In 2015, Joseph Kahn and Adi Shankar produced a short film showing us what a grimdark take on Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers would look like. This was intended as satire; an R-rated take on a children’s property remade to cater to those same children all grown up. Too many of the wrong people saw that short and missed the point, and now we have a big screen remake of Power Rangers. To their credit, the film isn’t in laughably poor taste. It’s more awkward than anything else. Kinda like your average teenager.
This version (billed as Saban’s Power Rangers) tries to be too many things at once. It establishes its cosmic mythos about ancient galactic protectors in the very first scene, then tries to be a serious drama about modern teen issues. But then it also remembers it’s a big goofy action movie designed to sell toys to kids. It strikes a tone somewhere between The Breakfast Club and The Avengers, and the more time it spends on the former, the better. Once Power Rangers goes full tilt into giant robot territory, it completely succumbs to the demands of brain-melting franchise nostalgia.
Each Ranger is introduced in turn, and can be described as a misfit loner in one way or another. Jason (Dacre Montgomery) is a disgraced high school quarterback; Kimberly (Naomi Scott) is an equally disgraced high school cheerleader; Billy (RJ Cyler) is borderline autistic and coping with the loss of his dad; Zack (Ludi Lin) ditches school to take care of his ailing mother; Trini (Becky G) is the new girl at school, struggling with how to open up to her parents about her sexuality.
Their stories converge at the rock quarry outside of town, where Billy stumbles across a set of color-coded power coins. These coins imbue the group with superhuman abilities. They discover the underground command center of an ancient being named Zordon (Bryan Cranston), who appears to them from behind a giant pin art display. He explains the situation: A former Ranger named Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) has returned and is searching for the Zeo crystal—a Final Fantasy-esque stone that gives life to the planet—and is gathering enough gold to build her giant monster, Goldar, to dig up the crystal and destroy the Earth.
The first hour is some of the film’s strongest material.
It really wears its John Hughes influence on its sleeve. As the Rangers become acquainted with one another, the story blossoms into a tale of bonding and acceptance among outsiders. Everyone has their own demons, and opening up allows them to work through those problems together. The film tells us far more than it shows, but with so many characters to service, there simply isn’t enough screentime to go around. Zack kind of gets the shortest end of the stick in this regard. There is exactly one scene in which he brings his bedridden mom her medicine, and it’s barely even mentioned again.
You’d think this would lead to scenes in which the Rangers actually grow as people, that the story would find a way for their group therapy sessions to dovetail into five parts of a larger whole. (Like five small robots that join together to form one larger robot or something? I don’t know, I’m no screenwriter.) Instead, the script treats their emotional breakthroughs as necessities for getting into their hero outfits. The Rangers explicitly cannot summon their suits until they learn to love each other. (If this is true, how the hell did Rita ever become a Ranger?) That their mutual trust and connection manifests itself as a literal superpower is a thematically rich concept, but the film completely bungles the payoff.
Once Elizabeth Banks is unleashed in the second act, the film takes a fun little dip into horror territory. Rita stalks Angel Grove like Freddy Kreuger, pulling gold teeth out of her victims’ mouths and taunting the Rangers in their sleep. Banks has a bizarre, twitchy delivery that is genuinely unnerving. The film could use more of that strange menace; every moment she’s onscreen is a moment of pure camp and you can tell Banks is having a blast. There is one incredible little scene where she scopes out a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop, and even samples their wares before completely destroying the place. She repeats the name to herself a couple times, like she’s trying to understand the power and significance of its alliteration. “Krispy Kreme… Krisssspy Kreeeme…” It’s baffling.
The kids get their giant robots, Rita gets her giant monster, and they it out in the streets of Angel Grove. At this point in the film, all bets are off and we’re 100% in fan service mode. The Zords make their triumphant debut, blasting the Power Rangers theme song and transforming into the MegaZord. Director Dean Israelite can’t seem to figure out what to do with this sequence. The first hour of this film is remarkably self-assured; Israelite knows exactly what he wants and more or less nails it. Here, though, he struggles to bring together all the CGI elements and separate planes of action into one cohesive sequence. The result is just unwatchable chaos.
Would I recommend Power Rangers? That’s tough.
The thrill of seeing this property translated into a modern teen drama eventually wears off, and once the action starts things degenerate fast. If you’re a fan of the CW’s brand of show, you’ll probably dig the way this film draws its characters. As the foundation of a superhero franchise three times removed from its source material, though, I honestly don’t see a bright future here. The promise of five sequels feels more like a threat.Liked This? Share It!