Saban’s Power Rangers finally hit theaters, after a lengthy wait filled with dour trailers and false rumors. Remember when we thought they were going to tie the whole thing into the TV series? Or how someone said the whole thing was being produced on a budget so tiny, the Rangers suits would be made of tinfoil and the Zords inserted via 2D animation?
Well, never mind all of that: we’ve got the movie, and it’s actually pretty good, all things considered. Those expecting a really expensive episode of the original Mighty Morphin series need not apply, since this more recent movie had chosen to slow things down and focus on characters, but it’s at least worth a watch for anyone feeling the nostalgia vibes.
Not that Power Rangers is perfect; far from it, in fact. While it didn’t entirely capture the spirit of the beloved TV series, it still had its moments. Here are 7 Things That Saban’s Power Rangers Got Right, And 7 Things It Got Wrong.
14. Teenagers with Actual Attitude
Don’t get us wrong; the original team of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers were great… if you were six years old, and thus had a six-year-old’s understanding of how to write good characters. You may think fondly back to Billy’s technobabble, or Kimberly’s… handsprings? Trini’s hairstyle?
Fact is, those kids didn’t have a whole lot going for them apart from ‘nice’, and this new movie really turned that on its head. Original Zack ‘Walking Stereotype’ Taylor has morphed into what’s basically ADD Adam, and it makes for a far more entertaining character. Meanwhile, original Trini was a smiling husk with less personality than a Putty Patroller. She was there to fill a set of yellow pajamas, so we’re totally okay with her being rebranded as a snarky outcast with family issues.
Rounding off the rest of the cast, we have Mean-Girl-in-rehab Kimberly, a version of Jason with actual crippling flaws, and Billy, who’s gone from ambiguously autistic to actually autistic. Perhaps the glue holding the team together, RJ Cyler gave Billy depth outside of just being the team nerd who fixes stuff, with his disbelief and gratitude at finally having true friends shining through in his every scene and making him impossible not to love.
13. A More Fleshed Out Origin Story
“Recruit a team of teenagers with attitude!” Zordon commands during the opening theme, words you could recite in your sleep (alongside “AAAAH, AFTER TEN THOUSAND YEARS I’M FREE!!”)
Except that’s not quite how it goes down, right? Zordon actually orders his robot flunkie to kidnap five teens, lays the weight of the universe on their shoulders and just expects them to be okay with this. And they are, at least after they ditch the Command Center and realize their only options are walking home through the desert or selling their bodies and souls to a space wizard. No training, no detailed explanation of what they’re getting themselves into and no hesitation on Zordon’s part that he might have picked the wrong people.
That can slide in a kids’ TV pilot, but you know they had to do things differently for the big-budget adaptation, and that’s exactly what we got. Here we have the teens finding the Power Coins for themselves, after which they’re forced to investigate due to their new abilities of breaking sinks and making things explode. Even after Zordon has given them the low-down, the entire team almost quits there and then due to how weird the whole thing is, only being brought back after they’re shown the consequences of failing to take up the call.
And even after that, they have severe morphing incontinence issues and have to train without their armor. It’s all a whirlwind sequence of events, and there’s not much ‘realism’ going on when we’re talking about Power Rangers. Still, as an origin story, it’s a heck of a lot more fleshed out than the one we got in the show.
12. Zordon and Alpha Are Actual Characters
This ain’t your grandma’s Zordon. In fact, this isn’t even close to the version we got in the show, but considering that one is a head in a tube who mostly exists to give exposition, that’s a step up.
Movie Zordon is far from the eons-old mentor, instead being an ancient warrior (and former Red Ranger) who became trapped inside the Morphing Grid upon his meteor-induced death. This is even new to him, as we see from when Alpha wakes him up and he’s none too pleased about being stuck in a wall. Zordon is clearly carrying a load of baggage from the death of his previous team, as well as the prospect of training a bunch of angst-ridden teenagers to save the universe.
