Teenagers with attitude, multicolored spandex suits and giant robots; on the surface, it doesn’t seem like these three things would mesh well together. Nonetheless, the ‘90s phenomenon that was “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” took hold by banking on these three elements. Adapted from the long-running Japanese “Super Sentai” series, “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” quickly gained a following with kids in North America with a level of campiness that just screams “early 1990s.” It’s a formula that has given Western fans 24 seasons worth of sparks flying off of leotards. And now, creator Haim Saban is willing to give this franchise another shot in Hollywood.
The film’s success comes down to the five unknown actors that were cast in the Ranger roles, and how those characters have been fleshed out relative to their TV counterparts. From the onset, we have star quarterback Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery), ex-cheerleader Kimberly Hart (Naomi Scott) and intelligent social shut-in Billy Cranston (RJ Cyler). Combined with new-girl-in-school Trini Kwan (Becky G.) and impulsive trailer park kid Zack Taylor (Ludi Lin), these takes on the original five Rangers are handled with greater care from the actors than I would have expected. While that same level of care clearly wasn’t uniform in the writer’s room — Zack and Trini don’t seem to be as much of a focus as the other three — the way in which these backstories are fleshed out gives the audience reasons to root for them.
Eventually, the five teenagers all happen onto colored stones that give them each a lick of super strength and super speed. They then stumble onto an alien spaceship, where they encounter Zordon (Bryan Cranston), a fallen warrior whose subconscious has been stored in the ship’s matrix for 65 million years.
The new visual representation of the character as a face in the wall of the ship also works well within the film’s aesthetic, even though it does admittedly look like Bryan Cranston just shoved his face into a Pin Art board. Needless to say, Cranston brings a previously unseen amount of depth to the character, who isn’t exactly thrilled with his newfound successors at first. They are told that they are to take on the role of the Power Rangers, a team of warriors clad in advanced alien armor, dedicated to protecting the pieces of a special artifact known as the Zeo Crystal, of which one large shard is present on Earth.
They are also warned of the impending return of Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), a rogue Power Ranger that seeks to use the Zeo Crystal for her own nefarious purposes. Rita’s original character is famous for screaming all the time, but the takes a turn toward the serious side in this reboot. However, I’m not so sure about what Banks has done with Rita in this film. Even with the differences in vocal patterns, the interpretation of the character isn’t much less “ridiculous” than her 1993 counterpart.
Ultimately, “Power Rangers” is a film that feels like it will appeal primarily to those who grew up with the television series. While much of the film’s “nuance” (if we can even call it that) would be lost on the show’s current target demographic, there is the sense that the people involved with the film’s production had a respect for the property. For some, that may be enough.
In the end, what we have here is a film that feels like a mashup of “The Breakfast Club” and “Pacific Rim” that, in spite of seeming rather confused about its own identity, still manages to work just well enough to keep fans from feeling disappointed (speaking as someone with more “Power Rangers” merchandise in his attic than he cares to admit).
I suspect that many older fans may have issues with the film clearly setting up a cinematic universe for itself. We have a “Power Rangers” movie where the five protagonists don’t appear in “costume” until the third act, so there are fewer “Rangers versus monsters” combat sequences than one would hope. However, if Lionsgate really does intend to make the Power Rangers Cinematic Universe a lasting series, they may have their work cut out for them.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars