March 25, 2017

REVIEW: SABAN'S POWER RANGERS



Director: Dean Israelite


            Saban’s long-running Power Rangers franchise joins the ever-growing list of Hollywood reboot mania with the franchise’s first theatrical film in 20 years.

The original Power Rangers.

            The series began in 1993 as Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, created by Haim Saban and Shuki Levy. The series utilized footage from the continuing Japanese Super Sentai series interspliced with new footage starring an American cast and became a worldwide phenomenon. The series focused on five “teenagers with attitude” selected by a being named Zordon to utilize Power Coins to turn them into Power Rangers. As Rangers, they defend the Earth from evil space witch Rita Repulsa and her minions as they try to either destroy or conquer it, depending on her mood.

Cyler, Scott, Lin, Montgomery and G.
            The film is a more serious take on the familiar story. It still centers on five teenagers from the city of Angel Grove—disgraced football star Jason (Dacre Montgomery); autistic genius Billy (RJ Cyler); formerly popular cheerleader Kimberly (Naomi Scott); self-proclaimed crazy Zack (Ludi Lin); and private loner Trini (Becky G.)—discovering Power Coins left by Zordon (Bryan Cranston, who actually worked on the original series) for the next chosen group of Power Rangers to be found (although the choosing aspect of that is debatable). However, their newfound powers and identity come with a catch: the evil Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), once defeated by Zordon, has returned and they have only days to stop her from destroying the Earth; starting with Angel Grove. Fans of the series will be happy to know all the elements are present: Alpha 5 (Bill Hader), the Power Coins (which looked more like encrusted gems but were still called “coins”), the suits, the Zords, the Mega Zord, and the giant monster fight.

Jason holding a Power "Coin".

            As far as “teenagers with attitude” go, these kids have that in spades (except maybe for Billy, who doesn’t quite have the chip on his shoulder as the others do despite his own hard-luck story). Even Zordon isn’t above a ride on the ‘tude train, as he’s presented as less of a mentor than his TV counterpart and more as someone who doesn’t really like kids but is forced to deal with them. One place the story is lacking, however, is in character development. Jason gets the most focus in the story, with Billy a close second. We’re told Kimberly became a “mean girl” when she betrayed a friend’s trust, but the designation isn’t really given a satisfactory justification beyond the ambiguous offense. Zack and Trini’s characters get the least development (and a lack of last names, neither ever once uttered on camera unlike the other three). It’s eventually revealed that a sick mother drives Zack to spend times skipping school and acting out. Trini’s backstory is shown only in a singular quick scene of awkward family interaction, and a later attempt at context fails to adequately explain what it was we were seeing.

Banks as Rita Repulsa.

            The one who benefitted most from the movie’s changes was Alpha 5. While many weren’t happy with his design when it was first revealed, the character has become a bit more competent and less annoying. They did manage to work in at least one instance of the trademarked declaration “ay yi yi yi!”, but it made sense when it happened (and was just one of many Easter eggs peppered throughout the film for longtime Rangers fans). He still served as the film’s primary comic relief, but the comedic moments throughout the film were relatively subdued (while some moments just fell purely flat). Rita and her Putties were made to be a bit more menacing than their TV counterparts; with Rita’s early appearances in Angel Grove verging on satisfactorily terrifying. And fans who guessed the story behind Rita’s design ended up being correct in their assessment, which could play nicely into future films.

The new Ranger suits.

            As for the story itself, overall it was entertaining enough to keep a viewer interested. Despite the flaws in their characterizations, the actors themselves managed to carry the story—and they had to. Those expecting a lot of action are bound to be disappointed as they spend a good portion of the movie not being Power Rangers. Yes, this is another one of those “superhero origin stories” that spends most of its time world building and doesn’t get to the nitty gritty until the final act.

Rita and her army of Putties.

The final act also ends up being the weakest of the film. The tone of things becomes comparatively lighter to all the teenage angst we had been subjected to thus far. Rita, who was building up to be a genuine threat, left too many opportunities for the Rangers to get the upper hand on her. The Rangers, who spent a good portion of the film learning how to fight without their Zords, are thrown into battle with them and clunkily work their way into the fight without even the least bit of guidance from Zordon or Alpha 5, who had been training them. The film was also littered with those convenient and cliched contrivances often found in these types of movies: the main characters all end up in the same place at the right time, instant knowledge on how things work, someone important to a character ends up stupidly in need of rescue, etc. The CGI, however, was well done as was the stunt work, and the fights were decent, though brief and too few.

Superhero landing!

Overall, Saban’s Power Rangers is one of the better reboot efforts to come through in a sea of reboots that barely resemble or make fun of their source material. Power Rangers satisfactorily takes the over-the-top Japanese elements that made the original show a comedy and grounds them in reality to give us a more serious attempt at the franchise. While the plot is littered with clich├ęs and contrivances to help the story move forward, and is decidedly sparse on important character development and Rangers action, it does present an interesting story that will keep audiences engaged. There are actually some moments which makes it hard to believe they consider this to be a family film, but it never goes as dark as the 2015 short film by Joseph Kahn. Fans of the franchise should come away satisfied enough to look forward to future installments (set up in a mid-credits scene, so stick around), which have a decent enough base to improve upon here.


RATING: 3 out of 5 Zords. A decent start to a new franchise that isn’t much deeper than a typical popcorn flick, but should be found enjoyable by most audiences. 

1 comment:

  1. I disagree that Kimberly's (terribly mishandled) revenge porn plot was ambiguous. As for Trini coming out, while I agree they could have given us more of her family than just "PEE IN THIS CUP", it was a barely-acceptable explanation for their behavior.

    ReplyDelete