To make matters worse, his motivations seem mostly to get his old body back, though we finally see a spark of the old Zordon as he sacrifices his chance at revival to resurrect Billy. Character development in my Power Rangers mentor? It’s more likely than you think.
Meanwhile, Alpha 5 is more of a mentor this time around, mostly playing peacemaker between the Rangers and Zordon and doing most of the actual training, which is more than his original role of pressing buttons and getting stressed. A comic-relief Alpha and paragon-of-goodness Zordon worked in their own way for the show, but here, their characters had to take a step up; and they did, in grand fashion.
11. Rita Gets Her Hands Dirty
This definitely ain’t your grandma’s Rita, either.
We get that the original Rita wasn’t really a front line fighter, instead attacking with magic spells and flunkies from afar. Part of this was due to Rita just being her delegating self, and part was the footage issue; until season 2 they just (badly) dubbed over the Japanese actress, so it kept her from getting any more hands on.
And then we have Elizabeth Bank’s mortifyingly-creepy Rita, clearly inhuman and not quite into the idea of outsourcing when getting her own hands dirty works just as well. It makes sense, since as the former Green Ranger she would’ve been no stranger to active combat. Jury’s out on where she got the magic, though… if that was even ‘magic’.
Not content to sit in a moon palace screeching and complaining about her headaches, this Rita takes on the Rangers in person and solidly stomps the lot of them despite their greatly enhanced strength. They may not have been morphed at the time, but as a former Ranger who murdered the previous team, we’re left believing that Rita could’ve repeated the feat. Heck, she even takes a swing at the Megazord, at least before getting pimp-slapped right back into space. It’s not the most dignified end to her threat, but since they’re clearly steering the series towards the ‘Green with Evil’ saga and we’ve seen Rita survive getting hit by a meteor, you know she’ll be back.
10. A Genuine Team of Misfits
One aspect of Power Rangers that may surprise a lot of people is not just how focused the movie is on teamwork, but how well it actually pulls it off. The franchise has zig-zagged on the issue, often paying lip service to how the Rangers have to work as a team and how they’re ‘family’, but then turning around a slapping us with scene after scene of the more important Rangers handling most of the threat by themselves.
Even the original Mighty Morphin bunch, despite clearly being friends, aren’t given much justification for it. They go from acquaintances to fire-forged companions before the first roll of the credits, and no one ever questions this. Meanwhile, the movie goes to great lengths to convince us that this is a team of misfits and screw-ups who are brought closer by their experiences, forming an unlikely team who end up willing to die for each other.
Call it the charm of the individual actors, or the bursts of strong writing that probably should’ve been more equally distributed to the fights (more on that later…), but the friendship of the five seems to happen as organically as it could’ve in such bizarre circumstances. The movie doesn’t just toss out the tagline of ‘Together We Are More’ and leave it at that. It hammers the message right in, and the actors carry it through, whether it’s the secret-sharing campfire scene or the training montage of them growing closer in a load of small scenes.
We actually get payoff to all of this as well: the Rangers can only morph when their bond is strong, with it being properly forged by Billy’s sacrifice. After that, their individual efforts are combined into the Megazord. Together they actually are more.
9. No More Tired Formula
With how many sequels Saban has planned, this movie might as well be one long pilot for the series, and it does most of the things a pilot is supposed to do: it sets up the characters, establishes the universe and their powers, presents them with a neat and tidy conflict and sets everything up for continued adventures in the land of dinosaur mecha.
There’s no tired formula, at least not yet, as Rita’s first attack is essentially her only attack. No need to camp on the moon and throw wave after identical wave of threats at the Rangers while they go about their lives with no thought to mounting any kind of pre-emptive strike. The movie undercuts all of the formula, which aside from being tired and predictable actually made no sense. Instead, we’re given a self-contained origin tale where the Rangers have to learn to use their powers, become a team and face a massive threat in a huge climactic battle.
