Power Rangers has mixed success with its efforts to modernize the franchise, but offers enough playful storytelling and spectacle to offset its flaws.
The lives of Angel Grove high school students Jason (Dacre Montgomery), Kimberly (Naomi Scott), Billy (RJ Cyler), Zack (Ludi Lin) and Trini (Becky G) – each of whom is a social outcast and/or misfit for some reason or another – are forever changed after one fateful night, in which they stumble upon a mysterious collection of coin-shaped stones, each of them a different color. Thereafter, all five teens find themselves imbued with incredible physical strength and abilities, inspiring them to further investigate the place in which they discovered these strange “Power Coins” to begin with.
It turns out that millions of years ago, these “Power Coins” belonged to a team of superheroes known as the Power Rangers, led by an alien named Zordon (Bryan Cranston) and tasked with protecting Earth’s Zeo Crystal: an extremely powerful type of crystal that exists beneath the surface of every planet throughout the universe. When it turns out that Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), a dangerous extraterrestrial sorceress who is determined to claim Earth’s Zeo Crystal for herself, is still alive in the present-day, it’s up to this group of “teenagers with attitude” to come together as a team and save their planet from annihilation.
A big screen reboot of the franchise that began in the early 1990s (the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers iteration, to be exact), Power Rangers blends teen angst drama with campy super-heroics to mixed, but ultimately entertaining results. While the film contains its fair share of nods to the Mighty Morphin TV series (including, some “special appearances”) that have nostalgic value for kids of the ’90s especially, Power Rangers is above all else a relaunch that has one primary goal: ushering in a new era for Saban’s multimedia Power Rangers property. On the whole though, that goal is achieved here. Power Rangers has mixed success with its efforts to modernize the franchise, but offers enough playful storytelling and spectacle to offset its flaws.
Scripted by John Gatins (Kong: Skull Island) and based on a screen story credited to the writing duos behind Gods of Egypt (Matt Sazama and Burn Sharpless) and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Michele and Kieran Mulroney), Power Rangers blends aspects of the Mighty Morphin TV series with elements from subsequent Power Rangers TV shows to create a fresh mythology; one that stands to benefit from additional development, yet is cohesive enough to serve this film’s narrative purposes. Where Power Rangers struggles is with its attempts to seamlessly weave together its sincere teenager drama – some of which deals with unexpectedly heavy emotional subject matter – with the more fantastical Power Rangers mythos. The way the movie transitions between its scenes dealing with modern high school issues/concerns and its overtly cartoonish superhero origin story moments might leave some viewers experiencing a sense of emotional whiplash, as a result.
The direction from Dean Israelite helps to make this ride a smoother, yet still enthralling viewing experience. Israelite’s Power Rangers bring to mind his found-footage directorial debut Project Almanac in particular, as he and that movie’s cinematographer Matthew J. Lloyd (who also worked on season 1 of Marvel’s Daredevil) employ similar energetic camerawork and creative shot choices here, in order to further liven up the blockbuster proceedings. A good chunk of the film involves low-key drama scenes that are either set at night or in dimly-lit locations, some of which do border on being too visually murky. Nevertheless, Power Rangers really comes alive during its action sequences, montages (including, a requisite “training montage” that mixes things up by incorporating more playful moments) and of course, a third act that delivers plenty in the way of inspired Zord-driven spectacle, per the Power Rangers tradition.
Israelite also demonstrated a knack for collaborating with young adult actors (playing teenagers) in Project Almanac and he puts that skill to equally good use on Power Rangers. The Rangers themselves as initially presented as basic archetypes – Jason (Dacre Montgomery) and Kimberly (Naomi Scott) are ex-popular jocks/kids, Billy (RJ Cyler) is “on the spectrum”, Zack (Ludi Lin) is anti-authoritative and Trini (Becky G) is a loner – but they gain more depth, over the course of their respective arcs in the film. The young stars of Powers Rangers have strong chemistry together, buoying the quality of their individual performances in the process. Still, it’s Me and Earl and the Dying Girl scene-stealer Cyler who’s easily the standout here and may well go on to be remembered as one of the best (if not the best) Blue Ranger characters in Power Rangers history.
Whereas the majority of the Power Rangers cast embraces a grounded acting style, Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa very much camps it up as the intergalactic villain. This proves to be a smart move, as Banks’ Rita gets her fair share of memorable moments (funny and creepy alike) and provides a welcome alternative to the more serious performances around her, as a result. Bryan Cranston is more restrained than Banks but equally solid, portraying the Rangers’ leader Zordon (who, similar to Rita, has a different backstory than his Mighty Morphin counterpart) as more of a seasoned, yet flawed warrior than all-knowing sage. Rounding out the main ensemble is Bill Hader as Alpha 5, who here makes for a more competent (but still comical) sidekick to Zordon and the Rangers than his Mighty Moprhin predecessor did… if not necessarily a more memorable one, too.
Power Rangers‘ attempt to give the franchise a contemporary makeover without completely abandoning its roots in silly monsters vs. superhero mayhem may yield mixed returns, but on the whole the movie reboot offers much of the same goofy superhero entertainment value as the various Power Rangers TV shows (starting with Mighty Morphin) have for nearly the past quarter-century. It remains to be seen whether or not studio backers Saban Entertainment and Lionsgate are ultimately successful in realizing their larger franchise goals here – but should Power Rangers prove to be a hit at the box office, the series has a firm foundation and charismatic main cast in place, to carry it forward. (And speaking of franchise plans: those who go see Power Rangers are advised to not leave the theater immediately after the credits start rolling.)
Power Rangers begins playing in U.S. theaters nationwide tonight. It is 124 minutes long and is Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, language, and for some crude humor.
Want to discuss spoilers for the film? Head on over to our Power Rangers Spoilers Discussion.