Power Rangers (2017) Review
FANS…. IT’S MORPHIN TIME!
Two words…Power Rangers. Created by Saban Entertainment and deriving from the Japanese tokusatsu called Super Sentai, Power Rangers first appeared on the air back on August 28th, 1993, with a show’s first incarnation titled Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. In a nutshell (and a set formula for the future installments), the show follows several youthful teenagers, who are endowed with special power (transforming into the Power Rangers), and are called upon to save the world from an evil threats, which was usually an aggressive alien being or a primordial ancient evil. Despite the immediate criticism for its action violence targeted to children audiences from parents and critics (something that was a bit common during the mid-90s), Mighty Morphin Power Rangers became a TV series phenomenon in the 90s-pop culture as well as becoming the one of the flagship kids show for Fox Kids Saturday morning block during the 90s. From there, it goes without saying that Power Rangers (as a brand) swelled into a monumental success, launching an expansive TV series empire (24 seasons), seeing the first six season / series of the show (from Mighty Morphing Power Rangers to Power Rangers in Space) followed a continuative story arc narrative (gradually changing up the roster with new cast members and characters). From there (beginning with Power Rangers: Lost Galaxy to the present), each Power Rangers subsequent series (though taking part in the same universe) carried its own self-contained storylines that was independent from the previous one, with a few ties here and there (appearing as crossover episodes). The Power Rangers brand even grew beyond its television series, exploding on the market with various clothing apparel, toys, action figures, video games and even two theatrical films (Power Rangers: The Movie and Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie), which were both tied to their corresponding Power Rangers series. Although, the franchise isn’t as highly palpable as it was during the mid-90s, the legacy of the Power Rangers continues into present day, seeing the brand survive the constant change of popularity since its inception 24 years ago (as of 2017). Now, Lionsgate films, SGC (Saban Capital Group) films, and director Dean Israelite returns to the world of villains, zords, and teens “with attitude” in the highly-anticipated film Power Rangers. Can this reimagined feature film of the popular 90s speak to today’s modern audience or is just for its fans (and their childhood nostalgia)?
In the small suburb town of Angel Grove, the lives of five local students Jason (Dacre Montgomery), Billy (RJ Cyler), Kimberly (Naomi Scott), Zack (Ludi Lin), and Trini (Becky G), each of whom is a social outcast / misfit for one reason or another, are forever changed after one fateful night, in which they as a group (gathered together by coincidence) stumble upon a mysterious collection of con-shaped stone (each one a different color). Soon after, all five teens find themselves with transformed, each one imbued with incredible physical strength and strange abilities, inspiring the five teens to further investigate the place in which they discovered these peculiar “Power Coins” to begin with. Discovering a hidden spaceship deep underground, the five teenagers meet Zordon (Bryan Cranston), an alien hologram spirit who’s mind and memory have been infused into the ship matrix system. There, the group learns about their “Power Coins” and their future fates of becoming heroes. Millions of years ago, the coins belong to a team of superheroes know as the Power Rangers, with Zordon as their leader and tasked with protecting Earth’s Zeo Crystal, an extremely powerful crystal that exists beneath the surface of every planet throughout the universe (aka a source of life / creation). However, the group is soon informed by Zordon that Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), a dangerous extraterrestrial sorceress and former Power Ranger, has also endured the eons, awakening in present day Angel Grove and begins to amass her power once again and to find the Zeo Crystal for her own nefarious villainy. Now, Jason, Billy Kimberly, Zack, and Trini, under the guidance of Zordon and his robot comrade Alpha 5 (Bill Hader), must band together, transforming this group “teenagers with attitude” into the new Power Rangers and save the world from annihilation.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As you can tell from my opening paragraph, I grew up watching Power Rangers (what can I say…I’m a 90s kid). The show premiered when I was still in elementary school and I remember watching the original show every Saturday mornings (one of the highlight shows of any kids Saturday morning block for most of the mid 90s era) and being totally fascinated. The characters, the concept, the battles, the zords…. I loved it all. My brother and I had all the action figure toys (except the Green Ranger’s Dragon Dagger and the zord Titanus) and we use to play with them all the time with our friends. I would be Jason (the original Red Ranger) and my brother would be Tommy (the original Green Ranger). As years went on, many of peers (including my brother) stopped watching Power Rangers, but I didn’t. Yes, I’ll admit it (to the whole internet) that I secretly watched the show way beyond and into my middle school and high school years. I loved the original six season story arc (from Mighty Morphing to In Space), but I also watched the other Power Rangers shows, including Lost Galaxy, Lightspeed Rescue, S.P.D, Timeforce, Ninja Storm. Naturally, all the big episodes are still stuck in my mind (i.e. the “Green with Evil” saga, the two-part “White Light” arc, the whole “Psycho Rangers” story arc from Power Rangers in Space, and the fan-favorite “Forever Red” episode from Power Rangers: Wildforce. So, yeah, I’m quite versed in the Power Rangers universe. I haven’t seeing the recent ones, but I’m glad that legacy of the Power Rangers has lived on all this time; a feat that’s quite impressive in pop culture.
