Power Rangers (2017) Lionsgate/Action-Adventure-Sci-Fi RT: 124 minutes Rated PG-13 (sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction, language, some crude humor) Director: Dean Israelite Screenplay: John Gatins Music: Brian Tyler Cinematography: Matthew J. Lloyd Release date: March 24, 2017 (US) Cast: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Becky G, Ludi Lin, Bill Hader, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Banks, David Denman.
I was in college when the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers TV show was a craze. I never watched it, mind you, but I knew the basic premise. It was about five teens that transformed into armored superheroes and fought monsters and other villains. I’ll cop to seeing the two theatrical movies that came out in the 90s- the film adaptation in ’95 and Turbo (1997)- but it’s been so long, I can’t remember a single thing about either one. What I’m getting at is that I walked into Power Rangers knowing little more than the basic premise and with fuzzy memories of the movies that preceded it.
Power Rangers could have gone two ways. Either it would be silly fun, something along the lines of 1987’s Masters of the Universe, or simply a bad movie- e.g. Assassin’s Creed or any of the Transformers sequels. I hoped for the former but expected the latter. In this day and age of migraine-inducing CGI, can you really blame me for being so pessimistic? So how is it? I’ll put it this way. It’s very flawed BUT it’s the best possible Power Rangers movie that could have been made.
One of the biggest shocks about this Power Rangers reboot is that it harkens back to another classic, one from the 80s. Pop quiz! What teen movie has five misfits in Saturday detention opening up to each other about how awesome their lives aren’t? If you answered The Breakfast Club, give yourself a gold star. In Power Rangers, five high school misfits meet in Saturday detention and form a bond that grows out of them developing super powers. They are, literally, a jock, a beauty, a brain, a rebel and a crazy girl. Zac Efron wannabe Dacre Montgomery (Stranger Things) plays Jason Scott, a former star football player who trashed his future by crashing his car after pulling a dumb prank. At least the ankle bracelet goes nicely with his knee brace. Popular mean girl Kimberly Hart (Scott, The Martian) ends up in detention for knocking out her boyfriend’s front tooth. Whatever it is that precipitated that causes her to be excommunicated from her social circle. Brainy Billy Cranston (Cyler, Ma and Earl and the Dying Girl), who caused an explosion in his locker, is on the autism spectrum and not ashamed to admit it. There’s also Zack (Lin), a loner type who rarely attends school and Trini (rapper Becky G), the “crazy girl” with a secret.
It doesn’t really matter how they all end up there but the teens discover five coins, each one a different color, buried in the local mines where Billy’s late father used to work. They’re the “Power Coins”, buried there about 65 million years earlier during an epic fight between the original Power Rangers and a green villainess named Rita Repulsa (Banks, the Hunger Games movies) depicted in the movie’s prologue. They get chased by security guards and hit by a train before waking up in their beds the next day with no memory of how they got there. Something’s different about them. Kimberly crushes her cell phone with her bare hand. A bully gets knocked out when he tries to headbutt Billy. They can run and climb lightning fast and leap long distances.
They return to the mines where they discover a spaceship that’s been there since the events of 65 million years ago. Inside the ship, they meet Zordon (Cranston, Breaking Bad), the former lead Ranger whose consciousness has been uploaded to the ship’s matrix. He explains to them that they are the new Power Rangers and have only 11 days to train before they have to take on Rita who’s back from the dead and in search of something called the “Zeo Crystal”. During this time, they must learn how to morph. They fail each time they try to do it. Something (or someone) is holding them back. Why can’t they morph? Will they learn how in time to stop Rita from obtaining the crystal and destroying all life on Earth?
Given that Power Rangers is an origin movie, it’s a foregone conclusion that it’ll be a little while before our new heroes suit up and jump into action for the first time. In this case, a “little while” is about 90 minutes. During this time, we get a whole lot of set-up and a whole lot of character exposition. Too much, in fact. The makers could have tightened up this section. At times, it feels like the movie is just spinning its wheels. At the same time, some things go underdeveloped. Early on, we see that Jason’s troubles have caused a rift between him and his dad (Denham, The Office) who constantly reminds the boy of how badly he messed up. It’s introduced but never developed. In fact, it goes forgotten for most of the movie until the climax when Jason does something to make his father proud of him again. This is NOT a spoiler; we know something like this is bound to happen sooner or later.
When the kids finally transform, Power Rangers really picks up. It’s not the greatest epic fight in movie history but it’s still kind of cool. It takes a page from the Godzilla movie playbook with all the mayhem and destruction that ensues while the Rangers attempt to vanquish Rita and “Goldar”, a giant monster made of molten gold. The only difference is that the action takes place in a small town (Angel Grove, to be exact) as opposed to a major city. Miraculously, none of the townspeople appear to get killed or horribly injured. It follows the unwritten commandment of blockbuster entertainment: “Thou shalt honor thy PG-13 rating and keep it sacred.” Only one quick glimpse of a bloodied dead body and Rita attacking a drunken vagrant for his gold teeth. That’s in addition to all the rock ‘em-sock ‘em Power Rangers fighting in the final half hour. To its credit, the CGI effects aren’t too bad. They’re not ground-breaking but they’re not terrible. The kids at whom this movie is aimed won’t be disappointed.
Power Rangers is neither as bad as it could have been nor as fun as it could have been. What I liked most about Masters of the Universe (the He-Man movie with Dolph Lundgren) was that it was campy. It knew exactly what it was, a dumb, trashy sci-fi adventure, and never took itself seriously. Director Dean Israelite (the abysmal Project Almanac) takes the material too seriously at times. It’s both a curse and a blessing. It gives the characters depth but is it really necessary to do so? Sure, it’s interesting to learn their backgrounds but it’s doubtful that the audience for Power Rangers cares about such things. That being said, I do like that they made the team more inclusive. In addition to the autistic guy, one of the girls comes out as gay. I won’t even bother to comment on the lead actors’ performances except to say that Naomi Scott is easy on the eyes. Banks really camps it up as the villain. Bill Hader, who voices Zordon’s robot flunky Alpha 5, has some good lines.
In the end, Power Rangers is better than it has a right to be. It’s just too long. They could have easily trimmed about 30 minutes or so. Still, I have a bad feeling that it will do well enough to prompt the studio to greenlight a sequel. A mid-credits scene all but guarantees the Power Rangers will return. Now that their backstory is out of the way, let’s hope they’ll jump right into action in the second movie.
SPECIAL NOTE: There is a mid-credits scene but that’s it. Feel free to leave after that. There’s nothing else to see.