It is about time someone looked at Power Rangers and realized that, if it worked so well with Transformers, why not take another goofy kids’ show and turn it into a juvenile comedy peppered with the occasional wannabe-serious moments and CGI randomness posing as action scenes? It’ll be interesting to see if Power Rangers has potential to match the Transformers movies in terms of the amount of money collected from drooling fanboys and/or angry critics who are either overcome with curiosity, or just desire something to write about. Either way, I hope they do Bionicle next.
The only Power Rangers show I ever watched was Ninja Storm and that was only because I caught it on TV during a trip to Egypt and recognized the imagery from one of the CD games I got in a Frosties box once. Still, I understand the basic gist; combining Japanese stock footage that looks like something out of a bad Kaiju or kung-fu movie and splicing it together with newly recorded American footage that looks like something out of a generic sitcom about teenagers. Cheesy though it was, it was at the very least an unusual concoction.
However, this new Power Rangers film is composed entirely of its own footage, thus some would say it is instantly confirmed, or at the very least implied, that it will not accomplish the same campy feeling or style as its source material. And yet, in many ways the spirit and the messages of teamwork remain intact, and as silly as it gets whenever director Dean Israelite and writer John Gatins expect us to take the material seriously, the straightforwardly silly moments occasionally work just fine. Even the sitcom feel appears to be unscathed, its main characters looking and behaving like the inhabitants of a live-action Disney Channel series. I am neither condoning nor condemning.
The teenagers in question are de-facto leader Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery), love interest Kimberly Hart (Naomi Scott), the autistic Billy Cranston (RJ Cyler), a gay woman named Trini Kwan (Becky G), and the clever Zack Taylor (Ludi Lin). They are gathered by the legendary Zordon (Bryan Cranston), a veteran of an interplanetary war who now spends most of his time being a giant 3D head, to don the suits of the Power Rangers, which come in all sorts of needlessly de-saturated colors. Their destiny is to battle the resurgent Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) before she can destroy the Earth by obtaining the powerful Zeo Crystal. For this, in addition to their suits (which look a lot more like Tony Stark products than normal), they are given the Zords – robot-like modes of transportation that can morph into an even larger robot when the time arrives to fight giant monsters and what not.
As distressingly Transformers-esque as that sounds, it should be acknowledged that Power Rangers is more consistently sweet and a lot less pointlessly offensive than that. Let’s say there’s no huge risk of this movie jumping from jive-talking stereotypes to an exaggeratedly dark murder scene within a minute or two (even if there are indeed some amazingly clunky shifts in tone throughout the picture). And I must be fair and admit that the action scenes in this film are not nearly as grating as those of any given Transformers chapter. The color schemes of many scenes are also genuinely appealing and certain sequences have even been accomplished in one long take, as though Cuarón himself were involved.
I should also praise the choice to properly include queer and autistic heroes in a superhero blockbuster for the first time, a decision that will do the incisive YouTube vloggers and their fear of Neurotypical White Male Genocide no favors. It is unfortunate, in my opinion, that it had to be the “gritty reboot” of a TV show where people in tights make over-the-top gestures towards a camera before hopping into their oversized toy robot to fight a man in a rubber suit that even Gamera and Jet Jaguar would chuckle at. Hopefully other filmmakers will take notes when it comes to this aspect of it.
As for the rest of the film, I guess I also liked Elizabeth Banks in many of her most over-the-top moments and it is difficult to dislike Bryan Cranston no matter what he does. Mostly, though, Power Rangers made me feel like re-watching Pacific Rim, a tumultuous sci-fi spectacle with even more exquisite color palettes, more extravagant and booming robot effects, a more delicate semi-Asian style, and also more butterfly knives.
The world will probably keep on turning if you miss out on Power Rangers. Its decades-old clichés are not presented in any especially inventive ways, the comic relief provided by Bill Hader‘s Alpha 5 didn’t do much for me, and its camp factor could still have been higher than what we got, lest we be treated to a blockbuster that does very little to truly distinguish itself from the legion of other sci-fi superhero movies coming out today. If you’re into this sort of thing, then this film will, like any other film that remotely resembles it, entertain you just fine.