Review: POWER RANGERS

Tones clash in this reboot as it forgets the past while embracing the future

2017’s Power Rangers opens with what I can only describe as a reenactment of Saving Private Ryan‘s D-day sequence, featuring a naked and blue Bryan Cranston cradling his dying teammates and cursing his mortal enemy as a meteor crashes to the Earth, destroying everything. Immediately we smash cut to the present day and a scene centered around a bull semen joke.

Describing that juxtaposition is the best way I can sum up Dean Israelite’s Power Rangers movie, a film created to please…well, I’m not exactly sure who, to be honest. It’s not the dour, hedonistic deconstruction of Joseph Kahn’s Power/Rangers, a tongue-in-cheek satire of gritty reboots for the older crowd, who might crave such things and grew up with the original series. Nor is it light-hearted and pleasant enough to be aimed at children, the only crowd Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers has ever really been for. The PG-13 rating and general behavior and humor of the characters indicates that the target audience is really the teenagers of today. Given the popularity of superhero films all over the world with young people, perhaps it makes sense to bring the Rangers out of the 5-12 age bracket and into the teen years. What the creators seemed to have missed about those other superhero movies (not to mention the original Rangers series) is having heroes who are, well, heroic.

One of the things I appreciated about the feather-light original series was its dogged commitment to wholesome goodness and heroism. The Rangers never question what they’re doing because they know in their hearts that they’re the good guys who are going to save the world. It’s a very straight-forward and positive representation of good values. Now, it’s not so much that the young men and women of 2017’s reboot aren’t interested in saving the day, it’s that they can’t seem to get around to doing it without a lot of hemming and hawing. Ironic or selfish detachment is the watchword of many of these teens. Appropriate to the age group, maybe, but less so to the material. While expanding the team’s diversity quotient in frankly exciting ways is a feather in Power Rangers‘ cap, along with 21st century values appear to come the requirement for the sheen of dispassion for wonder and heroism that have defined so many properties over the last several years. This (often literally) gunmetal grey aesthetic is so pervasive that when the Power Rangers theme starts blaring near the middle of the climactic battle, it feels completely dissonant with what is happening on screen.

(Spoilers Beyond)

All of the Rangers, save one, are sort of assholes. Even Alpha 5 (Bill Hader, having a better time than basically everyone) and Zordon (the aforementioned naked, blue Bryan Cranston) are dicks to a surprising degree. Zordon’s motivation when the Rangers first discover his ancient ship and their new powers? To manipulate the teens into unlocking the Morphic Field so he can resurrect himself. A dismissive, selfish Zordon is shocking, but maybe not wholly excessive given the theme of “parents just don’t understand!” that runs throughout.

The Rangers themselves are somewhat lightly sketched but ably played by the cast. Character motivation was never a primary concern for Power Rangers (like I said, those kids were happy to be heroes) but here, the Rangers are connected not by a desire to save the world but by their loneliness. There is a perhaps unintentional meta-commentary going on with their respective motivations, though. Our Rangers-of-color, as it were, all have real reasons to be there and to want a sense of purpose and belonging. Zack (soon-to-be-heartthrob Ludi Lin) has a terminally ill mother and fears being left alone after she dies. Billy (RJ Cyler, who steals most of the movie) lost his father and wants to find people who understand him the way that he did. Trini (Becky G., a singer now doing the acting thing and the definite weak link in the bunch) is ostracized and questioned by her family for her sexuality.

Meanwhile, our two white rangers (or half-white, in the case of Naomi Scott’s half-Indian and English Kimberly) are alone basically because they’re bad people. Jason (Dacre Montgomery, who has one of the whitest names I have ever seen) is the star quarterback of Angel Grove High, and throws away his career by committing excessive vandalism and endangering several lives seemingly because he felt too much pressure to perform to expectations. Though there’s an opportunity for Jason to have a personal stake in the plot when it is his father who discovers the emaciated corpse of Rita Repulsa in the ocean, this amounts to nothing (the editing and narrative, though functional, has more dropped plots than there are seasons of Power Rangers TV). Kimberly, meanwhile, and I’m not joking here, has been banished from her popular friend group because they won’t forgive her after she released a nude photo of one of them to the public. It’s a remarkable testament to how likable the two actors are (Montgomery shows serious shades of Chris Pine in the role) that you don’t outright hate these two privileged mooks.