Of course, this all bring me back around to the new Power Rangers movie. Being a fan of the property from the beginning, I was definitely intrigued to see this movie, hearing all the news that Lionsgate (a major Hollywood studio) was going to make live-action Power Rangers film. Then, the cast’s promo picks started to appear online as well as the film’s trailers, which I totally geeked out over. Thus, my anticipation to see Power Rangers were high, but I had a feeling that wasn’t going to be completely “wowed “over it (trying to control my expectations a bit). So…. what did I think of it? Well, as my title for this review states, Power Rangers, while stumbling on several areas, is definitely a motion picture for its fans, especially those who grew up with original series. It’s not the absolute best reboot of a popular property, but it’s still a really good romp of seeing 90s nostalgia updated in this modern-day movie-going era.
Reimagining this popular 90s show for the big screen is director Dean Israelite, who’s previous work includes directing several short films (Magician and The Department of Nothing) as well as the 2015 film Project Almanac. Naturally, Israelite could’ve taken this movie in many directions, especially since the concept formula of the show has been revamped again and again through the franchise’s lifespan; romancing the notion of trying something new and different. However, Israelite chooses a more conventional approach, which (in this case) is not necessarily a bad thing, playing out the origin tale of how these teenagers stumble upon a something life-altering and, through their bonding and overcoming personal moments, become something extraordinary. This is aided by the film’s script, which was penned by John Gatins (that was based on a screen story from Matt Sazama and Michele and Kiernan Mulroney), which does pull from the original series (Mighty Morphin Power Rangers) as its source material, but also lightly deepens the mythology of this property as well as also allowing new material to enter the feature and given a “fresh take” on certain aspects and character development. Additionally, the movie, which clocks in around roughly two hours, doesn’t feel long as it should be, which is always a positive for the film to achieve that notion.
In addition, the movie feels a bit in-tuned with its television roots that just presented on a much larger scale and a bigger arena (i.e. production budget). If you’ve been a fan of the show (or at least seeing a few), Power Rangers, throughout its entirety and its many incarnations, has always been a bit cheesy and campy. This 2017 version still somewhat retains that fundamental “campy-ness” throughout the film, but it works with the movie rather than against it. To be honest, the movie, despite what people say about (whether the like it, dislike it, or are indifferent to it altogether) is presented in way that outshines the various TV shows (i.e. bettering acting, better character development, and better visuals). Yes, the shows have more time to develop a more complex story narrative and intertwining character threads, but this 2017 Power Rangers updates the concept for modern viewers and, in comparison to the TV series, it never looked and felt better. Of course, this means that the film is a joyous fun for fans of the original show, who might overlook this film’s mistakes and misgivings to see their childhood TV show come to life on the big screen. To me, to a certain degree, it did for me.
Production-wise, Power Rangers is presented well, meeting the industry standard of a blockbuster type film. From commonplace scenes of high school halls / classrooms and family homes to the futuristic layout of Zordon’s spaceship, the production designs are good and feel convincing (thanks to its production designer Andrew Menzie) as well as the film’s cinematographer Matthew J. Lloyd, who creates some slick and creative shots throughout the movie. The film’s visuals, while nothing awesomely grand, are rendered beautifully and meets the standards for movie’s CG effects in this current age of films, especially when enters the third act that delivers plenty of action as well as Zord-driven frenzy spectacle; a standard “Power Rangers” tradition. Also, the film’s score (composed by Brian Tyler is good. It’s not his most memorable film score, but it is still effective in reaching melodic tones, flourishes, and invoking dramatic emotions during many of the films scenes. Lastly, I have to say that I’m digging to the new design of the “Power Rangers” armor.
