Directed by: Dean Israelite
Premise: A feature film based upon the 1990s television show. Five teenagers discover an alien spacecraft and are bestowed with superpowers. The teens must work together to defeat the evil super villain Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks).
What Works: The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers television series was known for its campiness. The show was silly and it featured hokey acting, cheesy writing, and goofy monsters. This film is an attempt to take the series in a different direction. In the same way that Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins distanced the Dark Knight from the gaudy neon kaleidoscope that was Batman & Robin, 2017’s Power Rangers reimagines the series as a gritty and relatively serious superhero adventure. The film’s strengths are in its core cast and the portrayal of troubled teenagers. Power Rangers was directed by Dean Israelite, who had also helmed 2015’s Project Almanac, and Israelite has a feel for authentic teenage characters. This group of Power Rangers is led by Jason (Dacre Montgomery), a high school quarterback-type who has run afoul of the law. He ends up in an unlikely friendship with Billy (RJ Cyler), a nerdish African American who is on the autism spectrum. Jason and Billy are eventually joined by Kimberly (Naomi Scott), a high school beauty who has fallen out of favor with the in-crowd following a cruel prank, and Zack (Ludi Lin), an Asian American who tends to his sick mother. The group of outcast teens is rounded out by Trini (Becky G.), a teenage lesbian with a difficult home life. The lives of these teenagers are grounded in reality and each of them has a specific personal challenge that gives the characters some depth. The movie emphasizes the way in which these teenagers come together as a team and there are a few effective moments in which they go out on a limb for each other and fight side by side.
What Doesn’t: The tone of Power Rangers is all over the place. Scenes concerning the teenagers’ personal lives are shot realistically whereas the training montages play like something out of a comic book movie. The film includes some humor but a lot of it is out of sync with the tone of the movie and several jokes are inappropriate for the young viewers who are the Power Rangers’ most enthusiastic fans. The tone of Power Rangers is most out of key whenever Rita Repulsa shows up. Apparently actress Elizabeth Banks and whoever designed her costume were not informed of the direction that this movie was taking. While everything around her reflects the gritty and realistic tone, Banks acts like she’s in the 1990s television show and lays on the camp. This discordant tone is also found in the major fight sequence at the end of the picture. Rita Repulsa conjures a gigantic monster that is supposedly made of gold that looks like a computer generated special effect. The climax of Power Rangers emulates Michael Bay’s Transformers movies. In some respects, the final fight of Power Rangers is much better than those of the Transformers movies in that there are some actual stakes and the fighting is not numbingly endless. But the tone of the climax doesn’t match the rest of the picture and in chasing the destructive scale of Transformers, the filmmakers create a problem. At the end of this movie, the Power Rangers must stop Rita Repulsa from destroying the town but in their effort to stop her the heroes end up leveling the place anyway. The discordant tone of Power Rangers is indicative of a more fundamental problem with this reboot. Until now, the Power Rangers were defined by their campiness. That was key to the series’ appeal with children. By eliminating the campiness, this film becomes just another generic superhero film that isn’t really made for anyone.
Bottom Line: Power Rangers is only half-successful in its attempt to update the material for today’s PG-13 audience. The filmmakers do the teenage drama pretty well but the rest of the film suffers from a disjointed tone and a run-of-the-mill origin story.
Episode: #641 (April 2, 2017)