Sunday 26 March 2017

Movie REVIEW: Power Rangers

Power Rangers (2017 Movie)

When Saban Brands bought back the rights to the Power Rangers franchise from Disney in 2010, the company began a push to recapture the widespread popularity the franchise had when it began way back in 1993. But increased exposure and merchandising was just a small part of it - the big news came in 2014 when it was announced that Saban would be partnering with Lionsgate to produce a brand new Power Rangers film reboot. On the 24th March 2017 Power Rangers was released, directed by Dean Isralite and starring Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Ludi Lin and Becky G in the roles of Jason, Kimberly, Billy, Zack and Trini respectively. The main cast was rounded out by Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa, Bill Hader as the voice of Alpha 5 and Bryan Cranston as Zordon - who had previously provided monster voices on the original series over 20 years ago.

Trini, Billy, Jason, Kimberly & Zack

Following a prank gone wrong, highschool football star Jason Scott finds himself under house arrest and in Saturday detention for the rest of the school year. After befriending Billy Cranston, Jason agrees to take Billy to a nearby abandoned mine. Here the pair also encounter fellow misfits Kimberly, Zack and Trini - as well as discovering five different coloured coin-like artefacts. The five teens each take a coin, and the next day suddenly discover they have superhuman strength and abilities. As the five return to the mine where it all began, the coins lead them to a buried alien spaceship. Inside they find Zordon and Alpha 5 - who inform them that the coins have chosen them to become the newest generation of Power Rangers.

Zordon also informs them that the Earth is in immediate danger - the evil Rita Repulsa has also awoken, stealing Angel Grove's reserves of gold to raise her minion Goldar to steal the source of life on the planet Earth. With only days to spare, the newest rangers have to master their new abilities as well as learn to trust in each other. Together, they are more.

The Power Rangers

As the promotion for Power Rangers began at the end of last year and trailers and story information slowly began the hit the internet, there seemed an immediate fear that this was yet another beloved franchise offered a "dark and gritty" reboot that no one really asked for. On the surface it isn't hard to see why one might think that - in what almost feels like a direct response to the paper-thin and stereotypical characterisation Power Rangers have received in the past, this new film goes out of its way to make the cast feel like actual characters. Gone are the hardworking, charitable "teenagers with attitude" of the Mighty Morphin days - these are teenagers in a more real sense of the word, each with their own personal more-relatable struggles to face. Some are a much larger focus of the movie while others barely scratch the surface, but they're all there to make these characters feel so much more believable. Billy's autism and Trini's sexuality have been the media hot topics, both surprisingly handled with more tact and respect than some would initially give the film credit for. But it's in fact Kimberly's that feels like it should be the subject of debate, arguably working in context but not be necessarily something parents will want to explain to the children this film is partially aimed at.

In his second feature film since 2015's Project Almanac, Isralite has taken Power Rangers his taken on Power Rangers in the way of teen superpower film Chronicle meets the social misfits of The Breakfast Club. The cast are all excellent in their roles, with a standout performance from RJ Cyler in particular. While it doesn't feel right to single out one ranger as they all bring something to the film (although Trini's standoffish-ness means Becky G feels somewhat underused), but Billy will be the one viewers will be citing as their favourite. However this added character-depth isn't just limited to the five teenagers either. On top of a much-needed design update Alpha's got a brand new attitude to boot, while Zordon has his own issues to deal with. Bryan Cranston plays a sharper, more temperamental version of the rangers' mentor - frustrated as his newly found position as a disembodied entity of the morphing grid.


With all these issues Elizabeth Banks' Rita Repulsa almost feels like part of a completely different film, as she plays the character with the same campish glee you'd expect from a normal Power Rangers episode. That isn't to say this version isn't a threat though - not only does this Rita take a far more active role in the conflict, she also establishes her ruthlessness very effectively in what is undoubtedly the movie's strongest scene. Her new origins will have long-time fans grinning (not that most of them hadn't worked it out already), revealing enough to establish her position as a villain but also leaving enough questions for future films. It's just a shame that this Rita ultimately works alone, with Goldar going from her loyal right-hand man to a giant, liquid gold monster-of-the-week. It's another idea that works well both in concept and execution, but not necessarily the best character to have carried it out on.

Make no mistake though, Power Rangers is not a "dark and gritty" film. It has tension, stakes and takes itself seriously when called for, but there's also plenty of jokes and humour to be found. Again some of it is questionable (though short one bovine masturbation joke in Power Rangers is still one too many) but it isn't enough to completely derail the film. Product placement is so blatant is becomes a joke in itself, with Krispy Kreme a major location in the rangers final showdown with Rita. Moments like this could easily kill other movies, but with something that can be so inherently silly as Power Rangers it inexplicably manages to make it all the better. There's also plenty of further continuity nods and easter eggs to keep longtime Ranger fans happy, all while acting comfortably as a film for newcomers as well.

Rita Repulsa

Due to all this wonderful characterisation in the first two thirds of the film it's strange to find that when the rangers do finally fully suit up, it's the action that proves to be the most underwhelming part. The sequence where the rangers take on a hoard of putties is all too brief, quickly cast aside for the much lengthier Zord battle against Goldar and Rita herself. As a two-hour film that was gradually building to that moment it's a massive shame to see the fully-suited rangers over and done with so quickly, especially as the helmets retract for the entirety of the Zord cockpit footage (think Robert Downey Jr in the Iron Man films, or alternatively the Ninja Storm helmets). Some have criticised this as the film being "ashamed to be Power Rangers", but as the zords rush to the scene with a snippet of the original "Go Go Power Rangers" theme it can't be that ashamed of its origins. Instead this seems more like an origin story where either the characters or the action had to suffer in order to do the other justice, and if the end goal was to ensure franchise longevity then creating memorable characters seems like the right decision to make.

Goldar vs the Megazord

Power Rangers is also a lesson in never fully judging a design by promo images or toys, as both the suits and the Zords fare far better on screen than they did in any prior publicity. The newly-incorporated alien-aesthetic of both certainly isn't going to win everyone over, but regardless of whether or not the suits are over-detailed or that the Mastodon has got too many legs the end product feels like Power Rangers through and through. Each of the individual Zords get some good exposure (which is something often lacking in the show itself) and even without a designated combining sequence the Megazord debut manages to be an emotionally strong spectacle regardless.

Despite a noticeable lack of suited action and a handful of questionable choices here and there, Power Rangers is a highly enjoyable film that offers a far more character-driven take on the franchise than ever before. While there is certainly room for improvement going forward, the foundations have been laid for a franchise that could easily fill out its projected six films with further stories to tell. The characters are here, all that's left to do now is to continue their story. These are the Power Rangers you'll want to see more of.



Paladin said...

Dean Israelite had nothing to do with "Chronicle." That was Josh Trank.

This is really Isrealite's first big feature as director.

Alex said...

Aha, the connections had me confused. Thanks for the clarification.