Power Rangers has been going strong ever since the original Mighty Morphin Rangers first suited up in 1993. The series has switched hands to Disney, switched back to Saban and now is set to get a new movie series, complete with a cast of fresh faces and Elizabeth Banks doing what she does best: portraying a weird person in weird makeup. She’s like a Burton-less Johnny Depp.
But dredging up a nostalgic-yet-widely mocked series about brightly-clad teenagers fighting unconvincing monsters isn’t going to be an easy task, and the movie will need more than a sizable special effects budget to bring the original Power Rangers to a new generation. Here are ten things this reboot needs to keep in mind if it wants to succeed.
Keep it Light
This is possibly the most important, all-encompassing factor in whether the not the Power Rangers reboot will be remembered fondly. Over-the-top silliness is practically the bedrock of the entire franchise, because if you think about it for a grand total of several seconds, nothing about the franchise makes sense. Why do they need colors at all? Why can’t they just put their weapons together at the start of the fight, or just lug their superweapon around and vaporize the bad guys instantly? It’d cause much less property damage if they just got in their Zords and stepped on the bad guys. And what’s with the Rangers wearing their respective color at all times while hanging out in a group with no one noticing?
That’s not even getting into the absurdly thematic villains, or that one time when the Rangers were baked into a giant pizza (you’re welcome). Power Rangers has never been about somber reflection of the burden of defending the Earth, or the emotional strain felt by these teenagers as they’re forced to constantly ponder their mortality. It’s a wacky ride filled with just the right level of camp. It’s a lesson thoroughly ignored by the recent Pride and Prejudice and Zombies movie, which cast off all the lightness and satire for a straight-up historical zombie flick. To a degree, Batman V Superman did this to the character of Superman. Neither change went over well with fans.
The level of production demands at least a slightly serious tone — and it’s still essentially an alien invasion movie, after all — but it would be a disservice to the entire enterprise if the light-hearted tone was lost amid a dreary cloud of realistic explosions and a mounting civilian body count.
Back it Up With Great Acting
The original MMPR series always struck a fine balance between the camp exterior and the people forced to act inside of it. None of the original cast were particularly poor actors, but there’s only so much you can do when trying to dramatize a serious discussion about space witches and rubber monsters made of eyeballs. The compromise was overacting, especially when all suited up and unable to emote any other way. That’s why there’s so much hammy posing, because otherwise they’d have to have Iron Man-style interior helmet shots every time someone said anything.
In this new reboot? They don’t have the luxury of chewing the scenery every time things get silly. Some dramatic battle posing is par for course (if there isn’t a scene where they finish off a monster via five-person choreographed fight routine…well, nerd tears will flood the theater aisles), but otherwise, the strength of the acting has to sell what’s going on around them — otherwise, the suspension of disbelief is out the window. It’s a tough thing to ask of a team of relatively new faces, but we can hope that the casting folks really knew what they were doing.
Call Backs (of the right sort)
This movie is a reboot of a world-famous franchise, so of course we’ll be getting sneaky references thrown in. The movie is set in Angel Grove, so expect the Rangers to be hanging out at high school or Ernie’s Juice Bar, fending off the lackluster bullying attempts of Bulk and Skull and getting involved in a new community project every week or so, because these ‘teenagers with attitude’ are actually the nicest human beings you’ll ever meet.
On a more subtle note, there also needs to be an undercurrent of call-backs that some of the more devoted fans would pick up on; maybe the Yellow Ranger is mistakenly handed a male variant of her suit and has to file a complaint, or Zordon briefly considers recruiting teenagers from Japan before deciding on something more cosmopolitan. Not including the original Sentai series, there are over two decades of adventures and fan morsels to toss in, provided they don’t end up clogging the story.
Know Your Audience
To a lot of a casual viewers, the existence of this movie raises a lot of question marks. Primarily…why? Why revive a franchise that was popular in the ’90s but now has a reputation for unflattering spandex and a whole lot of posing?
If you’ve even brushed against the fandom, you’ll know it’s by no means formed mostly of seven-year-olds as the show might suggest. There are a whole lot of older fans hanging around, either due to sheer nostalgia power or because they appreciate the special brand of color and imagination the series has to offer. If you don’t believe us, go to any Power Rangers forum, suggest that Super Megaforce wasn’t that bad and watch that spark turn into an internet comment wildfire.