With all that said, we also know that this isn’t over. Rita makes it pretty clear that more threats are on their way, and we all know that she herself isn’t done, what with that green Power Coin still wedged firmly in her staff. There have even been whispers behind the scenes that she’s working for Lord Zedd, there’s the Zeo Crystal still sitting in the ground and on a more minor note, we don’t even get to see any weapons aside from Jason’s sword. The movie may have told its own story, but it also set up the universe for more. If it makes enough money, anyway.
8. Grit (in a good way)
As it turns out, saving the universe is serious business. Make up your own minds on whether they took this too far, but a big-budget Power Rangers reboot had to tone down the silliness to be taken seriously, and that’s exactly what they did.
The same thing happened in the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie, which also had a much larger budget than the show and realized that it needed to up the stakes. Meanwhile, stakes in this big-budget reboot were raised until they were orbiting the moon, with Rita awakening and immediately enacting a plan to rip out the heart of the planet and kill everyone.
The word ‘kill’ is tossed around casually, we’re shown a glimpse of what the loss of the Zeo Crystal would do to the planet, and in case anyone didn’t get the picture that Rita was evil and gross, she eats people. As in you see her eating people. It’s a far cry from the mewling hag whose most evil acts involve chanting gibberish spells over dime-store Halloween props.
You just can’t throw a load of money at a project and have the Rangers suited up in lycra, sparks flying out of their bodies whenever they’re struck by a man in a bulky bee costume. This movie needed to takes things more seriously, and that’s exactly what it did. People are injured or straight up murdered, which is exactly what you’d expect when a cannibalistic, pure-evil witch is stalking around with plans to conquer the universe.
7. Grit (in a bad way)
Okay, sure, death is fine. People die, fights result in injuries, that’s all totally understandable.
But there is such thing as too much grit. Each of the five future Rangers have stock issues plucked right out of a teen drama, so heavy-handed that you’d think the Power Coins were specifically aiming to bond with the worst screw-ups they could find. Virtuous leader Jason Scott starts the movie by getting a police tracker strapped to his leg, while Billy is being menaced by a bully sadistic enough to try to break his fingers while they’re standing in a crowded hallway.
Hollywood, that’s not how bullies work. They were clearly going for this incarnation of the Rangers being a ragtag bunch of misfits and outsiders, but in what’s ostensibly a fun superhero flick based on a colorful kids’ show, there are better ways to go about this than giving Zack a terminally ill mother. Even sweet Kimberly has a deeply-chequered past, punching out teeth and broadcasting explicit pictures in a move stolen straight from Gossip Girl.
Then there’s the issue of Rita eating people, which is shoved right in our faces and then never referenced again, making us wonder if they just really wanted to establish her as an extra-creepy incarnation. Seriously, have they met Elizabeth Banks? A few scowls would’ve had us totally convinced; they didn’t need to fill the screen with discarded entrails in an attempt to convince us that this movie is ‘totally dark, you guys’.
6. Severe Lack of WHAM Moments
Power Rangers as a franchise is all about the gigantic wham moments; those first morphs, the flashy Megazord finishers, all the way to the grand finales where the Rangers pick themselves up out of the dirt and vanquish the bad guy with one final explosive attack (if we’re lucky).
The Power Rangers movie? Not much of that. It’s great that they established the relationships between the cast, but the movie seems to lose sight of the fact that it’s based on the Power Rangers, substituting heartfelt chats for spectacle. We don’t even see the Rangers morph properly, with half of it happening off screen. What we do see kind of underwhelming after a film’s worth of build-up.
Then there’s the Megazord, which is assembled in a haze of smoke and spends most of its time throwing really slow punches. Remember the classic finishers from the show? It might have been a load of stock footage, but they were also iconic and irreplaceable. Here, we get the Rangers pulling out a couple of swords, stabbing for a bit and that’s the fight finished.
Contrast the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers movie, which for all its flaws still recognize that big wham moments are the building blocks of the franchise. The first morph in that movie is epic. The summoning of the Ninjetti, the Great Power, the Rangers calling their terrible new CGI Zords, Zordon’s revival, all done with masses of fanfare.