Of course, the movie isn’t perfect, finding Power Rangers to having its fair share of problems along the way. Of course, the most notable one is what the film is trying to emulate (or rather be like), which is Michael Bay’s Transformer movies. If you think about it…. it’s true, peppering the feature with sexual innuendos and references, a few swear words, a handful of silly moments, and big CG violence towards the film’s climax. Sound familiar? This mean that, if you’re not a fan of Bay’s Transformers movies, you might not find Power Rangers towards your liking. In fact, those Rangers fans hoping that this movie going to be like 2015’s short film Power Rangers (a dark and edgy R-rated short film that debuted online) will disappointed as the film sticks within the moderate PG-13 rating system (again…something similar to Bay’s Transformers flicks). Adding to that, like Bay’s giant robot movies, Power Rangers faces a hard demographic to target. The film is a bit edgy for younger fans, a bit silly for older teens, a bit pointless for adults, leaving its fan base (mostly the Generation X age range) to fully enjoy the picture properly. This means that the is movie is clearly made for them as the causal moviegoers or anyone that fan brings along (husband / wife, boyfriend / girlfriend, parent, etc.), who’s not interested in Power Rangers (at all), will find the feature tedious and boring. Basically, this movie is for the fans. To me, this didn’t bother me as I was sort of expecting the movie to be like this, but I’m just forewarning that to you guys (my viewers).
As a side-note to the paragraph above, the movie does deal with some material that may be inappropriate for young fans, despite their fascination with Power Rangers. The includes mentioning masturbation (heck, even the first Transformers talked about that), to referencing a teen sexting revenge porn scenario, to one of the main characters coming “out of the closet” as a lesbian. As to be noted, all of this stuff is played with PG-13 kid gloves (nothing is explicitly shown). So, to the parents out there who have little ones that want to see this movie, this is just a cautionary warning (remember that the movie is rated PG-13 for a reason).
Another problem that Power Rangers faces is the tale it wants to tell, playing out similar origin tale that many of us have seeing play out on various movies / TV shows, especially in the superhero genre. This, of course, makes the movie a bit formulaic from start to finish, with traditional scenarios of seeing a team come together (i.e. the clashing of ideas, different personalities, etc.). More to the point, the film’s narrative path is similar to the first Iron Man movie, with the first two acts of the film devoted to origin of the characters (and their team development), while the third act is where the movie shines the best, culminating in an action battle that fans of the show will love. This mean, that the movie doesn’t fully “kick into high gear” until the last 35 minutes. That’s not to say the first two acts are good, but the third act draws upon want many are looking to see in this reboot film.
Of course, what makes Power Rangers intriguing (and interesting) is the cast selection that Israelite and his crewmembers picked to play the film’s five title characters (i.e. the five Power Rangers). One would expect that Hollywood would choose big name ticketed young adult stars to bolster the popularity of the film (and its pre-release hype). However, the film doesn’t go that route (and that’s a good thing), finding five, mostly undiscovered actors / actresses to fill the roles of Jason, Billy, Zack, Trini, and Kimberly. For the most part, each one of these young stars give solid work in their respective performances, projecting grounded teenagers. Although, on the other hand, each one is a bit stereotypical archetypes, finding Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery) and Kimberly Hart (Naomi Scott) as the ex-popular jock/ in-crowd teens, Billy Cranston (RJ Cyler) as the “on the spectrum” individual (that’s kind of interesting and probably the most memorable one of the bunch and even the most memorable Blue Ranger ever in the show’s history), Zack (Ludi Lin) as the anti-authoritative “rebellious” teenager, and Trini (Beck G) has the loner schoolgirl. It’s a classical move, especially building diversity within a team that ultimately has to come together and each one does get a bit of depth towards their character motivations. As one can tell from the film’s trailers, the movie does focus on some of the characters more than others, seeing Jason, Kimberly, and Billy more in the spotlight, while Zack and Trini are a bit in the background. Yes, those two have their moments (especially Trini), but its seems like those two characters got the short end of the stick in screen-time.
