Let me preface thisreview by admitting I wasn’t allowed to watch Mighty Morphin Power Rangers as a child — neither the original 1993 television show nor the first 1995 film — so you have the unique opportunity to experience the new Power Rangers movie through the eyes of an outsider, or the common man, as it were. Are we good? Then let’s go, go… review Power Rangers!
Power Rangers focuses on five misfits who do very much fit the Breakfast Club mold. Through different circumstances, including Saturday detention, all end up at the rock quarry when one of them makes a startling discovery. Upon a little excavation, Billy (RJ Cyler) unearths five stones — that look quite a bit like Infinity Stones… but wrong Universe — and a buried spaceship. The stones are taken by the five teenagers, blue for Billy, pink for Kimberly (Naomi Scott), black for Zack (Ludi Lin), yellow for Trini (Becky G.) and red for Jason (Darce Montgomery).
They quickly learn the stones give them “super powers,” including super-strength, super-jumping, and super-climbing. All the “supers.” These stones cannot be discarded, much like the Mask in The Mask, and only choose those who are worthy, more like Green Lantern than Thor. In the ship they find Alpha 5 (Bill Hadar) and the face of Zordon (Bryan Cranston), who enlists the new team of Power Rangers, led by Jason, to stop the evil Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks). Repulsa will stop at nothing to get Earth’s Crystal, which will destroy the planet in the process, giving her immense power. That is, if Jason and his team can ever learn to Morph.
Power Rangers is a very mixed bag; for everything it does wrong it seems to redeem itself with something awesome or unique to 2017. This is a full-on origin story more than it is a Mighty Morphin adventure. I’ve never had to wait this long in any other “superhero” movie just to see the final costume. This film is about becoming a hero, not just suddenly becoming one. It uses this time to flesh out the teenage heroes and really drive home the problem areas in their lives that have made them outsiders. Unfortunately, this approach does make the film seem a little long and causes it to really drag in places.
Sometimes the jokes and dialogue are hilariously bad, but it feels like this was the intent; the film feels purposely campy and over-the-top in order to capture the original spirit and highlights of the show. For an newcomer like myself, this is exactly what I imagined Mighty Morhpin Power Rangers was, with a fresh coat of 21st Century paint. Lin as Zack over-acts to comedic effect. With his macho facade, he comes across as a live-action, always shouting, anime character. The action, especially the fight scenes out of Zords, looks identical to what little I remember from the few episodes I’ve seen of hand-to-hand combat from 1993, albeit with updated costumes. The costumes are equally corny and the fact the mouths were not updated so there is no visible facial movement seems almost like the wrong decision after 2002’s Spider-Man, even if it was intended to keep with the spirit of the show. And the Zords? Just Transformers on an obviously, considerably smaller budget… with pilots.
While parts of Power Rangers feel dated or under-served, some of the updates for 2017 are pretty inspired. Billy is autistic, as he explains to his new friends, he can’t think like them. Like Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy, he doesn’t understand humor and is instead a math wiz. Or so he says, as the film seems to often forget these character traits when they aren’t useful. The rest of the team are given equally interesting and modern character flaws and home issues, from a sexting scandal to a family not understanding their homosexual daughter. Because of these more adult issues and implying some very explicit language, it’s hard to tell if this Power Rangers is made for kids today or those who were kids twenty years ago, but remember the show fondly. I guess I will split the difference and say the film is for teens.
Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Banks, and Bill Hader do elevate the film more than should be possible, all highlights of the film. Cranston brings a very somber, broken, and frustrated Zordon to life, even without being on set. Banks a Rita Repulsa is a delightfully over-the-top villain, and Hader as Alpha 5 saves a lot of dull scenes with his comedic timing. You can tell much of his dialogue was added in post, as most of it gets no reaction from the actors, but this character is where the film really, really, works.
At its best, Power Rangers is a fun, campy, well-acted film that knows exactly what it wants to be in order to honor the source material. At worst, it’s a generic rip-off of Transformers and Chronicle. As I’ve said, it’s a mixed bag for someone who doesn’t know the show, yet, I was very entertained… most of the time.
Power Rangers is now in theaters.