“Who ya gonna call?”
“Go Go Power Rangers!”
Three catch phrases from three of the biggest influences of my childhood – and now, with the release of the re-imagining of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers finally in theaters, the circle is complete and I can at last take off my nostalgia goggles…Unless, of course, if Hollywood finally gets a move on with a Masters of the Universe remake – then I will gladly slap them back on.
We’ve sat through the entertaining but eye-roll inducing Ninja Turtles reboot and, at least in my case, endured the positively dreadful Ghostbusters remake. I am almost relieved to say that Power Rangers, while not quite accomplishing everything it sets out to do, is by far the best of the films geared to capitalize on our childhood memories.
I think the biggest difficulty of these types of movies is to cater to our late 80’s early 90’s nostalgia while also taking the material in a new direction for a new audience. In many cases it seems you can’t win with fans and audiences; how do you recreate the lightning in a bottle that made these properties so popular in the first place anyway? It all happened at the right place at the right time and now everyone has their own idea of how these stories should be based on their memories, despite the fact that time has clouded our view of them. Power Rangers does a commendable job at this fine balancing act – both taking the story in an edgier new direction while keeping the fun and camp of the original series.
For any concerned that Power Rangers goes full “Dark and Gritty”, you can rest easy (though I would argue those things can still elevate a story when handled correctly, despite becoming four letter words over the past few years) knowing that the movie only dips its toes into “Edgy” without succumbing to it – for every serious moment there is something silly or funny to follow it, making for a nice variety in tone. Truth be told, it kind of has everything you would want in an entertaining action movie; Heart? Check. Humor? Check. Enough seriousness and stakes to keep you engaged? Check. Cool/exciting action scenes with monsters and giant robots?! Oh-you-better-believe Check.
Although the action is very cool and the redesigns of everything from the Ranger’s armor to Alpha 5 are great, the thing I was most taken aback by was the quality of the materiel and the performances of a largely unknown cast! As far as the story is concerned, it’s just ok, but the script as a whole and the dialogue was actually quite good – the extraterrestrial expansion to the lore was very interesting and, more importantly, the depth of the teenagers with attitude was excellent. They all have so much more to them then what is on the surface, and just as you might think to yourself “What is his/her problem?!” there is a revelation that tugs at your heart or gives you pause. I also appreciated that the teens didn’t just find the Power Coins and *poof* they’re BFF superheroes – they need to earn it. They are after all much more rough around the edges than the Rangers from the original tv series. With mostly relatable issues and personal struggles the story largely revolves around the group becoming better people then it does becoming color coordinated ninja’s. That said, there are some themes that do not really land, like doing awful things but not letting them make you an awful person – a very intriguing discussion to have that unfortunately doesn’t go beyond just bringing it up. The value of other narrative choices made will likely vary from viewer to viewer; from Billy’s autism to Trini’s potential homosexuality (I say potential because there is barely anything brought up to even really call it a choice). I, for one, thought they were very believable and realistic characters almost across the board. At least enough to have felt a sense of attachment.
What made these re-imagined characters all the more grounded were the performances -I have no idea who these kids are, but I was very surprised at the caliber of acting on display! It was nothing award winning or revolutionary, but they made me like them. Which is a reaction even veterans of the silver screen rarely bring out in me. I was engaged with who they were enough that the fact that all the real Power Rangers-ing doesn’t happen until the end of the movie didn’t bother me. I suppose I should briefly touch on that point though – for those conditioned by the modern action film formula, to expect lots of action sequences peppered throughout to keep your attention, you may feel restless. The fight at the end is literally the fight at the end. There is lots of excitement throughout but the spectacle is saved for the climax – something I know I enjoy but feel is a bit of a lost art, which, in this day and age, unfortunately seems to be met with some sort of resentment from audiences no matter how well paced.
As pleasantly surprised as I was by the teens playing the Rangers, I was admittedly expecting phoned-in performances from the bigger names in the cast – both Bryan Cranston and Bill Hayder do a fine job of Zordon and Alpha 5 respectively, but neither is anything to write home about. Elizabeth Banks however I had a more difficult time with…I would say that 90% of the camp in the movie comes from her, which is fine and all but there are scenes where she is playing classic campy villain and the teens are really acting their pants off…so it just felt…off, for lack of a better word. She’s not bad or anything, but until the final conflict she feels strangely out of place.
Will Power Rangers blow you away and alter your views on how a movie should be? No. But it is very enjoyable and did the best job of scratching the nostalgia itch while doing something more different and exciting than anything I’ve seen yet! It is definitely geared toward those of us in our late 20’s or early 30’s who grew up with the original, with lots of fun references and easter eggs scattered throughout. And as an old guard Rangers fan myself, it absolutely gets the seal of approval. It was also really nice to leave the theater, seeing the kids in my screening so excited and pumped about Power Rangers – the film accomplished the rare thing of appeasing the old fans while engaging the new ones – and for that I think it is definitely worth checking out!