Power Rangers, 2017.
Directed by Dean Israelite
Starring Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Ludi Lin, Becky G, Matt Shively, John Stewart, Cody Kearsley, David Denman, Robert Moloney, Anjali Jay, Sarah Grey, Morgan Taylor Campbell, Wesley MacInnes, Elizabeth Banks, Bill Hader, Bryan Cranston, Amy Jo Johnson, and Jason David Frank.
A group of high-school kids, who are infused with unique superpowers, harness their abilities in order to save the world.
You can’t have your Krispy Kreme doughnut and eat it too. That sentence is more relevant than you might imagine given the wacky plot of Power Rangers, but at some point, the levels of camp that fans are accustomed to adoring conflicts with director Dean Israelite’s (Project Almanac) grounded reimagining of the color-coded superheroes. When Christopher Nolan decided to reboot Batman as a dark and gritty crime drama, he didn’t include traces of Joel Schumacher’s insanity; he committed to a specific tone and weaved a trilogy that was unmistakably his own. Meanwhile, this modern-day take on Power Rangers actively seems incapable of fully embracing itself as a real-world, authentically teenage driven interpretation of the worldwide phenomenon.
Continuing along with this observation, Power Rangers is essentially 2012’s surprise winner Chronicle remixed but now telling origin story regarding the five high-school students most of us are familiar with. Every review will mention that and so will this one, simply because it is that obvious and the script doesn’t even attempt to hide it. It’s about five Angel Grove students that fortuitously wind up together at an abandoned cave where they uncover glowing coins that make an immediate connection with their bodies, giving them all enhanced abilities such as super strength, super jumping, super resiliency, etc. From there it’s about these five young chosen ones adapting the gift/curse to their already complicated lives, attempting to make a positive impact on their dumpy neighborhood.
Furthermore, this is actually when Power Rangers actually works best. Sure, some of the kids are dumb and consistently make mistakes, but that’s what teenagers usually do. From a character standpoint, it’s about these kids slowly easing into a more mature state of mind, accepting who they are inside (yes, one of the Power Rangers is lesbian), dealing with bullying, and forming a teamwork bond with one another. It is fully expected that some audiences will groan or cringe at some admittedly odd creative decisions such as a confessional scene involving one of the Rangers and a sexting incident, but they do work in the context of this imagining of the Power Rangers. Also, that’s accounting for the fact that much of the acting in the movie is incredibly amateurish (save for RJ Cyler and Dacre Montgomery) and never really delivered very convincingly. Still, it gets points for trying.
Real people (high-schoolers or not) dealing with enhancements they didn’t ask for is compelling, especially when grounded into reality. With that said, Power Rangers has clashing tones that don’t mesh well together at all. I’m sure Elizabeth Banks had a ton of fun chewing up the scenery as cheesy villain Rita Repulsa (essentially she awakes from hibernation after billions of years, searching around Angel Grove for gold to rebuild her strength, army, and other nefarious deeds), and I DID enjoy her performance. Here’s the thing, though: Power Rangers is two very different movies smashed into one unit, with each tone walloping the other for control. I’m fully aware someone will read this and criticize that Power Rangers was always ridiculously over-the-top (which is absolutely true), but the realistic approach here was working fine. A better film would have either found a more successful way to combine the super seriousness with the absurd ‘take over the world’ shenanigans, or just settle on one approach.
Moving along, there are some aspects of Power Rangers that are just unforgivable. Drama or cheeseball nonsense route, it should not take over 90 minutes into the movie for the titular superheroes to receive their trademark armor (which in this overall more realistic version bear a resemblance to the Spartan armor worn in Microsoft’s mega-popular Halo video game franchise). This could have been mitigated somewhat if the bonding between Rangers was more interesting or if they were more fleshed out characters, but unfortunately, the mileage varies from scene to scene. It’s also worth noting that the movie has some flimsy editing, at one point drifting from scene to scene to scene, where all three stuck out as rushed and pointless.
Power Rangers valiantly tries to maintain a level of excitement by throwing the heroes through a series of training exercises against holographic enemies, but it’s impossible to shake the feeling that it’s just useless filler. Characters like Zordon (Bryan Cranston as the original billions-year-old Power Ranger now fused to a wall in the aforementioned cave resembling something out of The Matrix) and Bill Hader’s Alpha 5 do little to elevate intrigue. Alpha 5 is actually an infuriatingly worthless child-friendly robot companion solely existing for merchandise sales and a cutesy distraction for much younger audience members. As far as I’m concerned, he can go get a room with Star War’s abominable creation Jar Jar Binks. If Alpha 5 were limited to just the training exercises (where he does actually fit in) everything would have been fine, but instead, he constantly interrupts multiple serious conversations between Zordon and the Power Rangers; you can’t help but just want to punt him all the way to the moon.
Coming full circle to the inevitable point where the Power Rangers finally get their power armor and accompanying Zords, the grounded serious nature of high schoolers dealing with newfound abilities and responsibility clashes with the cornball villain plot arc of Rita Repulsa and her Putty Patroller army, and the blockbuster completely falls apart despite an onslaught of citywide destruction. Simply put, both the CGI and fight choreography are embarrassingly awful, somehow triggering that moment where the mind stops caring about the film as a whole. It only gets worse from there, further devolving into really giant special-effects pounding each other into the ground, focused on spectacle rather than staging a memorable fight sequence. To make matters worse, some genius decided that the theme song should only play for 10 seconds before the initial battle, but overplayed “Power” by Kanye West should play over an entire battle. Not even instrumental music, nope… Kanye West.
To say that Power Rangers falls into many of the numerous pitfalls associated with rebooting a beloved property would be an understatement. It doesn’t fail on every level (as mentioned, quite a bit of the grounded approach works and RJ Cyler is wonderfully expressive and easily likable as the Blue Ranger), but something is wrong when the best part of the last 20 minutes is Elizabeth Banks biting into a Krispy Kreme doughnut as Angel Grove is destroyed.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★