Some movies are all about fan service and enticing our nostalgia Power Rangers is another film added to that list. I will say I had my doubts about whether this concept had any life left in it (it wasn’t like people were clamoring for a modern day reboot) but the film is a solid blend of what made the show a bit of campy fun for all of us who grew up with it and a more serious take on our core five of would be superheroes who end up being a bit more complex when compared to their original incarnations.
Rarely has a franchise dominated childhoods as thoroughly as the ’90s-era live-action Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, devoured on TV and cemented with action figures and toys that had all of us sending our parents out on a fruitless endeavor to get them all before they were sold out (I quickly got a Blue and Black Ranger action figured while the popular Red and Green Ranger were never in my grasp). The show was criticized for its depiction of violence but even as young kids we understood this was played more for fun and camp, rather than a statement of accurate bodily harm. There was a Ranger for all of us and that’s why the show resonated with its core audience. Born leaders gravitated towards Jason’s Red Ranger while geeks who dreamed of the prospect of being a bit more cool had Billy the Blue Ranger in their corner. Even the girls were represented from both sides with Trini the Yellow Ranger and Kimberly the Pink Ranger. They were very different but showed all types of girls had the capability of showing strength and determination.
I break down these character beats because not much has changed between 1993 and 2017. Those of us who grew up with the Rangers will remember the character breakdowns fondly while a new generation gets their own set of five to see themselves through. Honestly, the best aspect of the 2017 is that our heroes are a bit more complex and dealing with heavier issues that may make them even more relatable to the target audience of today. That’s not to say that the film is an exercise in angst in self loathing. This is also a very fun movie that is probably much better than it has any right to be.
The film begins with a group of warriors on prehistoric Earth, the Power Rangers, who were tasked with protecting life on Earth and the Zeo Crystal. However, the Green Ranger, Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), betrays them. The Red Ranger, Zordon (Bryan Cranston), takes the Rangers’ power source, the Power Coins, and hides them while ordering his assistant Alpha 5 (voice of Bill Hader) to perform a meteor strike which kills Zordon, sends Rita to the bottom of the sea, and destroys the dinosaurs.
The modern day story is pretty much familiar to what we got from the original show. Zordon recruits five high school students to form a team that must stop an alien threat led by the witch Rita Repulsa, who is once again wrecking havoc. The five include Jason (Dacre Montgomery), Kimberly (Naomi Scott), Trini (Becky G.), Zack (Ludi Lin), and Billy (RJ Cyler). While they experience a bit of a rocky start, the five embrace their roles as potential heroes and attempt to stop Rita and save the world in the process.
What this Power Rangers does, that the show didn’t quite do in much detail, is explore the complexities of our core team: They’re imperfect but perfect enough to be selfless and save the world. Despite spending the majority of its running time with lead heroes Kimberly and Jason, the main player of the group is autistic Billy whose charm and enthusiasm is instantly contagious. He’s the true heart of the film. In all honesty I was reminded a bit of The Breakfast Club while watching the cast form their chemistry while all having their insecurities and strengths come to the forefront. For instance, Becky G. channels her best Ally Sheedy as Trini and that’s honestly all she really needs to do. Her guarded exterior proves to be a perfect jumping off point for her being the much discussed first LGBT character in a superhero film. It wasn’t a necessary plot point but at least it’s handled with as much care as you can expect from a Power Rangers movie. Ludi Lin gets to display some cool action star charm and channel his inner Judd T. Nelson as Zack and Naomi Scott, as Kimberly, gets the play the Molly Ringwald type as the reformed mean girl and actually feels like she’d be right at home on The O.C. (this is a compliment, believe it or not).
Despite the surprisingly strong showing from the five leads, the real scene stealer is Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa. Yes, she’s over the top and seems to be coming into a completely different movie but the amount of pure relish she puts into the role can’t be denied. The film goes a bit off the wall in the best way whenever she’s on screen and she’s pretty much a window to the more campy aspects of the show that fans embraced whole heartedly back in 1993. I don’t need to care exactly why she likes to devour gold, I just loved watching her do it.
The other two performances worthy of a mention may get ignored because they aren’t exactly physically there but they’re solid nonetheless. Bryan Cranston can do anything and he proves it here by giving their floating head mentor Zordon a lot of heart and honestly more character beats than I was expecting. He exudes wisdom and conveys a lot through a commanding yet reassuring voice. Finally there’s Bill Hader providing the voice of Alpha 5. I had my doubts because the character design seemed odd in the trailers but his vocal performance makes you embrace Alpha 5 and gives us a version that doesn’t really annoy like the one from the show (even as a child I knew Alpha 5 could only be tolerated for about 5 minutes).
The show was known for its action (mostly the controversy surrounding its action) and the film doesn’t slouch in that arena but it also doesn’t break new ground. Their journey of discovery to achieving their powers proves to be more interesting than the actual action that consumes the climax but it’s also serviceable enough that it serves its purpose. The final extended battle wisely looks to the broad-daylight roots of the original show’s fight scenes for inspiration. They’re bright, fun and don’t succumb to the general doom and gloom atmosphere that the genre is known for. It gets points for being a bit different but don’t expect for it break new ground when it comes to superhero action.
The child in me was pretty happy that this film didn’t turn out to be a disappointment. The excessive Krispy Crème product placement notwithstanding (I dare you to not crave one after the film is over) Power Rangers ends up being a surprisingly gratifying experience. It may be one big cash grab that plays on our nostalgia but at least it’s a cash grab that works and left me wanting to delve into future stories with our heroes, sooner rather than later. “Go, Go, Power Rangers!!!”