It’s Morphin Time
Set in the town of Angel Grove, we are introduced to all-star high school footballer Jason Scott [Montgomery]. After a car crash following a prank ruins a future career in sports, he is assigned Saturday detention. There he meets Billy Cranston [Cyler] and Kimberley Hart [Scott], both commendable students who made stupid mistakes and have become social pariahs. Jason slaps a kid bullying Billy and owing to his autism, Billy latches on to Jason, offering to disconnect his ankle monitoring device. In return for this favour, Billy asks Jason to drive him up to the local gold mine. Upon setting off an explosive device, Jason and Billy encounter Kimberley, the rebellious new girl, Trini [G] and cocksure miscreant, Zack [Lin]. In the rubble, they come across a series of brightly coloured coins and evade capture by security. The next day they awake to find they are capable of doing all manner of superhuman feats and agree to head back to the quarry. There they locate an underground spaceship with an android named Alpha 5 (voiced by Bill Hader) who is guarding the backed-up consciousness of former Red Ranger, Zordon [Cranston]. Zordon explains the five teenagers were chosen by the coins to become the next team of Power Rangers and protect a crystal which Earth’s survival depends on, from Rita Repulsa [Banks] who craves its power.
As a tick-box exercise, Power Rangers does everything one could want yet still fails. I know there are several people who would love to watch a silly, colourful child-friendly rendition, reminiscent of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers TV series but for that, I would argue Power Rangers: The Movie already exists. Instead, Power Rangers tries to placate those looking for action, comedy, drama, relatability and representation; the trouble is everything about this film is still shackled to the source material and the trappings of its origins. To get technical and boring for a second, the Power Rangers television show of the 90s was actually a cobbled-together reimagining of a Japanese series: Super Sentai. The fight scenes and giant monster battles were kept intact but everything else was crafted from the ground up. Imagine, finding a comic strip in a different language and reprinting it with your idea of what might be happening – essentially that. So even the original that everyone loves so devoutly is far from what was intended. This gives the current adaptation a lot of creative leeway to generate something new and the first thing that seems to have been broached was a question of seriousness.
To my mind, this film is very much pitched at a new teenage audience, it draws so heavily on 80s high school films, crafting something like a more lighthearted version of Chronicle. So in order to make these characters feel real and relatable, rather than cartoon caricatures, the script address issues of mental health, sexuality and diversity; on top of the usual teen drama stuff about acceptance, familial relationships and evolving friendships. This kind of semi-realism is an extremely welcome treat and the film has no problem reveling in its chosen cast and course of realism. Without wanting to spoil things, after the rangers-to-be acquire their power coins they try to escape the quarry security by racing across railway tracks before an incoming train ploughs through them. Typical cinematic fare thus far, only the twist this time is the train absolutely decimates their minivan; something we’re genuinely not used to seeing and really brings home a sense of danger and maturity. Having said that I will be the first to admit that some of the traits, specifically Billy’s mentioning that he is on the spectrum, alters somewhat, to fit the needs of the script and much of the film is remarkably stupid. But by and large, for a major blockbuster release, this is positive stuff handled surprisingly decently.
In truth, the film is a pretty decent superhero origin story and performs adequately. But this isn’t that kind of film – arguably – and eventually audiences are going to want tokusatsu elements such as colourful suits, giant mechanised robots, kaiju and elaborate villains. So as we enter the third act, Power Rangers steps away from the angsty super-teen drama it’s been establishing and unleashes the cheese. Admittedly, there had been hints and elements throughout but there are few ways to approach giant prehistoric animal shaped robots. To my mind, all the “rangering” (for lack of a better word) is where the film falters the most. Everything is acceptable (there’s even a scene in a quarry where the group use martial arts to defeat faceless henchmen) but feels considerably rushed and the CGI is pretty dismal. As much as I’m not condoning this, you can sometimes get away with a terrible script if your visual effects are so dazzling that you bewitch an audience. *cough* Avatar *cough*. Power Rangers doesn’t have that luxury as the zord designs are godawful. When they gather together to produce the anthropomorphic megazord, it’s godawful. Goldar, the mute liquid-gold being manipulated into a crude man-suit terrorising the town, is godawful. It’s functional but it’s bloody ugly. Sure, this could just be teething troubles in the early stages of a new franchise but with the amount of money behind this, we shouldn’t encounter these problems. Whether you like Pacific Rim or not, it nailed what these guys tried to achieve. I will say, however, the scenes are vastly superior to those in the Transformers franchise.
Weirdly enough, the thing that works the most is the acting. Bryan Cranston is great as a new cantankerous agenda-driven version of Zordon, Elizabeth Banks could have been better but considering the Rita Repulsa from the series, she does a decent job making a pretty scary villain whilst using a lot of the frankly ridiculous catchphrases and each of the rangers brings a level of interest making them all capable and compelling characters in their own right, rather than a bunch of badly cobbled stereotypes. Granted, none of them are perfect, Rita goes full Bond villain spouting exposition and not besting the rangers when she has a chance, but all-in-all, I’ve seen much, much worse.
Ultimately, this is a very difficult film to review and I must confess I don’t think anyone would ever be able to produce an adaptation that would please everyone. Some fans will want what came before, others will want something new and those uninitiated will require a lot of good faith and quality to convince them this can stand toe-to-toe with the wealth of action franchises we currently have. My bet is that, much like the Turtles reboot, this film will get a lot of flak by people blinded by nostalgia and will define itself in a follow-up. Either something semi-decent worth pursuing, or more of the same mish-mash, a la TMNT.
24th March 2017
The Scene To Look Out For:
The brief opening scene, set on prehistoric Earth is pretty brilliant. The Power Rangers are on the verge of defeat by one of their own and in a last-ditch attempt to preserve the planet, the Red Ranger, Zordon, sacrifices his life to best the Green Ranger, Rita. Establishing Bryan Cranston and Elizabeth Banks this early on, speaking in an alien dialect is great. It sets the tone for what’s to come and is just as sane as Zordon being a space wizard who imprisons Rita on Mars (I think) so I can’t complain. Frustratingly, the film then takes us to the present and treats us to a surprisingly long and confident bestiality joke. It’s .. it’s frankly a bit weird.
Krispy Kreme is a great character, full of life, personality and purpose. The significance, humour and dialogue attributed to it are second to none. Oh wait. No. No, the words Krispy Kreme are in fact said way too fucking much. I’m never overly fussed by product placement because I think it adds a certain level of realism. In general life, people don’t tend to navigate around saying or using certain brands with a hardened lawyer’s precision, so why should our on-screen characters conduct themselves that way? Having said that, there is a line. Back to the question at hand, I’d say my highlighted character could easily be any of the five rangers as they all performed commendably. There’s absolutely nothing about their origins that’s new or compelling but they themselves feel like characters we don’t often see in a tent-pole film of this nature; which is refreshing.
“Thank you for being my friends”
In A Few Words:
“Power Rangers was never going to be an easy conversion as audiences already have such strong opinions about what they expect but at the end of the day, while this is far from great, it’s not nearly as bad as it could have been”
Total Score: 3/5