Unsurprisingly, Power Rangers is the best film yet, as far as seeing the cinematic treatment applied to the popular kid’s action TV series. More surprising is how well this film manages to work in spite of itself. There are some terrible choices made in regards to the direction and delivery of plot. However, as a coming-of-age film that happens to end with a giant kaiju battle in broad daylight, there is something to be said for Lionsgate’s efforts to compete with the bigger studios in terms of large scale action movies.
The thing to keep in mind is just how low the bar is already set when it comes to making a new Power Rangers movie. That’s not an excuse to make a bad movie, but one can take into consideration how weak the source material is to begin with and see the efforts made to modernize the concept and make it marketable for both kids and the adults who grew up watching at least one version of the series. This is indeed the “dark and gritty” version of Power Rangers, but only in the way that shows what it means to be as earnest as possible when taking this TV show seriously enough to put $100 million behind it.
Following a prologue that hints at the craziness to come, the film settles in for a look at characters ripped right out of a typical high school flick. The main characters are Jason the troubled jock (Dacre Montgomery), Kimberly the troubled cheerleader (Naomi Scott) and Billy the troubled autistic kid (RJ Cyler). That last one is a neat development if only because it comes up once and has no impact on the story. Say what you will about Power Rangers, but it’s a show that has been making progressive casting choices since 1993. This latest angle, along with the choice made for another troubled team member, Trini (Becky G), shows how the trend continues. I’ll just throw in that Ludi Lin plays the final troubled member of the team, Zack, for good measure, but the story mostly revolves around Jason, Kim and Billy.
All are “troubled” because of either life choices or familial problems, but they come together near an old mine and discover something amazing (unfortunately it’s not a Monster Truck). Director Dean Israelite (Project Almanac) relies far too heavily on shaky cam as a reminder that everything needs to be taken seriously, but he also manages to capture a sense of wonder in regards to the power these teens discover. It’s not a surprise to learn how Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man was an influence, as the film easily works best in having these younger actors interact with each other in the midst of crucial story developments.
Speaking of which, the power I have spoken of comes in the form of special coins that make our heroes super strong. This occurrence eventually leads them underground where they discover an alien ship containing the life-force of the one called Zordon (Bryan Cranston), along with a wacky robot, Alpha 5 (Bill Hader). Zordon informs these teenagers that they have been chosen and will have to fight off the evil Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), as she seeks to basically destroy the world by way of locating some sort of crystal.
Everything is actually plainly established, despite the film’s decision to not really delve into the overall implications of Rita’s plan, let alone the damage done by the Rangers in an effort to stop her. Regardless, the film spends a lot of time building up these characters to the point where they can finally don their costumes as well as pilot their dinosaur-inspired mech warriors known as Zords. It results in a lot of CG battling in the film’s third act, which felt more tedious than exciting. Part of that is due to how commonplace it feels to see such action and destruction, but there is also the part of me that rather enjoyed the human element.
While John Gatins’ screenplay is not exactly setting the world on fire in terms of character development, the actors do a fine job with what they are given. Some of the material is well-worn, but the comradery works. Not hurting is something not enough people credit the original series with – its attitude. These teens, at least during the early runs that I saw, never made mean-spirited choices. The Power Rangers are all genuinely nice people that deal with normal high school anxiety and know how to clown around a bit, without succumbing to jerkiness. That shows here and is somewhat refreshing. I can appreciate a good dose of sarcasm from those cats in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but given who these characters are, it’s nice to see a film that puts emphasis on teamwork and positive reinforcement.
All of that helps in making it work for the younger crowd who serve as the intended audience. That may be a challenge for some of the younger ones, as the choice was made to go PG-13 for this film. The rating is largely due to Banks, who is actually pretty terrifying in her over-the-top role of Rita Repulsa. It speaks to just how effective that sort of presence can be, when compared to CG armies of rock monsters that leave almost no impact.
Speaking of impact, one would think Cranston’s addition would push this film to a more prestigious level, but he actually hampers what is mostly an enjoyable film. For whatever reason, Zordon has his own story arc that adds onto the runtime in a film where we mostly want to see these kids finally get into costume. I suppose it helps to reinforce Jason, but it’s not like I’m unfamiliar with reluctant white males being thrust into heroic leader roles. Things are much more interesting when Zordon simply gages the young Rangers and puts them up to harnessing their skills, even if it means a few too many repetitive training montages.
Power Rangers works more than it doesn’t as far as being passable entertainment. It may not be the best at blending its gleeful silliness with its somber seriousness, but it’s the kind of film that hopes you look past certain choices every time a new needle drop hits the soundtrack for the sake of reminding you of the fun you should be having. For the most part, the fun is there thanks to a pretty decent cast. The effects are fine when it comes to putting emphasis on the spectacle, but even if you’re not go going to rush out and see it, just know this latest nostalgia trip does a good enough job of justifying its existence.