The Power Rangers is a strange beast. For an aging generation, this remains a relic of a long lost childhood memory. A whole lot of saturday mornings were spent glued to the television, enjoying a karate driven action show, which was about a bunch of 30 year old actors playing teenagers, fighting faceless clay bad guys in morph suits. In retrospect, the original Power Rangers tv show was insanely corny, terribly acted, and riddled with embedded racism, but kids dug it because it was about teenaged superheroes fighting hammy villains. The new Power Rangers movie does reasonably well to capture the essence of it’s source material, but it borrows a lot of the bad while doing so.
The movie does not completely surrender itself to the silliness of the television series, and perhaps the biggest issue is that it expends a whole lot of energy trying to be unique from the show, and becomes a patchwork of various other superhero films, filled with straightlaced shoehorned melodrama. Power Rangers opens to a young man walking a cow (not a typo), into a high school locker room for a prank, when the police happen upon the tresspassers and the teen flees in his truck. After smashing into a cop car, and making the messy getaway, our would be star, Jason (Dacre Montgomery), eventually crashes and flips his truck. Fast forward to Jason at saturday detention, ankle bracelet and all. His father chastises his poor life choices and we learn that the star QB is kicked off the team and has thrown away his future. While he probably should be in jail, or juvenile detention, saturday school detention and house arrest works too. Once in the school, we get introduced to fallen cheerleader, Kimberly (Naomi Scott) and lovable geek, Billy (RJ Cyler).
Billy offers to help Jason with his ankle tracker, if Jason will help Billy get to an old mining yard to search for some stuff. Jason agrees and the duo make their way to the gold mine, proceed to break the law, then Billy likes off a bomb and draws the attention of fellow students who just happened to be hanging around a gold mine 45 minutes outside of the city they all live. Seems legit. The group of misfits all come across these rainbow colored coins, and then things start to get weird. After being hit by a train in the second car chase scene in a film about teenage superheroes, the group wake up in their beds, and in a sequence completely lifted from every Spider Man movie ever made, realize they have superpowers. They ban together and stumble upon an old space ship where a fallen former ranger (you see him meet his fate in the prologue) named Zordon (Bryan Cranston), and his funny little robot buddy, Alpha 5 (Bill Hader), teach the group all about the Rangers and the evil Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), who is looking to end the world by stealing a magic crystal hidden deep below the surface if the earth. Seriously, magic crystal, no lie, that is a thing.
The new Rangers train hard to foil Repulsa’s scheme to steal the crystal with her massive golden monster, Goldar. Hijinks, dramatics, and so much friendship ensue as our would be heros look for a way to band together in time to stop the nefarious Rita. The whole film just sort of feels generic. The Rangers have no discernible differences when it comes to ability, they are completely interchangeable, and some of the action sequences suffer as a result. While the personalities of each of the kids are wide ranging, that doesn’t translate anywhere else. One thing the film does get right, is the diversity amongst the cast and characters.
Billy is not only black, but has some form of autism. Trini (Becky G.) is a lesbian and Zack (Ludi Lin) is a bi-lingual asian american. While this could have easily become gimmick, the defining character traits don’t become cages confining these kids, and instead display a uniqueness to each without becoming stereotype. In fact, the interactions between the core cast become the highlight of the film. The origin is probably the most interesting part and it’s a pleasure to see a fully realized polarity in a group of kids that feels authentic and is a true to life representation of that leaves no one out.
The problems with Power Rangers 2017, are exclusively in the script, and the hamstrung action that is full of overblown digital effects that split apart at the seams too often. The dialogue is painful at times. Understanding that no one expected Aaron Sorkin style quips, some the lines are really picking at low hanging fruit. Credit to the actors who do their best to effectively deliver the clunky exchanges that are wrought with heavy handed melodramatic heart spilling, but ultimately this script is a insurmountable problem. The pacing is a bit of a lark itself, as the movie starts off well, easing the audience into the film with a fair amount of exposition to introduce our characters and their world, but then towards the end, we go into a full sprint, rushing through the action, and wasting Elizabeth Banks’ ostensibly creepy performance, making her feel a little cheesey. Pacing issues also hamper Bryan Cranston, neutralizing him to little more than a motivational plot device.
The climax is where Power Rangers really falls apart. Director Dean Israelite superglues these chaotic and very messy action set pieces with rapid cuts and edits, diminishing the effect, and likely causing migraines galore. It’s just too much calamity jam packed into a short amount of time. There is simply no excuse for this film to carry a two-plus hour run time, but then bombastically rush through the overly self indulgent and anti-climactic final battle. It sort of felt like the last Transformers film, when the dinobots just randomly showed up out of nowhere. Which is another serious issue. In it’s attempt to distinguish itself from the inherently corny television series, Power Rangers 2017 fails to distinguish itself from every other superhero archetype ever created. There are shades of Transformers, Spider-Man, Iron Man and even some Pacific Rim thrown in for good measure. There is nothing proprietary about this, and it shows. However, even with its myriad of glaring weaknesses, it’s hard not to enjoy yourself. It is inadvertently humorous, over the top dramatic, infinitely cheesey, and wholly unoriginal, but it is still a fun ride and a profoundly admirable effort at creating a new franchise, not founded on comic book caped crusaders.