Most people my age or younger will remember at least one iteration of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers live-action television series, which first aired in the UK in 1994. Most people my age or younger will remember their iteration of the five colourful superheroes with a degree of fondness.
Some people my age will have revisited the show since then on a nostalgia trip and been thoroughly devastated at how bloody awful it actually is.
Big robot dinosaurs combining into one ginormous suit of armour and proceeding to smash giant space monsters to smithereens; what’s not to love if you’re seven years old? And, I guess, what is there still to love if you’re now 30 years old?
That was one of the questions that fell to writer John Gatins (Real Steel, Kong: Skull Island) and director Dean Israelite (Project Almanac) to answer. Another was how do you make a single unifying movie, based on a series that keeps reinventing itself for multiple generations of kids, that would appeal to all of these audiences?
Their answer rather unsurprisingly largely consisted of not bothering to pander to any particular one of these pre-existing crowds and instead create their own story. Thankfully.
Jason the jock (Dacre Montgomery), rebellious Kimberly (Naomi Scott), Billy (RJ Cyler) the genius who is “on the spectrum”, Zack (Ludi Lin) the crazy one, and the loner Trini (Becky G.) – the only cast member who was actually a teenager during production, at 19 years old – must put their differences to one side and bond as a cohesive unit if they are to unlock their true potential as guardians of the Earth’s lifeforce (or something) against the evil Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks).
For a large portion of Lionsgate / Temple Hill Entertainment’s big budget adaptation, the Power Rangers exist solely as their teenage misfit counterparts, who band together through circumstance after stumbling upon glowing coins that grant them superhuman strength. It’s a good 70 minutes in before we see the Red, Pink, Black, Yellow and Blue suits of armour, let alone any action, fights, zoids or monsters.
Rather than a tale of teenagers with attitude, this is more akin to a story about teenagers with boring, mundane, typical teen angst. Not quite social outcasts, just regular Breakfast Club high school kids with normal lives – except for the whole acquisition of super powers and an ancient evil force intent on their destruction, of course.
The problem here is that the creators wanted to have their cake and eat it. They wanted a Power Rangers film with minimal Power Rangers-ing. The course direction is similar to Israelite’s debut feature, Project Almanac, as a group of kids discover a power greater than themselves and deal with the consequences. In isolation, we should be grateful for a film of this calibre deciding to spend some time building backstory for these otherwise ordinary kids; yet it feels like an age before we even get a glimpse of a shiny metallic suit, or spinning high-jump over the heads of some henchmen, putty patroller, fodder types. I’m not requesting Transformers levels of constant inane explosions, but something would’ve been better than nothing.
It’s also disappointing considering the amount of time spent bulking up their backstories, that they remain extraordinarily bland. Billy is the strongest personality in the ensemble, but has only two interesting features: He’s defined by his relationship to the Chris Pine Kirk rip-off, Jason Lee Scott (not to be confused with actor Jason Scott Lee, according to Wikipedia) and his Hollywood-autism. That is to say, he’s good with numbers and doesn’t get humour when it’s convenient for the script to crack a few jokes. He’s rarely the butt of a joke, but most of the humour is derived from his lack of social awareness.
It’s not exactly new for Power Rangers to bang the diversity drum, albeit in a slightly less abrasive fashion than yesteryear. In 2017, the African American character wears a blue uniform, as opposed to automatically being the Black Power Ranger. The Chinese character dons the Black mantle as opposed to uncomfortably being labelled a Yellow Power Ranger, which is reserved for the hispanic Trini whose sexuality is somewhat ambiguous. Causing some level of upset elsewhere is the fact that Kimberly is still the Pink Power Ranger and, more controversially, now has boobs.
Yes, both of the female character’s costumes have boob… pockets? I’m not sure what the correct term is, but they have space for boobs in their costumes’ chest plates. The notion of the sexualisation of teen girls was something that caused a brief outcry from some quarters when the first images were revealed, but it’s turned out to be little more than a damp squib. These aren’t non-binary Power Rangers, nor are they sex-things to be lusted over. The characters have genders; their costumes denote their gender. There’s not much more to it and (to use a slightly inappropriate term given how this paragraph has gone so far) it’s not worth getting your knickers in a twist over.
As well as the five young heroes, their home town of Angel Grove would have benefited from a touch more personality. The small slice of Americana would have leant the final catastrophic battle more weight if you were even slightly bummed out to see a place you cared about being destroyed. Alas, it was indistinguishable from whichever other town in whichever other modern CGI-laden action movie you can think of.
The bad guys will be bad guys; and whilst it was enjoyable to see Elizabeth Banks ham it up to High Heaven as Rita Repulsa, she was very comfortably nestled in Villain 101 territory. The decision to make Goldar a voiceless CGI globule was also depressing. A quipping sidekick to Rita’s sinister villainy would not have gone amiss.
On the subject of quipping, when Zordon’s (Bryan Cranston) android assistant, Alpha (Bill Hader), could be heard, he barely raised a smile, let alone a chuckle or laugh. But at least we’re spared the agony of an irritating, bumbling, goofy clown that irritates more than entertains. He’s just… there.
An action movie of this calibre doesn’t necessarily have to be wholly original in concept to be entertaining, but it definitely needs character and personality. This would be hard enough to achieve in any ordinary 12A, 120 minute, bog-standard origin story; never mind one that is supposed to have five main characters.
Ultimately, that’s all that Power Rangers could be. A broad mishmash of Fantastic Four (minus the body-horror) levels of character development and self-awareness, with MCU at its most vanilla. It’s an inoffensive popcorn movie struggling to be relevant.
Although you’ll forgive me if I don’t accuse it of ruining my childhood – a rewatch of the original 5-part Green with Evil arc already did that by itself. I mean, who thought it would be a good idea to give Zack his own flying car?