I was never a fan of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, the kid’s live-action superhero TV show that edited action footage from the Japanese show Zyuranger with freshly shot scenes with American actors. Perhaps it was a little before my time, or more likely due to dreadful cheesiness. So when the trailers rolled out for this new feature film, I wasn’t left enthused, especially since they had all the hallmarks of a terribly bad modern adaptation with the now customary excessively gritty look.
As it turns out, Director Dean Israelite’s Power Rangers isn’t all that bad. In fact, it’s as good a Power Rangers film as you could expect considering the atrocious source material.
This isn’t to say that Power Rangers is a good film by any means, just better than some other remakes based on shows for young audiences, say the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films or the last few Transformers outings.
Power Rangers surprises with character development but falls flat in narrative
For one, the performances are surprisingly good from the relatively unknown cast. Darce Montgomery (Jason Scott/Red Ranger) playing the leader and disgraced school football star, Naomi Scott (Kimberly Hart/Pink Ranger), playing an ex-cheerleader, Becky G (Trini Kwan/Yellow Ranger) playing a confused young woman and Ludi Lin (Zack Taylor) playing a student from a multiethnic background, display some good acting talent and play their roles in full earnest.
The best and easily most endearing performance comes from RJ Cyler (Billy Cranston/Blue Ranger), who plays an autistic character. Considering the film’s target demographic, Power Rangers features some interesting characterisation. Moreover, Israelite lets the character development cook for an appreciably long time, and the first act of Power Rangers makes for some decent viewing.
Unfortunately, Power Rangers takes a nosedive when the narrative works towards the meat of the film. The story begins as the five heroes find themselves exploring an abandoned gold mine, where they discover Power Coins. After the police approach the scene to investigate a disturbance, the soon-to-be heroes head home. The next day they discover they have superpowers and return to the cave where they find an old spaceship as well as a morphing robot named Alpha 5 (Bill Hader) and the consciousness of a former Red Ranger named Zordon (Bryan Cranston) now a holographic talking head, who brings them up to date with everything and becomes their mentor. He warns about the alien super-villain Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), a former Green Ranger who broke ranks in order to consolidate power ages ago. The team is however reluctant to adopt their superhero identities and spend time bickering while Jason Scott tries to unite them.
The film’s biggest misstep is Rita. Banks plays her in a very campy way, true to the manner in which the character originally appeared on the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, but is at odds in this film. This tonal difference is incredibly jarring considering how the rest of the cast try to play it straight. Perhaps almost as grave a misstep as the heavy-handed product placement of a doughnut brand peppered throughout the film.
When Power Rangers finally hits the action and the franchise tropes, the film is almost over. The CGI, while acceptable, isn’t quite as thrilling as the build-up. Curiously, Power Rangers pleases you where you would have least expected, and lets you down in the areas you thought were a no-brainer for a superhero flick.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, language and crude humour
Published in Dawn, ICON, April 9th, 2017