And yet, the younger demographic is still a major part of the fanbase, even if they just tune in every week to catch an episode of Dino Charge and will be the ones pestering their parents for a ticket to see the new movie. Most of the box office profit will be coming from one of these two groups, so it’s absolutely crucial that the movie targets them. Call backs and nostalgia for the older crowd, simple storytelling and dinosaur robots for the younger — not that everyone can’t enjoy those last two. If targeting both isn’t an option, aiming at a more mature audience might be a safer bet, as you’re hitting the dual demographic of nostalgic older folks and a whole bunch of other curious moviegoers who just want to see if this can be any good.
Those Wonderful Toys
The original MMPR movie may not have scored big with the critics, but it gave the fans everything they wanted and more. Specifically, the Ranger suits looked pretty on point. Since the whole thing was produced entirely in America without piggybacking off any Japanese footage, it took the opportunity to update from spandex to a more armored look that actual alien fighters might wear. The team also got a set of new toys such as helmet scanners, extra weapons and eventually new Zords. And yeah, the latter looked pretty terrible due to the era, but they tried. Really, they did.
The reboot has no such excuse, especially when it comes to the suits. We’ve seen a CG render of the new outfits, which look pretty great aside from a few elements (and they haven’t even been seen in a real photo, let alone in action, so reserve judgement for now). Rita Repulsa looks stunning in her creepy lizard getup. Meanwhile, what we need to see is a Power Sword that looks slightly more threatening than the rubber-bladed toy made in its likeness, a teleporting method that doesn’t involve the five of them zipping into the sky in extremely obvious multi-colored fizzles, and a Megazord that moves like an actual giant robot and not an unfortunate, dehydrated Japanese stunt man who clearly can’t see where he’s going.
This will all be part of selling the existence of the Power Rangers, as well as creating that all-important spectacle. There’s no longer any reason that the monsters should be expressionless wads of silicone and bad paint jobs. We want to see what the Power Rangers would really look like if the source of their power and weapons was an actual space wizard. So no pressure.
The Green Ranger (eventually)
The tradition of a sixth ranger is firmly established throughout every incarnation of the Power Rangers, without a single exception. Sometimes they even have seven, eight or more, but the most well-remembered was Tommy Oliver. Introduced as the new Green Ranger, he brought with him an entire arc where (spoilers…?) he was revealed to be working with Rita Repulsa. It’s one of the most famed PR story arcs ever written, introduced the most prolific Ranger of all time and well and truly shaking up the established formula of ‘monster appears, monster gets big, monster blows up.’
And so it makes sense that if the plot of the reboot was going to loosely adapt any story, the Green Ranger would at least play a part. We haven’t yet gotten to know the new main cast, so maybe chucking in a new character in their first movie isn’t the best option. Still, it’s been pointed out that Rita Repulsa is wearing an outfit eerily similar to a ravaged Power Ranger suit. Elizabeth Banks has teased that her character will have a connection to the Rangers, and she held the green power coin in the TV series. Even if we don’t get a new version of Tommy Oliver this time around, it still makes sense to at least lay the groundwork for his story, which looks to be well underway. Basically, stick around to the end of the credits…we might just see a new teen arrive in town with an eerie green glow in his eye.
That Iconic Theme
You know the one. It’s probably playing in your head right now. This is the theme so beloved, Saban wresting the rights to the series back from Disney was celebrated by making a remix and using it as the opening to both Samurai and Megaforce. And yeah, neither of those were all that great…but then there’s the more recent Dino Charge version, which is 9000% distilled awesome.
Saban have made it very clear that the reboot belongs to them — their name is included in the main logo — so there’s no reason not to include the iconic theme that to so many is the anthem of the nineties. Just picture it: the Rangers are on the back foot, a monster is tearing through the city and all seems lost. Then they pull out the Power Sword a la Pacific Rim, and the main power Rangers theme starts playing, modernized but still just as good as the very first time you ever heard it. And all of the movie’s shortcomings up to that point are mysteriously forgotten.
