I didn’t exactly grow up with the “Power Rangers”, I wasn’t really a fan but I did grow up with it around it. My friends were into them, I always saw commercials for them on TV, I saw the movies and I saw a few episodes, it just never was my thing. It was a little too silly, a little too campy for my own taste. I know that’s part of the charm for so many people though and I can appreciate that. I say this because even though I wasn’t really a big fan I was interested to see what a modern update would look like to a property that was around during my childhood.
I did go in pretty nervous about the movie. I thought the trailers looked really bad and corny in a way that wasn’t like the original show; it looked like total displacement. I came in with low expectations. I came away with 2017 rebooted “Power Rangers” not loving it but it was certainly better than I was expecting. “Power Rangers” does boast some impressive visuals, likable characters, and a solid baseline mythology. However, the lackluster third act, distracting Elizabeth Banks performance, and a lack of interest in explaining or exploring its own mythology had this film falling short of the mark for me. But there is enough here for an enjoyable time and enough to build a future franchise around.
“Power Rangers” takes the tale of the Power Rangers back to its origins. We follow five teenagers; the rebel but noble leader Jason (the Red Ranger), the once popular teenager Kimberly (the Pink Ranger), the awkward Billy (the Blue Ranger), the crazy Zack (Black Ranger) and the moody teenager Trini (The Yellow Ranger). Several of them spend time on their Saturdays in a “Breakfast Club” style detention. Through a series of circumstances, the five come together and discover the power of the Power Rangers through a fallen Ranger named Zordon.
The movie opens up with a scene taking place in prehistoric times serving as the film’s prelude setting up Zordon, the villain and a bit of the mythology. It’s a great opening and it’s a chance to see Bryan Cranston led his acting ability to a film that otherwise might not deserve it. After that, we flash to modern day as the movie takes its time with its teenage characters.
The biggest surprise about the movie is how slowly it takes to get to the Power Rangers. We spend a lot of time leading up to that point with team building and Zordon (Who’s reduced to a “Man of Steel” looking imprint on the wall) hammering in the idea of working as a team and training to be “superheroes”. Most of the characters feel a bit familiar but there is a bit of surprising depth given to some. Billy is on “the spectrum”, Zack nurses his ailing mother, and Trini’s sexuality is also the subject of her discourse with her family. None of it is treated in a heavy-handed manner but more as a matter of fact. It also does not feel gimmicky.
Trini feels pushed to the side for the majority of the film but for the most part, the movie does a good job of balancing each character screen time. The performances by the young leads were all really good as well. The actor playing Jason has a real Chris Pine vibe about him. They are all very likable and you want to see them succeed. I came away feeling like this movie attempted to tackle teenagers in a realistic sense but they also fell into the same trap of letting these teenagers do whatever they want without adult supervision. It’s the type of teenager activity you have seen on Nickelodeon shows that I found unrealistic even as a kid. No one questions where they go or any of the weird things that are happening to them.
The problems with the film start near the half way point when they start to introduce Elizabeth Bank’s Rita Repulsa. Banks is really good as the chief villain but she is too over the top for the film. Yes, the original “Power Rangers” is over the top but this update is much more earnest in its approach so Bank’s performance felt a little out of place. But her villain as a character goes really unexplained. We know she is bad and we know there is some history between her and Zordon but we don’t really know much beyond that. Why did she turn bad? Her evil plan is given very vague terms as well. There is a crystal and if she gets it there she will destroy the world. Pretty conventional but I wanted to know more about the crystal. I wouldn’t be thinking about all of this so much if there wasn’t an attempt to explain some of these things and its mythology. She is a former enemy of the Rangers there should have been better emotional stakes.
Everything feels very surface level. They mention some historical nature of the Power Rangers but never goes into detail. There is an attempt to explain Rita’s hated for Power Rangers but once again it doesn’t go beyond vague terms. She says things like “now I’ll prove myself to Zordon” (or something to that nature) but what is that thing? If they said she is evil and power corrupted her then I would buy into that motivation but they go a little bit further; just not enough.
The third act is also quite uninspired. It’s the typical third act city (or in this case) town destroying final battle sequence. I wouldn’t have much of a problem with that if it was more entertaining. There is nothing really wrong with it, it’s just very bland and generic. After all the training of hand to hand combat in the movie there isn’t much of it at all. It goes through the motions until it ends. Again, it’s not a bad scene it’s just incredibly generic and paint by numbers. (SLIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD) Although I will admit I got a big smile on my face when they play the “Power Rangers” theme song (and I’m not even the biggest fan). (SMALL SPOILER OVER)
When I left the theater after “Power Rangers” I came away having had a better time than I thought I was going to have. I like the characters, I thought the performances were pretty good (despite Banks being a little out of place), the visual effects were well done, and there was a nice sense of earnest. However, the bland third act final battle left me on a bit of a stale note. The mythology they do introduce is interesting but they don’t take the time to dive into them and really embrace it. I did think Rita was a bit wasted as a villain as well. However, the things they get right, they do get right. Despite my lower score I do actually want to see a sequel. I think now that we’ve gotten through the origin story (that borrows a lot from Sam Rami’s “Spider-Man” with hints of Josh Trank’s “Chronicle”) we can really jump into the universe of “Power Rangers” and have some real fun.