Warning: SPOILERS for Power Rangers ahead
Power Rangers became a huge hit in the ‘90s, and is generally remembered with a sweet sense of nostalgia by those who grew up with it. While in essence it was a good show, there’s no denying that cheese was a major factor, especially in the early seasons. The costumes were dire, the monsters and special effects even worse, and the Rangers, when out of armor, were bland, uninteresting characters with little to no development.
The writing improved in later seasons, and the Rangers’ life outside of their suits was expanded upon. Even so, the Rangers were not necessarily relatable or real reflections of teenage kids at that time. With the new Power Rangers movie just released, things have changed.
Power Rangers has received pretty good reviews so far, with the young cast of unknowns receiving particular praise. It’s easy to see why, too. The movie takes Power Rangers back to its origins, so these five are coming together for the first time and discovering their superhero identities. The Rangers take a long time to morph into their armor, and a lot more time is spent discovering the kids behind the suits, which definitely helps an audience to relate to them. In fact, director Dean Israelite and screenplay writer John Gatins have given the familiar Ranger characters a new, modern outlook and in doing so, have created strong role models that will be able to deliver even more in the franchise going forward.
For a start, Power Rangers introduces the Blue Ranger, Billy (RJ Cyler), as being on the Autistic Spectrum. If you have Autism, or you know someone who does, then you’ll also know how rare an occurrence it is to see Autism presented as a positive thing, let alone as a characteristic of a main character in a superhero franchise. Cyler absolutely nails it, playing Billy with such subtle, understated brilliance, that he might well go down as the best Power Ranger of all time.
Billy’s Autism is presented without fanfare within the movie; it’s evident from the start that there are issues present, but Jason still decides to help him out after Billy turns off the alert on his house arrest tag. Billy does mention that he’s on the Spectrum, and asks Jason if he knows what that means. After making a joke about it, Jason says that yes, he does, and then we move on. That’s it. Billy is who he is. Yes, he has a lot of struggles, but he’s also exceptionally intelligent, very caring, and as it turns out, a good friend.
For Trini, the Yellow Ranger (Becky G.), life is difficult because of another reason, which is again, something that many will identify with. She is moody and withdrawn, reluctant to become involved with the group. As it turns out, her parents place unrealistic expectations on her and keep moving her from school to school in the hope that she will build friendships and relationships with the type of kids they approve. That is to say, they want her to find a boyfriend, not a girlfriend. That isn’t explicitly stated in the movie, but it doesn’t need to be. Trini is struggling to find who she wants to be beneath all the pressures placed on her, and she’s confused. Going forward into subsequent movies, as the Rangers age, it would be good to see that identity crisis expanded upon, but it’s undeniably a good introduction to an LGBT character as a main role in a superhero movie.
Then there’s the Pink Ranger, Kimberly (Naomi Scott). We first meet Kimberly in Saturday detention, where she rushes to the bathroom to meet her cheerleading friends. Only it’s then revealed that they’re no longer her friends as they announce they’re cutting her out. Kimberly is in detention because she knocked a guy’s tooth out after he shared an explicit photo of a fellow cheerleader, so her cutting out seems a little unjustified at first. It later transpires that it was Kimberly who initially shared the photo, and the guilt is threatening to overwhelm her. It falls to Jason to give her a life lesson that we might all need at times: “Yes, you did an awful thing, but that doesn’t make you an awful person.”
The reality is, many kids in high school and college fall victim to violations of their privacy. Growing up in the age of social media, sexting plays a large part of relationships for teenagers and young adults, and there has to be kudos to Gatins for handling such a subject matter in a sensitive and realistic way.
Each and every one of these five kids is fighting a different kind of battle while they learn how to become Rangers. Zack, the Black Ranger (Ludi Lin) comes off as arrogant and full of himself. He cracks jokes continuously and seems to think he’s above everyone, until he reveals that he lives in a trailer park because his mom is sick, and he’s terrified she will die because then he won’t have anyone. Right there, in that moment, the audience’s opinion of him changes, and he gains our sympathy and support. While we might not identify exactly with his situation, we know how it feels to be scared of the future, and we can identify with wanting to cover our true personalities up in order that we don’t have to face reality.
Even Jason (Dacre Montgomery), who by tradition as the Red Ranger has always been the strongest and most confident of the lot, is struggling to find his place in life. After getting kicked from the football team, Jason is running wild, getting into scrapes with the cops and ending up under house arrest. No longer the most popular jock in school, he has to start over. Credit to the character for defending Billy, and always sticking by him and the other Rangers no matter what, and for helping them all to come together as a team.
In fact, the reason they are all able to morph, eventually, is because of the fear, upset, and pain they feel when they think Billy has died. This might be Power Rangers, but the moment when they all finally manage to fully morph is actually pretty emotionally charged, because it’s also Israelite’s way of saying that this is five kids, who would normally struggle to make and maintain friendships, forming a unique and unbreakable bond.
What is also refreshing to see in Power Rangers, is a plot and characters uncomplicated by romance, and three guys who treat the two girls as total equals. There’s never any question that Kimberly or Trini might not be as strong or as capable. We never hear anyone (even Zack) belittle them or suggest that their gender might hinder their skills. With the cast now rooting for Tommy Oliver, the Green Ranger, to be female, Power Rangers has an amazing opportunity to become one of the most ground breaking superhero franchises around. Imagine three females alongside three males as main protagonists in a superhero movie. Not only that, but each main character is a well-rounded, well thought out individual, with their own personalities, quirks, and problems that make them relatable to a modern day audience. A refreshing possibility.
Power Rangers has undoubtedly been made, in part, to appeal to the original fans, those of us who are now grown up enough to be considered adults, even if we don’t always feel like it. But they will also be aiming to appeal to a new generation, especially with five more movies lined up. Whatever the age of the viewer though, it’s hard not to identify with at least one of the five main character’s trials and tribulations. If only we all had Zords.