5. Needless Changes to Canon
Most of the movie’s changes to the canon were for the best, as we’ve mentioned: a more solid origin story, believable characters and a far more menacing villain.
That’s ‘villain’ in the singular, however, since not every change was for the better, and some were sheer nonsense. For example, was Goldar in this movie for any other reason than giving the Zords something to fight? He’s been downgraded from semi-competent henchman to oozing monstrosity, devoid of personality, explanation as to what he even is and anything else that might’ve made him interesting.
While Rita as a former Ranger was an interesting twist, she still spends the whole film stomping around alone without her entourage of cackling henchmen. Goldar might as well be her personal Zord for all the character he’s given, and the rest of her flunkies are nowhere to be seen.
Alright, so we can easily do without Squatt and Baboo, and no one will be missing Pudgy Pig. You’re not going to find anyone starting a GoFundMe campaign to have Grumble Bee added to the next movie. Still, it’s a complete 180-turn from the Power Rangers staple of the main villain on their throne, sending monsters to do their bidding. Hands-on though she may be, it was done at the cost of turning Rita from the shrill witch we all know and love into a more generic doomsday villain, propped up by the charisma and certified crazy eyes of Elizabeth Banks.
4. That Tortoise-Slow Megazord Battle
Make up your own mind on the Megazord’s new look, but we’re sad to say it doesn’t make all that much of an impressive showing here. What we should’ve gotten was the centerpiece of the final battle; after all, the Megazord fight is as much a Power Ranger staple as morphing, mentors and just generally being really bad at keeping their secret identities.
What we got instead was a Megazord seemingly formed by accident. Didn’t think to mention that one, Zordon? We know you’ve got issues here, but either you or Alpha might have dropped a hint somewhere, maybe stuck a post-it note in one of the cockpits: THESE THINGS COMBINE. After that, we’re treated to a few unimpressive minutes of two very slow titans punching each other a few times, before Goldar is finally downed and the Rangers seem to realize they have swords, which they use to finish the fight.
That’s it. The climactic final battle is finished in a few punches thrown at tortoise speed. The essential PR trope of the Megazord finisher is completely ignored, even though it would’ve topped off the fight perfectly. The filmmakers had a blueprint repeated almost 800 times on television, but they apparently all decided that it would be more exciting and dynamic if Goldar politely agreed to let the Megazord smack him around and shank him while he was down.
For reference, here’s a compilation of slightly more impressive Megazord finishers.
3. The Suits Don’t DO All That Much
The hype surrounding the suits in the movie is immense, as evidenced by Zordon banging on and on about how useless the teens are for not being able to morph. It’s great that their morphing ability is tied to their teamwork and all, but then the movie has go and tumble headfirst into that tired old origin tale trap: too much setup, not enough payoff.
We don’t want to spend two thirds of a movie watching Bruce Wayne fumble around some mountains as an angsty rich kid; if we paid to see a movie with Batman in the title, then that’s what we need to see. The same goes for the Power Rangers, and as charming as the actors are in their roles, it was still just one long countdown until they finally morphed and we got to see the Power Rangers in action.
For all of about two minutes. Two unimpressive minutes of kicking some rock men.
In fact, it’s left ambiguous as to whether they needed to morph in the first place. Sure, armor is real nice when you’re getting punched in the head, but the Ranger teens are already insanely strong, durable and have Matrix-esque leaping abilities, so what was the big deal over morphing? Mostly, it seems, just piloting the Zords. All in all, the actual time spent watching the Power Rangers in action on the ground was critically brief, and aside from Jason’s sword the suits didn’t even seem to do all that much.
2. Lore Everywhere, No Explanation
Power Rangers moved pretty slowly, especially considering the flashy source material. That worked in its favor when establishing the origin story and the characters, but we sure did get introduced to a boatload of concepts which are apparently being left for one of the many sequels.
A whole load of them are just tossed out there into dialogue or flashbacks without any real explanation. Long-time series fans will be familiar with the Morphing Grid, but this is a whole new universe with its own rules, and when you present us with a concept that can apparently raise the dead, we’re going to have questions.
