Review: Power Rangers (2017)

Directed by: Dean Israelite
Written by: John Gatins
Starring: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Becky G, Ludi Lin, Bill Hader, Bryan Cranston, and Elizabeth Banks
Distributed by: Lionsgate

The first season of
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers premiered 4 months before I was born, in August of 1993. It was one of my earliest childhood obsessions, as I would watch it in an almost religious manner and beg for action figures and everything. My memories of the first few seasons are pretty vivid, even if my firsthand knowledge of the franchise only really extends to Power Rangers Turbo and not any further. Almost 25 years after the premiere of the first series, Hollywood is yet again capitalizing on the popular media franchise with Power Rangers, a reboot that focuses specifically on the characters and story of the original series and bringing them to the current generation. Let’s see how exactly that all panned out.

In the small town of Angel Grove, we are introduced to five teenagers with varying social/life issues who all cross paths with each other: Jason, Billy, Kimberly, Zack, and Trini. When the five of them explore an abandoned mine shaft, they come across an underground spaceship and are introduced to the robot ALPHA-5 and the disembodied essence of Zordon, the old leader of a team of warriors called the Power Rangers. He warns them of the return of an ancient evil, Rita Repulsa, who plans to capture an ancient relic called the Zeo-Crystal to become all-powerful conquer the world. Zordon passes the powers of the Rangers onto our heroes, and now they must train and prepare to combat the resurrected menace. The basic setup is no different from that of the original series apart from a few lore changes (Zordon and Rita being the original Red and Green Rangers, respectively). Five teenagers with attitude gaining the abilities of the Rangers and having to learn to work together to fight an ancient evil, with some lessons about friendship thrown in there for some obligatory schmaltz. It’s not that far removed from what you would expect, and you’d think it would make for something that’s decently entertaining, if also a little corny. However, there’s a wee bit of a problem that drags the film down from being even just dumb fun:

All the stuff you want out of a Power Rangers film only happens in the last 20 minutes.

No, I’m not kidding. This movie is 2 hours long, and it isn’t until the last fourth of it that things actually start to resemble what you want out of a movie with the title of Power Rangers. Much like with the Transformers films, before you can get to the fun parts, you have to sit through an entire movie’s worth of unengaging teen melodrama that for the most part isn’t particularly well-handled. To give you an idea of what I mean, here’s a few of our heroes and what they’re going through: Jason (the red Ranger) is a former star football player whose recklessness causes him to lose every potential sporting opportunity. It’s a hollow subplot with no substance other than giving us a terrible joke about jerking off a bull. Zack (the black Ranger) has a potentially interesting backstory about caring for his ill mother and the emotional turmoil that it places on him, but it’s not given enough screentime to have the kind of depth or impact it deserves. And perhaps most out-of-place is the pink Ranger Kimberly, because her personal baggage (and I kid you not, this is what actually happens) involves having texted inappropriate photos of a former friend of hers to a guy that girl liked. Yes, someone wrote a revenge porn subplot into a movie about fighting an alien woman clad in green armor with robots that look like dinosaurs.

The only character subplot handled with any sort of decent writing are the Blue and Yellow Rangers, Billy and Trini. Billy is essentially the brains of the team, and he is also autistic, a character trait which is presented in a surprisingly solid way. It’s not Oscar-worthy or anything, but the writing handles his disability with a level of respect and nuance that you wouldn’t expect given how lousy the rest of the writing is (being autistic myself, I found his portrayal really solid). Trini has some potentially interesting material, being lesbian in a family that doesn’t accept her, but it just gets awkwardly glazed over like with everyone else. The whole thing is an overly long CW teen drama with an episode of Power Rangers awkwardly stapled on at the end.

Speaking of which, once it gets to the final battle, that’s when the movie actually starts to get kind of fun, as there’s a legitimate charm in seeing a big budget version of cheaply-produced robot fights originally from the ‘90s. While there is some entertainment value to be had, even this final battle has a couple of flaws that sort of drag things down. Much like the aforementioned Transformers films, the Rangers and their Zords are depicted with extremely muted color palettes, although this is bizarrely inconsistent with Rita Repulsa and her minion Goldar, who are allowed to be much more vivid in their visual presentation. Similarly, the Ranger suits and Zords are overdesigned to the point of being somewhat unappealing (heck, the Ranger suits look like they were borrowed from a Robot Chicken sketch). The movie also doesn’t have much of a handle on delivering the fanservicey goods that would appeal to hardcore fans of the franchise. The famous theme music only shows up for about 30 seconds (and it’s an only average-sounding rerecording), and what should be the most hype-inducing moment of the movie, the formation of the MegaZord, doesn’t carry nearly as much impact as it should. The actual formation sequence is obscured by waves of fire, and the actual Megazord design is incredibly generic. It’s too clean of a design to be recognizable as a fusion, especially since, barring the pterodactyl Zord, it’s impossible to make out which Zords form which parts of the MegaZord.

Overall, I have no idea who exactly this movie is intended for. The CW crowd who might like the teen melodrama would likely be turned off by the goofy robot fights and the corniness of some of the acting, and people around my age who were raised on the original run of the series are not going to be pleased by the Transformers treatment being applied to this franchise. The whole thing seems like it’s trying to please everyone, but at the end of the day, it pleases no one and is just a waste of time.

Verdict: Skip it. Just spend your ticket money on Krispy Kreme donuts. The movie was going to tell you to do that, anyway.

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