Fortunately for Power Rangers, RJ Cyler (in the form of Billy) is more than up to the task of buoying the movie with charm, heart, and optimism. It’s no wonder that Billy’s Blue Ranger is the bravest of the bunch. He is the first to step onto the morphing platforms, and later to discover that the secret to morphing is to care more about the team than yourself. Billy is also on the autism spectrum, an aspect of his character brought up and touched on, but never criticized or mocked. Billy is a genuinely sweet and funny guy. He’s the heart and soul of the team. Cyler plays a real hero amidst outcasts and frustrated popular kids.

The plot is fairly perfunctory to this origin story: Ranger-gone-bad Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks, giving her all even if it doesn’t amount to much) is trying to locate the life-giving crystal located in Angel Grove so she can…you know what? We never found this part out. That’s okay. She’s evil and she loves gold. Instead of an awesome (and very silly) armored dude with wings, her version of Goldar is a giant gold homunculus. Her putties are formed out of the ground and random objects, and the Rangers have one glorious scene of beating the crap out of them after activating their armor for the first time. There is a genuinely incredible amount of Krispy Kreme references. It’s actually integral to the plot, and one of the silliest shots in the movie features Banks tucking into a frosted glaze donut while destruction reigns outside.

The best moments of the movie, though, are when the team enters its training period after meeting Alpha and Zordon. A montage with humor, bonding, and genuine moments of friendship follows. Kimberly and Trini exercise their newfound dexterity by fighting over the last bite of a cookie at Starbucks. The team laughs and cheers Jason on as he gets the snot beat out of him by holographic enemies. Alpha 5 teaches Billy how to take and give a punch. It’s fun and, maybe because it doesn’t feature moments of rejecting the whole Ranger thing (this happens way too many times) feels the most connected to the history of the franchise.

Maybe it’s unfair to keep comparing this movie to how its tone clashes with the past twenty plus years of Power Rangers media. Maybe a Power Rangers where the kids swear and stumble and talk about killing the bad guy is what the culture is asking for right now. I’m not so sure about that, but the good folks at Universal seem to be confident in that direction.

It’s hard not to root for a movie so nakedly progressive and enthused about prospering it’s nonwhite, queer, and differently-abled heroes. The faces and aspects of the teens in Power Rangers reflect our culture in a better way than most films manage these days, even as Hollywood slowly but inexorably moves towards greater representation for all people, and for that it should be celebrated.

And to be honest, I got pretty pumped up when the Megazord and Goldar were punching each other in the face. And in the end, that’s pretty much what Power Rangers is all about.

  • Andrew Clark

    I couldn’t organically fit it into the review, but besides a few moments (the aforementioned Zord battle) this movie never reaches the cinematic heights of our beloved GODS OF EGYPT.

    • Something

      At least we have GEOSTORM, right?

      • Andrew Clark

        GEOSTORM, GHOST IN THE SHELL, and KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD are now my other nominees.

        • Jamikel

          Ghost in the Shell is going to be way too boring to be anyone’s Gods of Egypt.

          • Andrew Clark

            That production design is incredible, though! That’s something GoE had going for itself in spades.

        • Greg Ramirez

          Are there no other contenders this year?

          • Andrew Clark

            THE GREAT WALL and POWER RANGERS were my earliest two nominees. Both fell slightly short. GREAT WALL by being frankly too good, and POWER RANGERS by not being weird enough. Both are still in contention, though. And other prospects may pop up.

