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.
At a time where Hollywood is attempting to cynically re-package innumerable dormant franchises while exploiting the current high demand for nostalgia, it’d be easy for Power Rangers to be merely another soullessly vapid addition to the pile. However, this wholly imperfect romp proves unexpectedly entertaining thanks to a surprising devotion to character development and, yes, a colourful explosion of Transformers-esque, city-leveling mayhem.
65 million years ago, the Power Rangers were double-crossed by one of their own, Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), but in his dying moments, Red Ranger Zordon (Bryan Cranston) managed to hide the Rangers’ Power Coins in the ground and obliterate Rita. In the present, five teens (Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Becky G and Ludi Lin) stumble across these coins while exploring a mine, and are tasked by a re-awakened Zordon with saving the world from Rita, who has similarly been unearthed.
Ever since the first footage for this movie dropped, fans have been wondering exactly what sort of tone it would ultimately strike; would it attempt to recapture the gloriously over-the-top camp of the original 90s TV series, or give Saban’s goofy creation a thoroughly gritty, Batman Begins-esque makeover? Weirdly, the answer is actually both, and though this absolutely creates a peculiar tonal dissonance permeating through the entire movie, the result is actually much more enjoyable than most are likely expecting.
First and foremost, Power Rangers is an extremely character-driven film, and nightmarish though that sounds for a property based on people in coloured morph suits punching creatures made of putty, it’s a huge risk that pays off far more often than not. Working from Oscar nominee John Gatins’ (Flight) script, director Dean Israelite (Project Almanac) deals with the five would-be Rangers as people first, such that by the time they finally don their suits – at more than 90 minutes into the movie – it feels totally earned.
Yes, each of the five teens has their share of issues – Jason is a disgraced jock, Kimberly got involved in a sexting scandal, Billy is autistic, Trini suffers under parents who can’t accept her homosexuality, and Zack has a gravely ill mother – but it miraculously doesn’t feel overly forced. Finding a sweet spot between the after-school earnestness of the original show and modern CW teen melodrama, it’s shockingly easy to actually care about these characters.
A big contributor to the film’s success is the casting, and there’s not a single weak link among the pack. Cyler’s Billy is surely the standout, a charmingly offbeat nerd who brings autism to the forefront of a superhero movie without making it the butt of a joke or his single defining trait. Bryan Cranston also lends plenty of fatherly charm to the role of Zordon, developing him far beyond his fairly bland talking head role in the original show and establishing him as a vital mainstay for future movies.
There are two performances in the film that are likely to prove much more divisive, even if it’s not really a reflection of the turns themselves. Bill Hader gives a solid vocal rendition as Zordon’s robot pal Alpha-5, but eye-stingingly bad visual effects and a garish character design make him a jarring presence every time he’s on screen.
Then there’s Elizabeth Banks’ Rita Repulsa, who feels like the movie’s closest link to the extraordinary camp of the TV show. Banks does fine work recalling that heightened silliness, but it rings somewhat out of place in a film that does such a good job of being relatively serious and grounded, at least until deep into the third act.
To that end, the biggest surprise of all is that the Rangers don’t suit-up until the final 20 minutes of the movie for a climactic showdown with Rita and her giant golden minion Goldar. Though on the face of it this sounds like a terribly misguided idea, thanks to the strong character work it actually pays off well, resulting in a barmy set-piece that lovingly recalls the TV show’s wild action – complete with a brief nod to the series’ iconic theme tune – while never forgetting the human elements at play.
Israelite again makes smart directorial choices here, staging the action far more coherently than many of his blockbuster brethren, while working with a decidedly lighter budget of “only” $100 million. It’s just a shame the third act is littered with so much rampant product placement for Krispy Kreme, which while amusing at least once, feels utterly shameless after the tenth time it’s been mentioned by name.
Still, the prevailing feeling coming away from Power Rangers is that this is a strong proof-of-concept for a far superior (and inevitable) sequel. The heroes have been dealt with as people and a solid visual style has been firmly established, so now it just falls to the follow-up to dole out much more action and settle on a more consistent tone.
It’s probably fair to say that low expectations partly account for the film’s surprisingly appealing quality, but even on its own merits, this is a smart, well-rounded superhero flick that, with its weird-good melding of earnestness and contemporary snark, should appeal to both fans of the classic show and youngsters who have never even heard of it.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.