within them to work together as a team, before it is too late.
There is a lot to like about Power Rangers. The film’s opening is incredibly strong, and fascinatingly dark. From there, we meet our main hero, Jason Lee Scott, the Red Ranger. Portrayed wonderfully by Australian actor Dacre Montgomery, the character is your high-school football star, whose career – and school year – go down the drain when a prank goes horribly wrong. Montgomery embodies the essence of the Red Ranger –he is confident, and yet shy. His performance is elevated by his spectacular co-stars; specifically, Naomi Scott. Scott takes on the role of Kimberly Hart, the Pink Ranger, and she has a blast. Like Jason, Kimberly has a tragic past. A touching scene between the two escalates when Jason reassures Kimberly of his kindness, saying, “Just because you did an awful thing, doesn’t mean you’re an awful person.” Little moments like that elevate the film in ways most blockbuster films do not. Isrealite and the film’s scribe, John Gatins (Kong: Skull Island), understand the importance of humanity in these characters. Gatins creates five roles with specific complexities that these young talents nail.
Becky G’s turn as Trini is another positive. She conveys the character in a way we have never really seen. She is remarkably different to her TV show-counterpart, but it works. Of course, Trini — in the film– is gay. However, instead of forcing it on the audience, G and Isrealite subtly hint at it, allowing them to make the connection themselves. RJ Cyler’s turn as Billy Cranston is also enjoyable. He provides most of the film’s funniest moments, and shares excellent chemistry with anyone alongside him. Cyler’s portrayal of Billy’s Autism was also enlightening. Like Trini’s sexuality, Isrealite and Cyler refuse to shove it down the audience’s throats; he lets it come naturally. Billy and Jason share a comedic scene, in-which Billy states that he is “on the spectrum.” Jason responds “Is that a new workout plan or something?” Ludi Lin’s Zack Taylor is another touching casting. Zack is quite different to the source material, but it works wonders. In this version, Zack’s Mother is dying of an undiscussed disease. His proclamation, that his “Mum is the best!” only adds to the audience’s sympathy.
Bryan Cranston, Bill Hader and Elizabeth Banks all provide solid performances. Banks looks – and sounds – like she is having a blast in this film. Repulsa is terrifying in this rendition – she has one of the best jump-scares in a blockbuster film I have ever seen. Hader provides some whit and snark as the trusty robot Alpha 5, but is brought down by his lack of screen time. Cranston portrays Zordon in an extremely unique manner. Unlike the source material, Zordon is not this incorruptible and indisputable character. Cranston and Isrealite humanize the role – as much as they can. Cranston’s Zordon has a reason behind his quarrel with Repulsa, and it provides an added layer of complexity and reason.
Visually, Power Rangers is great. Isrealite, and his cinematographer Matthew J. Lloyd (Cop Car) give the film a nice and dark look. From the get-go, we know this is not your Daddy’s Power Rangers. Brian Tyler’s score is also a standout. Though subtle, when at it’s finest, Tyler provides an emotional theme that brings the film full-circle. Full credit goes to Isrealite here, but Power Rangers is incredibly small. It keeps its characters and situations to a grounded, and simple-level. A worse film would have made the big-finale take place in a city like New York or Tokyo. Here, however, Isrealite sets it in the quiet town of Angel Grove. It is a welcome change in the realm of big-budget blockbusters.
Minor spoilers follow:
There are, however, problems. The film is 50% a dark and realistic reinterpretation, and the other 50% of it is a stupid, fun Power Rangers movie. It struggles to balance its dark and interesting opening 45 minutes with its popping, and loud finale. Banks’ performance as Repulsa is not the problem; many reviews say she is hamming it up, but I beg to differ. Repulsa is fine – it is the tone that is off. Up until the Rangers sport their iconic armour, the film knows what it is. It is once they become the titular heroes that we slump into your typical summer blockbuster. Isrealite and his cast craft a really fascinating world, with characters who you genuinely care for, but he sadly goes full-blockbuster with the final act. I wish the film stuck with its original tone; the dark and edgy version. I understand that I am in the minority who believe this. However, I totally understand why Isrealite went with the finale. It is tremendous fun. However, it is sadly a betrayal to what had been promised earlier in the film.
Tying in with the film’s tonal issue is its pacing. Power Rangers’ opening 45 minutes is awesome. We meet our protagonists, are introduced to our main villain and we know where everybody is at. While the movie keeps chugging along, we arrive at a point where the filmmakers… lost it a bit. Once the Rangers begin their training, Alpha introduces the Dinozords; these huge robot-versions of Dinosaurs. Now, the Dinozords are not the problem, everything after that is. The film speeds up. It glosses over things that should be built and expanded upon like they are nothing. The final battle – for instance; while entertaining and amusing, it is utterly cliché. Isrealite almost forgets about the careful job he has made in building towards this finale that he feels we should get it over with so we can see the Megazord.
That being said, Power Rangers – at its heart – is a kids film. It’s a movie about something children love, and in saying that, children will adore this film. Power Rangers is harmless fun. It is the TV show-reincarnated. Despite its tonal issues, I think Isrealite has created a really interesting blockbuster. If the chance comes around, I would love to return to this world and its wonderful characters. Hopefully – when the inevitable sequel comes around – the filmmakers take note of what people loved about the movie (the cast, characters, chemistry, style and opening-tone) and expand on that. Now that the origin-crap is out of the way, let’s explore this universe and its limitless possibilities. All in all, Power Rangers is a fine start to a – potential – franchise.