          • Greg Ramirez

            I agree. I can’t think of anything else coming down the pipe that could even be nominated.

          • Andrew Clark
          • Greg Ramirez

            Fuck! I have no interest in that movie, so I keep forgetting about it. It is now nominated!

  • ***SPOILERS I GUESS*** ALSO YOU SHOULD BE AWARE THAT MY ONLY OTHER EXPOSURE TO POWER RANGERS IS ABSENT-MINDEDLY WATCHING WHILE A FRIEND HAD THE GODAWFUL FIRST MOVIE ON ONCE.

    I found myself most enjoying the movie when it wasn’t trying to advance the plot. I enjoyed hanging out with the crew in that second third (the Krispy Kreme “fight” was beautiful, beautiful everything), and their motivations all seemed believable, if written in a forced manner.

    But then they had to go be Power Rangers. Whatever. Points for the Zord fight being more coherent than a Transformers movie. I don’t understand (nor do I care—my best friend tried to explain to an obstinate me for two hours yesterday) why the Megazord wasn’t missing a limb (Green Ranger Zord?) or why Red Ranger could control the other Zords. Neither of us understood why Rita wasn’t aware that Megazords could happen, though the way it was done in the film, if I didn’t know Megazords could happen I would have been surprised too. (Also, how are they going to detangle them all?)

    I liked Goldar (except for the name), don’t @ me. The SFX were cool even if the design was lacking. Bryan Cranston was WAAAAY better than I thought he’d be; he seemed woefully miscast in the trailers. Alpha 5 speaks the alien language with a hilarious American accent. Also I spent most of his time onscreen wishing dismemberment upon him.

    Overall I put it with FANT4STIC in the category of interesting failure. I disliked it, but I ended up liking it far more than I thought I would.

    • Also I’d love if anyone with a more personal connection to the issue would chime in, but it seemed that Billy’s autism(?) was handled respectfully and I enjoyed that.

      • Something

        I have a take in the works that I’all start working on after I see the movie.

        • Andrew Clark

          Looking forward to it, my friend.

    • Also also, I was being That Guy and whispering to my friend in the theater, and after the car crash when they wake up in their beds, I leaned over and told him that they’re actually in a coma and the rest of the movie is just a death dream. Then, right before they morph, I noticed that one of the girls was wearing a shirt that said, “It was all a dream.” So I think that’s a solid fan theory. (/s)

      • Andrew Clark

        Haha, I thought the same damn thing. And boy howdy do people love pulling Sam Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN opening beats out in their movies.

    • Andrew Clark

      I actually meant to draw a connection to TRANSFORMERS here. I would put this movie on par in many ways with the first of that franchise.

      Also the Green Zord wasn’t necessary for the Megazord, although it COULD join them in times of great strife. Tommy was so cool that he had his OWN Megazord all to himself.

      Yeah, the Megazord thing being a surprise (to everyone?) was one of the many plot points I mentioned that were left on the ground and not referenced.

  • ryanrochnroll

    Great job! I’ve never been on board with this franchise. This sounds slightly better than I’d expected but pretty much on the same level.

    Glad to hear Banks escapes relatively unscathed.

  • Greg Ramirez

    Spot in review! When I left the movie, one thing I couldn’t shake is how inconsistent the movie was at times. One scene it’s gritty and serious, then the next it’s light hearted and goofy. It couldn’t nail down where it wanted to fall. One moment you’re really feeling for a character and then it’s awkwardly cut by some humor.

    There are quite a few contrivances that for people who notice and nitpick will probably bring the movie down. I mean, the teens find the power coins at the exact same time that a fishing boat is pulling up a mummified Rita. Seriously? That’s the best they could come up with?

    All in all it was still a fun movie that older fans of the show will enjoy and new fans will come to love. I know I’ll be there if and when a sequel happens.

    P.S.
    Billy admits to loving country music and even has a George Strait song playing in one scene, so he is automatically the best thing about this movie.

