The Power Rangers were once a big part of my life growing up. In a house of three boys in the ’90s, it was pretty much a given. While I have since fallen out of the world, it’s impossible to ignore that the Power Rangers franchise has maintained a massive fan base through several seasons of television and feature films. In fact, this entry into the franchise marks the 20th anniversary since the Power Rangers hit the big screen for a second time in 1997.
While Saban’s Power Rangers appeals to all ages, it definitely plays to long-time fans of the franchise. The film is a reboot of sorts to the original television show, in which we follow five somewhat troubled high school students who discover a source of power underground, gain superhero-like abilities, and become sworn to protect the Earth from evil.
What troubled me at first was that I spent the first half of the movie feeling like I had seen this film before. Then it dawned on me that it shared a plot with 2012’s surprise hit Chronicle, in which teenagers gain abilities after they happen to come across an underground source of power – only they didn’t become Power Rangers.
From the very start, I was worried about the editing of the film. The opening scene takes place 65 million years in the past and is followed by a hard cut to our protagonist, Jason (Dacre Montgomery), and a friend in an introductory (albeit unrelated) scene filled with crude humor, shaky cam and nonsense. The way the scene plays out, I understand why it was put between the opening scene and the title screen, but to me it felt out of place as it was unrelated to the former. From this point on, the film struggles in determining what kind of film it really wants to be. It’s clear it wants to be a darker and more realistic telling of the story, but at times it can’t help but leak a little bit of the campiness from the original show. While I was impressed with how well they incorporated things like “It’s morphin’ time!” into the film, the sudden appearance of the original theme song during the final battle was poorly timed and unfitting to the tone. Not to mention, the whole third act becomes a giant ad for Krispy Kreme donuts and probably the worst product placement I’ve ever seen in film. It’s obnoxious.
After having worked on the Power Rangers television show in the past, Bryan Cranston returns to the franchise as Zordon, a former Ranger who now exists as only a talking head, guiding the Rangers into believing in one another and unlocking their full potential. Also present in the Rangers’ homebase is the lovable but annoying robot, Alpha, voiced by Bill Hader. While not quite as annoying as I remember him from the show, he provides a few one liners that should bring a few laughs to the audience.
The main antagonist of the film is Rita Repulsa played by Elizabeth Banks. While her motives are not entirely clear, it’s provided in a bit of exposition by Zordon that she is pure evil and wants to take over the planet. Banks does what she can to revitalize the role made popular by the television show and feature film, but I often found myself wondering how she’s supposed to be taken seriously in this adaptation. I honestly feel like her character alone is responsible for this film’s conflict in tone. In one scene she’s eating gold necklaces and in another, amidst the chaos and fighting outside, she’s eating Krispy Kreme donuts. For someone who’s only motive is world domination, I feel like taking a small break to eat some donuts is extremely contradictory and silly and easily my least favorite scene in the film.
This film also suffers from very poor lighting up until the final climatic battle. Most scenes were overly dark when they didn’t need to be. At times it was difficult to see the characters’ faces, or anything for that matter, going on. There seemed to be some kind of filter that made scenes in the daylight even seem darker than they should be. I am not sure if this is becoming a trend (Suicide Squad suffered from this too) or just a bad lighting job while trying to make a grittier film.
If there was one redeeming quality about the film, it is the main cast and their surprisingly exceptional job in their roles. These aren’t just teens with attitudes anymore. Jason is dealing with a knee injury, due to his own fault, and therefore burdened with shame from the town and his peers as the star quarterback. Kimberly (Naomi Scott) is dealing with the leak of a risque photo and some cheer-leading drama (the weakest of the back stories). Zack (Ludi Lin) is burdened with taking care of his sick mother instead of getting to enjoy his adolescent years, and Trini (Becky G) feels alone due to her family constantly moving, and not being able to settle down and have someone to relate to. Perhaps the performance that stood out for me the most was RJ Cyler as the tech-wizard Blue Ranger, Billy. What I really liked was the inclusion of him being on the autism spectrum and painting the disorder in a positive light. Every single one of these characters has their own issues to deal with, and the film does a great job making the point that each of them can still be heroic – despite having to overcome these obstacles.
In the end, I think Saban’s Power Rangers will satisfy the long time fans. Through it’s flaws and an over-the-top performance by Elizabeth Banks, it does deliver a breath of fresh air to a franchise I, myself, no longer had any interest in. What I think is most important though, is the younger generation can once again look up to the Power Rangers and the characters behind the armor and realize they, too, can be heroes.
Saban’s Power Rangers gets a C-