While five Rangers are relatively known, the supporting cast members of Power Rangers are more well-known, recognizable from their previous works on both movies and TV shows. First off is actress Elizabeth Banks, who plays the film’s antagonist character of Rita Repulsa. Banks, known for her roles in The Hunger Games film saga, the Pitch Perfect movies, and The LEGO Movie, is an actress that I like, but seems a bit of a misfire in this movie. Why? The performance of the movie’s villain is too cartoony and over-the-top. I know I mentioned that this movie plays up the cheesy campy-ness, but only to a certain degree, finding Bank’s Rita just as goofy as the original Rita from the TV show. She definitely looks the part and has a few memorable moments that I like in the film (both creepy and humorous), but I think I would’ve liked to see her “tone” down the grandiose theatricals, playing the role of Rita Repulsa with a bit more subtle and sinister performance. Some might like it, but, to me, I wasn’t feeling it.
In comparison to Bank’s performance seasoned actor Bryan Cranston, known for his roles in hit TV shows Malcom in the Middle and Breaking Bad, is more restrained but gives a solid portrayal of the Rangers’ leader Zordon. Like the show, the character of Zordon doesn’t really have much to go on, with the exception of giving guidance and wisdom to the Rangers). In the movie, there is a bit of backstory given to him (as well as Rita Repulsa) and Cranston’s voice lends the right balance of sagely wisdom and overall gravitas to the role of Zordon. Rounding out the supporting players of the film is comedic actor Bill Hader, famous for his on the TV show Saturday Night Live (2005 -2014) as well as Superbad, Inside Out, and Trainwreck, who plays Alpha 5, a somewhat sidekick to the Rangers and Zordon. Hader’s comedic beats indeed make him of a memorable character in the movie and definitely more competent (and less annoying) than the show’s original iteration of Alpha 5.
Lastly, there are a couple of nods and references that many fans of the original show will catch and put a smile on their face, including a brief snippet of original theme song as well as cameo appearances of two past original Rangers. Additionally, stay tuned for a mid-credits scene that will many fans will like, hinting a character’s appearance in the movie’s sequel installment. To me, I had a feeling that they would be mentioned in the post-credit scene.
It’s morphin time as the five youthful teenagers battle against Rita Repulsa in the movie Power Rangers. Director Dean Israelite’s newest film sees the reimagining of the Power Rangers series, returning to the original story (characters and villains) in this updated reboot origin tale. While it doesn’t break away from its inherit cheesy and campy tone of the long-running TV show franchise (good and / or bad criticism for some) as well as being a bit difficult to speak to a large audience, taking a while to get things going, and some character spotlight focus (especially Bank’s lackluster villainy), the movie still retains the overall fun of its original source material property that many (including my generation) grew up with. Personally, I liked it. Yes, I’m a bit biased with this movie due to my childhood fandom of the show, but it held my attention and, despite the negative points I mentioned, the film was enough to entertain me and satisfy my expectations. As for recommendation…. its very crystal clear that this movie is a tossup between fans and causal moviegoers. Thus, I would say that Power Rangers is recommended for fans and probably a “iffy choice” for everyone else. It’s unclear how this movie will be received by the general public (and at the global box office), but the studio execs behind this movie are already planning for a six-feature film movie deal. I, for one, will be interested to see where the future Power Rangers installments will go, further continuing the Rangers adventures in saving the world. Can’t wait to see if they add others characters from the original show along the way (Rocky, Aisha, Adam, etc.) as well as the villains (Lord Zedd, King Mondo and the Machine Empire, Divatox, etc.). Man…this is bringing back a lot of childhood memories just by writing those names out. For now, though, Power Rangers is a fun and nostalgia filled picture that’s made for its longtime fans. Plain and simple.
3.7 Out of 5 (Recommended / Iffy Choice)
Released On: March 24th, 2017
Reviewed On: March 24th, 2017
Power Rangers is 124 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, language, and for some crude humor