Power Rangers (2017)
Written by John Gatins
Directed by Dean Israelite
In the Pacific Northwest town of Angel Grove, five disparate teenagers are brought together when multicolored stones are unearthed. These coins imbue them with superhuman powers and lead the quintet to a subterranean alien craft buried millions of years prior. The inhabitants of this vessel, Alpha 5 and Zordon, inform the youths of an impending attack on their planet. The only way to stop this growing force of evil is to somehow unlock the power within their coins and become the Power Rangers, defenders of life.
There was a minimal possibility of Power Rangers being a film I was going to love. I grew up with younger siblings who watched the original American series, and there was a certain charm to its ambition. For the most part, a random episode didn’t hold much special, but when the series wanted to push for something different they would produce material that was at least interesting, even if it wasn’t amazing. The multi-part Green Ranger storyline stands out as pretty complex for children’s television of the time. But at its core, Power Rangers is simply five teenagers jumping in their robot dinosaurs and beating up giant monsters. Not Shakespeare.
I ended up having fun with Power Rangers, primarily because the people working on the film took it just serious enough that it had some sort of grounding. They didn’t seem ashamed of the cheesy elements of the series either, and yes, we do hear a guitar riff accompanied by “Go Go Power Rangers!” at one point. This is one of those properties that could easily have gone into spoof territory or worse, full-blown Michael Bay mode, but it finds a middle ground that ends up being entertaining.
The original cast was fine for weekday afternoon kids fare, but the filmmakers knew the acting would need to be cranked up a few notches for a larger motion picture. Not every casting choice works, Ludi Lin as Zach was some rough going. There were some moments in the final battle where the lack of effort being put forth in reacting to events around him was palpable. The rest of the actors are fine, but Dacre Montgomery (Jason) and RJ Cyler (Billy) were definitely the high points. Dacre tries to bring some dimensionality to Jason, and he feels like an archetypal superhero team leader in all the best ways. RJ Cyler is tasked with playing a new Billy, one who falls on the autism spectrum. This condition and is never played for laughs, and the film never tries to pawn off Billy’s mistakes on autism. He does have a major character arc that hinges on a mistake, but that is caused by the deep loyalty he has for his friends.
The supporting cast is a pretty strong show: Elizabeth Banks, Bryan Cranston, and Bill Hader. Hader as Alpha 5 is okay, and Cranston is giving a slightly darker Zordon, one with an ulterior motive behind wanting these teenagers to unlock the power of their coins. It’s Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa that steals the show. This is one of those performances where the actor knows they are in something not very cerebral, yet takes it seriously while having a hell of a lot of fun. The fun Banks has hamming up the archvillain-y of Rita oozes through the screen and becomes a little infectious.
My biggest problem with the film has to do with some choices related to tone. In the introductory scene of Jason, we find him and some fellow football players playing a prank with the rival team’s cow mascot. A friend remarks that he milked the cow earlier to which Jason explains this cow is male. I was honestly shocked at a relatively blue joke for a property that seemed to be aimed at kids. Later, when discussing morphing, Zach says he morphs in the shower all the time. While the script felt a little unsure of exactly who it’s audience was, I did appreciate its inclusion of a character on the autism spectrum and an LGBT character in the form of Trini. There is some horrible produce placement for Krispy Kreme that becomes painfully apparent in the second act and just keeps popping up into the finale.
Overall, Power Rangers is a fitting nostalgic tribute to the original. It remains faithful to the core elements of the series and attempts to elevate them slightly. There was some seriously impressive cinematography from the start of the film and interesting shots that keep you engaged in the picture. Because the cast and crew are putting a genuine good faith effort into the making of the movie, the audience, in turn, becomes more invested in what is happening on screen. When stacking up the seemingly unending onslaught of revived intellectual properties as films, Power Rangers is definitely one of the more enjoyable ones.