Go! Go see this movie!*
*If you are under the age of 12 or a nostalgic fan of the 1990s series of the same name, because otherwise, you’re going to have a pretty rough time.
Look. This review isn’t all that necessary; you more than likely know well ahead of time if you’re going to enjoy Power Rangers or not, and I’d be shocked if your mind were changed during the 120 minutes of upbeat chaos. It’s sitting on a 44 on Metacritic (though when they have La La Land at 93 and John Wick 2 at 75, how much credibility do movie critics even have?) and a 7.1 on IMDb, and nothing I’m going to write below is going to in any way alter your perception of what this movie is. But let’s talk about it anyway!
Before we go any further it’s time for me to out myself as one of the most shameful of people: an adult who derides genuine enjoyment from Power Rangers, a show aimed at tiny little babies.
I was a die-hard obsessive as a child, grew out of it, and then like a lot of people of my generation, found myself drifting back toward my juvenile interests as I got older (see: comic books, cartoons, toys etc.) Why? Because Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers was the single most fascinating production in the history of the television industry and it is not even close. I would do unspeakable things to obtain footage from the rooms in which the show was pitched, green-lit and developed. The practice of trawling through decade-old footage of a Japanese kids show for the odd minute or two of adaptable content to slap a hokey American story over the top of sounds like the methodology of a crazy person. That it not only worked, but resulted in the absolute biggest thing in the world for a few years (only to be dethroned by Pokemon) is nothing short of miraculous.
So when I signed up for Netflix a few years ago and saw that every single season of my former Favourite-Thing-Ever was there to be watched, I couldn’t help but take a curious peek to see what my adult eyes made of it. Turns out it’s pretty bad quite a lot of the time. Like, hilariously so. But it felt warm and familiar and safe, so it became a thing I would leave running in the background for an hour or so most nights, and before I knew it, I had reached the point at which I checked out on in the first place, thus finding myself in the odd situation of wading into unchartered waters. Fast forward a little, and I have mixed levels of pride/shame in saying that I’ve seen 13 of the 26 (yes, twenty-six) seasons.
But why does any of that matter? Well, dear friends, because it greatly coloured my reaction to the 2017 reboot movie. As somebody who fervently reads the acclaimed ongoing PR comic book and has spent longer than they’d care to admit bouncing around PR wikis, I got a great deal more out of the film than say… a 46-year old film critic for a reputable review outlet might, for instance. And I do think there are things to get out of this movie, despite what mocking language you may hear/read relating to it.
Firstly, the cast are actually pretty fun despite looking like the stars of the worst CW show imaginable. Naomi Scott shocked me the most, not only at times looking a dead ringer for the original Pink Ranger, Kimberly, but charismatically holding my attention in a way that Dacre Montgomery failed to as Jason, the underwhelming new Red Ranger. Ludi Lin’s Zack started out hammy and eye-rolling and gradually grew on me. RJ Cyler’s autistic take on Billy, the Blue Ranger, had a small margin for error but turned out pretty decent in my estimation. Rounding out the team was Becky G as Trini who got a lot of attention on release of the film as it was revealed her character would be the first prominent non-heterosexual superhero in a major film (yes, despite what you want to believe, this is every bit as much a superhero movie as The Avengers.) She seemed like she’d be the most fun of the bunch based on the trailers, but it turned out she was only okay. What I’ve just described may not sound very compelling, but their chemistry together is solid, and I bought into their developing friendships, in particular the bonds between Kim & Trini and Jason & Billy.
More than just pulling their weight though, are the supporting cast of Bryan Cranston as a decidedly stern,
Walter White Zordon, delivering utterly ridiculous dialogue with relative grace, Bill Hader, doing his best to redeem the worst character from the original show, Alpha 5, with some funny one-liners that land just often enough, and Elizabeth Banks, who is magnetic as a drastically redesigned Rita Repulsa. Banks commits to the role hard, and delivers the film’s best performance, taking the character in a new direction (that is to say, not just terribly overdubbing a Japanese actress to give her a grating voice and bizarre cadence) that I was personally pleasantly surprised with given the tone and nature of the project. I sincerely hope she returns for the sequel.
The action is a mixed bag, from bad CG-enhanced superhuman leaps, to decently choreographed little fight scenes, the melodramatic teen subplots will likely get on your nerves if you’re over the age of 20, and it’s got a bunch of cliches and modern superhero genre-tropes, so if you’re a neutral, there’s probably not quiiiite enough there for you to have a positive experience, but this film is very clearly aimed at young people and curious nostalgic fans. So what if you’re one of those? Well, there are two moments that should warm your heart if you have even the vaguest recollection of MMPR, but the Teenagers With Attitude spend far too long not wearing their newly designed costumes, so your patience may have worn thin by the time the morphing finally happens. All of that being said, I don’t think many people could say it’s actively bad as much as it just doesn’t appeal. You’re far more likely to be unenthused than disgusted by the experience.
But what of folk like me, who have a legitimate ongoing interest in the source material despite being legally old enough to drink? Well, I personally greatly enjoyed what they did with the lore of the original show, which is a large part of what appeals about the aforementioned (several paragraphs ago, but still) comic book. It’s no secret that the writing staff on MMPR were making it all up as they went along, shoe-horning and improvising and Deus Ex Machina-ing their way along at breakneck speed, with almost no consideration given to trivial things like continuity. And after all, how were they to know that first season would spawn two decades of television, film, video game and comic book follow ups? What the comic does so expertly, is apply modern, sophisticated storytelling practices to the basic concepts laid out in the show, making logical little additions and alterations where appropriate to transform nonsense into an ongoing saga as compelling as anything on stands right now. The movie doesn’t do quite as good a job, but still makes a valiant attempt, right from the opening scene which nobody can tell me wasn’t giving at least a nod to the infamous bootleg movie from a couple of years back.
It’s not as Chronicle-y as it seemed from the trailer, the incredibly on-the-nose use of Kanye West’s ‘Power’ is arranged well enough to get a pass, and the Megazord, while still not looking quite like you’d hope, is also better than the various leaked images made it look ahead of time. And it’s definitely front-loading a franchise, right down to the mid-credits scene, so, make of that what you will.
Look. Like I said before, you already know if you give a damn about this film. I hope a new generation of kids get as much unadulterated joy from it as I did all those years ago, and that it is financially successful enough to perpetuate the various recent Power Rangers projects, and I hope that if you went into this with an open mind you didn’t have a terrible time with it. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off to write another treatment for Hexagon. (Google it.)