Power Rangers is a weird film in that it starts off tremendously promising. Then it freefalls after morphing the franchise into just another superhero movie.
For folks in their late 30s-early 40s, Power Rangers was the last remnant of the Golden Age of weekday afternoon TV. Power Rangers wasn’t in the same category as Transformers, G.I. Joe, Masters of the Universe, etc., but it had a certain charm despite being incredibly hokey.
The 2017 edition Power Rangers filmmakers make the mistake of trying to taking the material too seriously. It says a lot when Captain America: Civil War has less angst and overbearing misery. If anything, the screenwriters needed to embrace the source material’s sillier aspects to be the anti-superhero superhero film. One that’s fine adding in a couple of slices of cheese.
It’s not like longtime fans would complain about the film making the old show look goofy. And it’s definitely not like children would be clamoring for more thought-provoking dialogue and heavy drama. Power Rangers 2017 is (major emphasis) heavy on the melodrama.
After a joyride gone wrong, Jason (Dacre Montgomery) finds himself stuck in yearlong detention on house arrest. Jason is a decent enough guy though as he stops a bully from harassing Billy (RJ Cyler). Also stuck in detention is former mean girl Kimberly (Naomi Scott), who’s just been excommunicated from the hot girl clique. The trio make their way to a closed off mine shaft and encounter fellow students Zack (Ludi Lin) and Trini (Becky G).
In a freak mishap, the five teens discover five coins that bond with them and give them inhuman strength and agility. They encounter a helpful robot Alpha 5 (Bill Hader) and his master, a sentient computer named Zordon (Bryan Cranston), who himself was once a Ranger.
The 2017 Rangers aren’t just diverse in their makeup. Billy has a form of autism, Trini is a lesbian and none play into basic stereotypes. Their interaction is terrific and easily the highlight of the film. That bodes well for future installments.
Screenwriter John Gatins probably should have devoted more time to showcasing unique abilities and talents to differentiate the Rangers beyond colors. Gatins is the lone credited screenwriter, but four others get plot credits, which may contribute to the inconsistent tone.
Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II) got the memo. As the villainous Rita Repulsa, Banks attacks every scene with the full-on hammy performance of someone keenly familiar with the source material. If Banks’ Repulsa feels out of place, it’s only because the filmmakers treated Power Rangers like a traditional 2002 era superhero film. Right down to minor annoyances like open Ranger masks as if the audience couldn’t keep up with the color coordinated characters. When the film shifts to a goofier tone for the final battle it feels like a completely different movie.
Director Dean Israelite wastes too much of the two hours plus run time before putting the Rangers in action. They have this mammoth learning curve, but suddenly become experts at all forms of warfare when it’s time for the big battle.
It doesn’t take long in the fight scenes to guess why Israelite tried to delay it as long as possible. They’re a mess. Visually disorienting and hard to follow, it’s weird that the 1993 series had more fluid fight scenes. They only get more chaotic when the Rangers hop into their Zoids, which resemble Transformers and move on screen just as stiffly. And while the source material’s designs were more a budget restraint, the movie version Putty Patrollers are just an uninspired mishmash of rocks.
With a likeable cast and the overlong extended origin out of the way, a sequel really should be able to improve on this initial outing. As a firm foundation for a franchise-starter, Power Rangers isn’t mighty or nearly fun enough.
Rating: 4 out of 10
Photo Credit: Kimberly French/Lionsgate