Mighty morphin indeed.
One of my fondest memories from my childhood was waking up every Saturday morning and watching Saban’s Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. It had action. It had imagination with its various zany villains. It had every young boys’ first childhood T.V. crush (Amy Jo Johnson as the pink ranger). It was the perfect Saturday morning escapist entertainment. I also watched the other incarnations of the series (Power Rangers In Space, Power Rangers: Lightspeed Rescue to name a few) and the films (Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie and Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie) the original series spawned. Of course, I eventually grew out of it, but I was shocked to hear that the show has continued for over a decade since I last tuned in.
Even more unexpected was learning that Lionsgate was going to reboot the series in an attempt to turn the property into another movie franchise. I can’t blame them for the idea, their tent-pole young adult/ kids movie franchise The Hunger Games ran out of steam before the film series even concluded. But it begged the question: why Power Rangers? Why take a campy series hardly any kid watches anymore and film a hundred million dollar reboot? Who was begging for a new Power Rangers movie to be made? Well apparently someone did, otherwise the Power Rangers and their zords wouldn’t be crashing into theaters this weekend.
Th film starts in the Cenozoic era with Zordon (played by Walter White himself, Bryan Cranston), the original red ranger and leader of the Power Rangers, being defeated and betrayed by the green ranger, Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks). In a last-ditch effort to defeat her, Zordon takes and hides the power coins, the source of the ranger’s power, and orders Alpha 5 (voiced by Bill Hader) to send a meteor airstrike, killing Zordon and blowing Rita Repulsa into the ocean. Fast-forward to the present day, where hot-shot quarterback and troublemaker of Angel Groove Jason Scott (Zac Efron knockoff Dacre Montgomery) finds himself under house arrest and must go to Saturday detention as penance for his latest screw-up. There he meets and befriends autistic student Billy Cranston (RJ Cyler) and former-cheerleader Kimberly Hart (Naomi Scott). Then after some exploration in Angel Groove’s mines, they encounter equally troubled Angel Groove students Zack Taylor (Ludi Lin) and Trini (Becky G), who together discover the power coins Zordon buried millions of years ago. They then stumble upon Zordon’s spaceship, discovering that they were chosen by the coins to become the next protectors of the Earth, the Power Rangers. Together, they must team up and battle a newly awakened Rita Repulsa, who is out for vengeance and in search of the zeo crystal so she may use it to destroy the earth.
Now with that synopsis, you may find yourself asking how in the world could this work? The film sounds just as incomprehensible as the Saturday morning T.V. show while taking itself seriously at the same time. But much to my surprise, Power Rangers plays well as a starting point in what could turn out to be a new cinematic franchise. As I mentioned earlier, each of the teenagers we encounter in the film is troubled or has some sort of back story as to why they are considered the outcasts of Angel Groove. Much credit must be given to the writers for representing those on the spectrum with Billy Cranston/ the blue ranger, as RJ Cyler gives an honest performance and functions well as the emotional component of the team. Most of the others do fall into cliché territory with Kimberly/ the pink ranger turning out to be a bully, Zack/ the black ranger revealing he has a sickly mother, and Trini/ the yellow ranger hiding she may be attracted to the same sex. However, the characters are developed enough that you are emotionally attached to them, a welcome change in the blockbuster genre and due in part to the young actors’ ability to work well with the material they’ve been given.
Bryan Cranston does his job as the motivator and spiritual leader of the rangers Zordon, as most have come to expect whenever Cranston appears on-screen. Chewing the scenery is Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa, who you can tell is having fun with the role. While some may note Banks as a negative, Rita Repulsa was always the most over-the-top character in an over-the-top show, and Banks is a delight in this film. Power Rangers’ best moments, however, come in the last quarter of the film. During this last quarter, we finally get to see all of the rangers morph into their suits, battle Repulsa and her army of putties, and face the final boss with their Zords. Sure, the CGI isn’t up to par as the Transformers films, but it’s passable and fun to watch. And yes, the classic “Go Go Power Rangers” anthem and catch-phrase “It’s morphin time”make appearances in the film, paying homage to the wackiness of the original T.V. series and igniting memories of those Saturday mornings many years ago.
However, I couldn’t help but find myself restless during the first three-quarters of the film, as the rangers don’t morph until the last thirty minutes. That means for an hour and a half, Power Rangers somewhat slogs through typical origin story material. While most of it works, the audience is there to see the Power Rangers be the Power Rangers, and not delivering on that until the last thirty minutes feels like a misinterpretation of the Power Rangers brand. Part of this is more than likely due in part that the old Power Rangers shows and movies were beyond ludicrous, and this re-imaging of the rangers implies they are embarrassed of the source material. So instead of having a two-hour episode of the old T.V. show, we get a more realistic Power Rangers movie for the first ninety minutes and then an episode of the 90s T.V. show in the last thirty minutes. This is a strange route for the film to take considering the appeal of the series was that it was completely preposterous, something only a child could suspend their disbelief while watching and still enjoy it. Also, Ludi Lin’s Zack/ black ranger stands out as the worst performer out of the bunch. He attempts to come-off as the cool bro you’d want to hang out with, but ends up being the weakest cog in the Power Rangers machine.
Overall, Power Rangers is a pleasant surprise. I wasn’t expecting much considering its dated source material, but Power Rangers manages to reboot the franchise with a gritty, grounded film that also delivers on some of the cheesiness we’ve come to expect from the series. Unlike most re-boots/ re-imaginings, Power Rangers shows it has a promising future ahead of it. Should the film perform well at the box office, we’ll more than likely see the Power Rangers morph into theaters again in the very near future.
Rating: 2 1/2 Stars out of 4. Pay Matinée price.