The longevity of the Power Rangers franchise is remarkable. Since its debut in the mid-1990’s, it’s become famous mostly for its lighthearted, campy tone, which the 1995 film easily embodied. As a kid I wasn’t a diehard fan of the franchise- I would watch it when it came on and enjoy it well enough, but there were usually a bunch of shows ahead of it in my heart. The formula of Rita sending a monster down to Angel Grove, only for the Rangers to inevitably finish it off with the Megazord mech before the end of the half hour felt a little repetitive to me after a while, which is why I don’t think I ever became a superfan of the show. So I didn’t have any specific expectations walking into this film, my only hope was that it would be entertaining as a whole. And it mostly succeeded, but this movie still feels all over the place.
Dean Israelite seems to be directing Power Rangers as a more mature take on the basic origin story of the sentai team (the “Mighty Morphin’” has been dropped for the 2017 edition), and at times it’s certainly that. However, the humor has an aura of goofiness akin to the original series, way more lowbrow than you’d find in a Marvel film. It begins to look jarring when they’re followed by a well -acted dramatic scene where our heroes are struggling with real issues. It’s an advantage if you’re looking for serious character development for the Rangers, but as it takes of roughly two-thirds of the film’s narrative, it could be an issue if you’re hoping to sit down and watch a consistent action-adventure.
The opening scenes fluctuated in mood so wildly, to where I wasn’t sure at first what sort of film I was going to see. The flashback of Bryan Cranston’s Zordon battling Rita Repulsa (an incredibly hammy Elizabeth Banks) has a level of intensity and dramatic music that wouldn’t feel too out of place in a DC movie. Then we jump-cut millions of years to Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery), who has no idea of his future destiny as the Red Ranger.
A comedic prank involving a bull and a rival school’s mascot gets him sent to the local high school’s detention, where he meets his future teammates Billy (RJ Cyler) and Kimberly (Naomi Scott). When the former, a tech wizard, wants to use Jason’s van to get to a local quarry for a geological study, they join Zack (Ludi Lin) and Trini (Becky G), the future Black and Yellow Rangers, as the quintet stumble upon the Power Coins Zordon had hidden away. The millennia-old alien is disappointed that the new protectors of the earth are so young, but he decides to make the best of the situation and train them nevertheless.
The teenagers themselves are probably the strongest element of the film- all five of them compliment each other well. Where the kids in the original series often felt like caricatures of what an older television executive might imagine a teen sounding like, this new team feels very modern without it seeming as if the film is forcing their hipness down the audience’s throats. They also continue a nice trend of diverse and inclusive casting that this franchise has always valued.
Cyler’s Billy/Blue Ranger is immensely likable, and was probably my personal favorite of the gang- an awkward teen on the autistic spectrum who is charming, heroic and doesn’t come off like a cheap stereotype. Montgomery’s Jason, a football star who’s having issues with his father, is always a convincing leader and it’s evident how much he cares about his teammates even from the very beginning. In an early scene where Billy uses his tech savvy to remove his house arrest anklet, he engulfs him in a massive bear hug, to Bill’s surprise.
Scott’s Kimberly/Pink Ranger is a fun everywoman, as is Trini- a shy girl who’s still coming to terms with her sexuality, and Zack has an unexpectedly moving backstory he reveals to his friends during a campfire meeting. As CW-esque as a couple of their arcs seem, these are the most emotionally engaged I’ve ever been with any group of Power Rangers. Kudos to the filmmakers for putting together such a magnetic cast!
But appealing as the teens are, most moviegoers and fans are clearly here to see the Rangers actually in action, wearing their suits and battling Repulsa inside their Zords, and there’s nowhere near enough of it. There’s been a surprising level of backlash regarding how detailed and rendered the team’s armor is, but I didn’t have too much of a problem with it. If the CGI was stronger it would probably help, but there are a number of parts during the battle- particularly with Repulsa stealing gold throughout Angel Grove to put together her giant beast Goldar, who sadly is just a giant roaring monster here and isn’t anywhere as funny as he was in in the show- where it looks rather cheap.
The eventual climax is fun and well directed (which features a quick snarky jab from Zack against a certain other franchise from Hasbro with giant robots), but the product placement is beyond ridiculous. I swear, it’s even more blatant than it was in Man of Steel. I love Krispy Kreme as much as the next person, but were me and the audience supposed to be laughing that hard during such a perilous battle for the fate of the town? Watching Rita slowly eat their product, I half expected her to turn to the camera and wink, followed by a Family Guy-style parody jingle. “Power Rangers- Protecting America’s Favorite Donuts!”
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Power Rangers team that felt this relatable. Fans of other superhero properties will probably want something meatier- there was a lot of talk about how “dark” this MMRP film seemed from the teaser images. But I wouldn’t call this a grim film by any stretch- at the most, it’ll feel really intense for the younger crowd. Even though this is the start of a series of films, this is practically the “Godfather of Power Rangers” in terms of quality. Take that for what you will.
I can still say I enjoyed it in spite of its faults, but if the title group spent a little more time as the actual Rangers and the tone were more consistent, it would have been a much stronger standalone movie. As it is, I think I can definitely recommend it if you’re a long-time fan of the franchise, but you may be let down otherwise.