A film review by Craig J. Koban April 6, 2017

POWER RANGERS jj

2017, PG-13, 124 mins.

 

Dacre Montgomery as Jason Lee Scott / The Red Ranger  /  Naomi Scott as Kimberly Hart / The Pink Ranger  /  RJ Cyler as Billy Cranston / The Blue Ranger  /  Becky G as Trini / The Yellow Ranger  /  Ludi Lin as Zack Taylor / The Black Ranger  /  Bryan Cranston as Zordon  /  Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa  /  Bill Hader as Alpha 5 (voice)

Directed by Dean Israelite  /  Written by John Gatins

This film is not for me.  

There...I said it.  

I was bordering on adulthood when the original children's television super hero program MIGHTY MORPHIN' POWER RANGERS hit the air in the early 1990's, which meant that my exposure to it was minimal, to say the least.  It inexplicably became a pop culture phenomenon for young viewers of its era, inexplicable because the series, let's face it, was ultra schlocky from a level of its low rent production standards (it used stock footage featuring its neon colored masked heroes from a previous Japanese TV series and simply edited in new material involving American actors out of costume).  I recently tried to watch a few episodes of the show...but barely made it through any of them.  

As a child of STAR WARS, POWER RANGERS felt like an egregious qualitative step down for a new generation of kids. 

Am I being snobby?  Absolutely.  Will that sway my opinion of the new retooled and updated big screen adaptation of POWER RANGERS?  Maybe.  I pride myself on being a reasonable and open minded chap and filmgoer that's willing to give any property a fighting chance.  Going into POWER RANGERS from a largely outsider perspective places me, I think, in an advantageous position (as a non fan of the TV series, I obviously bring no baggage in with me).  On a positive, this retrofitted POWER RANGERS is a shockingly well developed super hero origin film that places a significant amount of its running time on developing its core protagonists as fleshed out human beings.  That's refreshing.  Negatively, though, POWER RANGERS wages a war within itself on a level of tone: It wants to be a revitalizingly gritty and dramatically textured re-imagining of this cherished children's program while fully embracing its beyond absurd and frankly silly mythology.  POWER RANGERS wants to have its cake and eat it too.   

 

 

Still, I liked the atypical amount of depth that's afforded to this film's teen characters...an awful lot more than I was expecting.  In the small town of Angel Grove resides a fallen from grace high school football star, Jason (Darce Montgomery), who has become a black sheep in his family due to his troublemaking ways.  He's sent to weekly detention, where he meets Billy (RJ Cyler), the school's resident brainiac that always gets mercilessly teased.  The pair become quick friends and during a trip to a local mine they meet up with a group of other fellow outcasts: Zack (Ludi Lin), a wild child that has a dying mother at home that he cares for: Kimberley (Naomi Scott), an ex-cheerleader that finds herself in the social doghouse with her former Bffs; and Trini (Becky G), a young closeted lesbian struggling to gain acceptance.  The misfit group miraculously discovers a buried alien ship that... 

...do you see where this is going? 

In the star trekking vessel lurks the entity known as Zordon (Bryan Cranston), an ex-alien Power Ranger that once protected prehistoric Earth from the nefarious clutches of Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), a former good ranger than turned on her kind.  Millions of years ago Zordon defeated Rita by ordering a meteor strike on Earth, which apparently wiped out the dinosaurs, not to mention himself and Rita.  Conveniently, Zordon hid the all-powerful "Power Coins" (the source of ranger power) as well as the "Zero Crystal", which can't fall into the wrong hands.  Equally convenient is that Zordon had his essence stored in his ship's computer, thanks to his loyal sidekick robot Alpha 5 (voiced by Bill Hader).  In the present, Zordon hopes to recruit the teens (that managed to find the Power Coins) and train them to battle the unavoidable return of Rita.  Predictable complications ensue. 

The finest thing I will say about POWER RANGERS is that, as mentioned, it never feels the need to rush out of the gate as a VFX heavy super hero event film; it's a patient origin tale that takes great pains to ensure that the people underneath the power armor are authentically rendered human beings.  The core of young actors assembled here all do a routinely fine job with their respective characters and their chemistry, in turn, feels palpable.  So many young adult fantasies seem more compelled to hastily burn through expositional particulars and get to the action and mayhem, all while slavishly setting up sequels.  POWER RANGERS is respectfully different in the sense that it delves into what makes these kids tick, and it does so with thoughtful understanding.  The handling of the two characters of Trini and Billy as both lesbian and autistic characters is kind of brave, in a way, seeing as very few adaptations of children TV shows would have dared to do the same.  The manner that POWER RANGERS treats its young personas seriously and celebrates their insecurities and vulnerabilities really helps to elevate the film above disposable mediocrity. 

The main problem, though, with POWER RANGERS is that it becomes an infinitely less compelling film when it gets to the...well...power rangers-ing.  The opening half of the film that feels successfully grounded on a level of character verisimilitude gets capsized by the story's rampant ludicrousness of its latter half, during which time Zordon preps his newly assembled squad of troubled adolescents to battle the forces of cosmic evil to save the planet.  Underlining all of the film's decent dramatic opening beats is an unfolding screenplay that struggles with preposterous elements: Zero Crystals, Power Coins, Zords (the Rangers' dinosaur/Transformers-like vehicles to the uninitiated), giant monsters made of gold, vile minions of Rita's made of rock, and, well, a villain named Rita Repulsa pushes campy extremes that conflicts with the first relatively solemn half of the film.  Also, if Rita is an ancient alien being that's 65 million years old then why does she have a modern human first name eons before the development of the English language for mankind?  And why is the Zero Crystal hidden in a Krispy Kreme restaurant? 

I know...I know.  Maybe trying to find logic in an illogically nonsensical super hero mythology like POWER RANGERS is a fool's errand.  Yet, the film nevertheless left me asking far too many simple questions (like, for example, how did those California teens immediately have masterful kung fu and giant Zord piloting skills after just a few days of training?).  The film's would-be thrilling climax is an over-directed mess; director Dean Israelite (PROJECT ALMANAC) gives POWER RANGERS a scope and scale unseen before on the TV show and previous film installments, but he gets way, way too showy with his camera for his own good at times (an early sequence involving a car chase and a constantly swirling camera is an eye straining nightmare).  I also felt surprisingly little for the Power Rangers and their plight as they waged war on Rita with downtown Angel Grove serving as ground zero.  Considering that the Power Rangers are driven to protect human life and the planet as a whole, they sure do commit an awful lot of collateral damage.   

And don't even get me started on Bryan Crantson's perplexing involvement here, who essentially occupies 99 per cent of the film's running time voicing a disembodied computer generated head that laughably never makes proper usage of his sizeable thespian talents.  And as for Banks?  She vamps up her sadistically cartoonish baddie with a throw caution to the wind zeal that's fun in dosages, but never meshes with the kind of film POWER RANGERS was trying to be in its opening stages.  All in all, I think that I've been incredibly fair to this film; it's not the eye rollingly awful and wrongheaded disaster that I was expecting.  Unfortunately, its modestly solid CHRONICLE meets THE BREAKFAST CLUB sections never gel at all with the unrelentingly goofy extremes of its latter acts.  Diehard POWER RANGERS fundamentalists will love this lavishly scaled treatment of their small screen heroes, but as for the rest of us agnostics?   I left the cinema yearning to go on a donut run.  

You'll see what mean. 

 

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