Nope? The Morphing Grid just gives you armor, and the occasional resurrection? Sorry we asked.
The Zeo Crystal mostly just acts as the resident MacGuffin with untold power and not much else, there to give Rita something to do. So does every habitable planet in the universe just have one sitting a few meters underground? How does it give life, exactly? Who even put them there??
Hush now, don’t question the MacGuffin! And if anyone else is curious about the Power Rangers of eons past, how the organisation got started, why their suit colors are so glitzy, why they’re even called that in the first place, how they reached Earth, why there are only six, where the Power Coins came from, how Rita went from Green Ranger to evil witch, ANYTHING else…you’re out of luck. Better stick around for ten years of sequels, because a good 70% of this movie had to be given over to teen angst, and there wasn’t much room left for question time at the end.
1. A Crucial Shortage of Martial Arts
The five newcomers taking up the roles of Jason, Kimberly, Billy, Zack and Trini were hired for their acting skills, and that’s fine. There’s a critical shortage of actors with both acting talent and mad martial arts mastery- just ask whoever did the casting for Iron Fist– so if Dacre Montgomery has to rely on a stunt guy to pull off a triple corkscrew kick, we’re not holding that against him.
Except apparently there’s a critical shortage of stunt people as well, because for a series based on Power Rangers, there’s shockingly little martial arts involved. Just go back and watch one of the original episodes of MMPR; mega-budget entertainment they were not, but they still went out of their way to hire actors who could do their own stunts, and you can tell. That’s actually Jason David-Frank running up a tree and performing an aerial spin kick; Amy Jo-Johnson really does know how to perform multiple handsprings and finish with a no-handed cartwheel; Johnny Yong Bosch could wreck you in a fight twenty years ago and still could today. They even got much better as the show went on.
Power Rangers had always relied on its stunts and and hand-to-hand combat, even if it’s not exactly a paragon of proper fight techniques, so it’s a shame that the big-budget movie did away with all of it. Not counting Rita’s curb-stomp battle, all we get are a few training scenes and one unimpressive ground battle against putties, where the Rangers are morphed and trying to hide the CG with a load of rubbery kicking.
It’s kinda disappointing that a shoestring-budget kids’ show from the nineties has far more dynamic, fast-paced and better-choreographed fight scenes…even when said scenes are about 40% unnecessary backflips.
Bonus: Bulk and Skull
You might have noticed the conspicuous absence of everyone’s favorite/least favorite bully duo, Bulk and Skull. Make up your own mind on the directorial decision to shaft the two in favor of the more generic and sadistic bully whose efforts to torment Billy are continually thwarted, but not having Bulk and Skull present in the movie at all was an odd choice. They’re practically Power Ranger staples, appearing in every episode and inspiring legions of comic-relief pretenders in every other series.
Perhaps it was decided that their particular brand of comedy wouldn’t mesh well with the movie’s tone, and yeah, it probably wouldn’t. It’s not like they ever had anything meaningful to contribute to the plot until their final appearance as a duo in Countdown to Destruction, and the movie didn’t need to be padded out by Bulk taking a swing at Billy and falling into a cake.
Bonus: The Massive Budget
A big budget is usually a good thing. Compare the Megazord in THIS movie to, for a random example…the one from the 1995 MMPR movie. Take your time, drink in the differences.
Yeah, so it’s clear that a budget increase of some $100 million has done some good things for the franchise, and not all of that went on plastering ads all over every bus in the world. The Zords look great, the Ranger suits look more like they mean serious business and we were spared a few of the more cartoonishly-awful moments from the original.
And yet, look at the difference between the genuinely scary raptors in Jurassic Park and the piles of pixels in Jurassic World. All the swish visuals in the world mean nothing if there’s no impact, and there’s certainly a lot less of that when the CGI Rangers are kicking CGI putties. In short, practical effects have their place, and more of a balance might do some good next time around.