    • I wish it had been less goofy and more campy. I’m fine with such a massive coincidence if the tone is right, but every moment Rita was onscreen I wanted to die.

      Also, All My Exes Live in Texas was playing either when Red Ranger (I can’t remember his name) visits Billy’s basement for the first time, or The Day After when Billy rips the door off the locker.

      • Greg Ramirez

        I think it was the second time. I immediately noticed it and thought someone’s ringtone was going off in the theater for a moment.

    • Remind me. What happened first? Rita’s discovery or the kids getting the coins?

      • Andrew Clark

        I’m pretty sure the kids find the coins first and get into the accident. There is definitely the loose thread of the two events being connected, but like many plot points, it’s never made clear.

        • That’s what I thought. I settled on assuming that she squirmed into the net somehow because of the coins being found. It seems in line with how nebulous her power set was.

          It’s not like fishing trawlers are scraping the “Cenozoic” seabed.

          • Andrew Clark

            Everything about Rita was nebulous. I am very particular about making sure I pick up on plot points and I could not tell you WHY Rita wanted the Life crystal. Oh, yeah, sure I can construe that it will give her power or whatever, or maybe she just wants to kill everyone on Earth (although I don’t know what that would do for her) but the movie itself never makes that clear!

  • Greg Ramirez

    Also, I REALLY with they had done more with the origin of Rita. I for sure thought that they were going to make her absorb the life force of humans to regain her strength and make her look more human. There was a kernel of a decent horror story there.

    • Yes! The horror-lite is what made me think of FANT4STIC in the first place.

    • Andrew Clark

      That’s what I thought. I still can’t believe they didn’t have Jason’s dad get killed/kidnapped by Rita. It’s actually hilarious. He finds her body and then says to the cop “Guess I’ll just leave you here alone on my boat with this body.”

      That said, I totally dug her staff made out of gold teeth and a human jawbone. That was pretty cool.

      • Greg Ramirez

        I 100% thought that he was going to be the man tied up in the chair. Nope, homeless guy. Missed opportunity

        Edit: Oh yeah, he’s also just squashed in that scene as well.

  • Jamikel

    As a nerdy kid, I was always forced to be the Blue Ranger when we’d play Power Rangers on the playground, so it makes me unreasonably happy that Billy is the best of the Rangers in this new movie.

    Great review, Andrew.

    • Andrew Clark

      I always wanted to be Tommy (of course) but as an adult now I can look back and reasonably say I was ALWAYS the Blue Ranger.

      • Jamikel

        In retrospect, Tommy was really lame.

        We are all the Blue Ranger!

  • Solid review. About what I expected.

    I’d recommend checking out Brian Tyler’s excellent score, at any rate.

  • Double Entendre Dragon

    “There is a genuinely incredible amount of Krispy Kreme references. It’s actually integral to the plot, and one of the silliest shots in the movie features Banks tucking into a frosted glaze donut while destruction reigns outside.”

    There are definite shades of brilliance on display here.

    (Kimberly plot)

    Fucking WHAT?

    • Andrew Clark

      We are never even given a reason to not think Kimberly is a shitty person, either. Yes, her friends are pretty mean to her afterwards, but ONLY BECAUSE SHE DID SOMETHING UNFORGIVABLE.

      Maybe the situation is different if you’re a teen. I have no idea. It was bizarre.

      • Something

        I have a take on this.

        The way I saw it is that Kimberly has just been completely wracked with guilt ever since she did the thing, and for a brief moment, it looked like maybe her friends saw that she felt regretful enough to consider forgiving her, only for that hope to just be completely ripped away. And to add insult to injury, they were still taunting her mercilessly afterwards. Her guilt is the whole point of her arc, and an integral part of the team’s arc as a whole.

  • Lewton Bus is hopping!

    I probably won’t see this… maybe some day on Itunes… but, great review!

  • It’s not just a bull semen joke. It’s a bull HAND JOB joke. With a closeup of the dick.