Careful With That Canon
Of course there are going to be changes, because the original MMPR was around a couple of decades ago and the world is a very different place. Don’t expect the Rangers to communicate via wristwatch when they can just call each other on their smartphones; some changes are necessary.
But this is still something that reboots trip up on all the time; those tiny, frustrating changes that make no sense and alienate potential fans. Robocop didn’t need human hands, because there’s nothing practical about them, but changing Billy’s skin color probably isn’t going to make him any different. It’s not like the original show constantly made references to how white he was, or there was an important episode where Billy learned all about white privilege (because that would probably have been just awful).
On the other hand, these are characters who people have known about since childhood, so there no need to give Zack a crippling drug addiction and make Kimberly an Olympic clay pigeon shooter. We all know she’s a gymnast, it’s a dream that defines the character, and unless the actress added a clause in her contract stating “no scenes on or near a pommel horse,” why make the change? Also, Zack doesn’t take drugs. That we know of. This one aspect in which that ‘bootleg’ Power Rangers fan film failed, despite being so very well-made: it ripped out the heart of the saga and used the series as a vehicle to tell a totally parallel story, one that just didn’t fit. Unless you’re into that kind of thing.
It’s an incredibly blurry line between what counts as necessary and unnecessary — no one’s going to storm out of the theater if the guy who serves them smoothies is suddenly changed to “Bernie”…probably… — but anything that counts as an opposing change to either a character or piece of very well-established Power Ranger lore is going to be scrutinized. But even considering that…
Some Canon Needs to be Changed
It might be well-established, but some parts of the universe are crying out for change, or at least an update. Communicators will become phones, Zord fights will go from people in blocky suits to CGI, and the monsters (if there are any) will actually be threatening. Or so we hope.
That’s the way cinema is right now, and only the most avant garde director would try to do it differently. But in the things that aren’t broad strokes? There’s room for improvement, and a bit of fun. No longer do they have to rely on splicing Japanese footage in the same vein as the original MMPR, meaning that they can tell a coherent, self-contained story without any villains or episodic weapons that vanish when they run out of tapes.
The lore of the series might have been pieced together over the years, but it’s easy to forget just how many holes there were in the original. Why is Zordon using teenagers to fight his battles, why don’t they ever receive any training, and did they ever have a choice in the matter? Where does Power Ranger power actually come from, and what’s the deal with the Power Coins? Where does Zordon even get any of this stuff, and why does Rita only send one monster at a time to attack a single city? Isn’t she trying to take over the world?
The list could go on until we’re all bored to tears, but with the localization team still very new at the whole business and the general opinion that kids were stupid and wouldn’t notice, some of the series continuity seemed to be held together with rubber bands and network neglect. The reboot will hopefully have no such problems, leaving them free to explain the universe and portray events however the hell they like. The audience has grown up, and we’re no longer taking ‘a space wizard did it’ for an answer.
Make it a Spectacle
If all else fails, this is what the reboot should be able to fall back upon. It’s what makes it so satisfying to look up the old MMPR series on Netflix and flick through the episodes, even though you might laugh at what you used to think was serious business. No, Power Rangers was never the greatest show ever made, and some of the production values were dismal even for the time. But it didn’t need flashy CGI or Breaking Bad–quality writing, because it had heart, passion, and a whole lot of vibrancy that aimed straight for the imagination.
You accept the spandex-clad Power Rangers battling a pig in a centurion helmet whose plan is to eat all the food in the world, because the surroundings are so full of energy and bursting with unadulterated fun. The premise of the reboot puts it at an instant disadvantage with people who might scoff and disregard how unreal the whole thing is — and for once, fair enough — but the sheer spectacle is what can pull it through. It worked for Pacific Rim, and that was a movie that didn’t have a pre-existing fanbase, an iconic theme or two decades of history. If they can pull it off, then a big-budget reboot of the most colorful, energetic, explosive superhero team of all time shouldn’t have a problem.
Just please, give us some justification for the ‘girl’ armor. No one should have to fight off an alien invasion in six-inch platforms.
Anything else the reboot needs to keep in mind? What did you think of the updated costumes? Let us know in the comments.