Go go ‘gritty reboot’.
Power Rangers (2017) is an action/sci-fi movie reboot of the 90s TV series of the same name. Directed by Dean Israelite, it follows five ‘teens with attitude’ that stumble across mysterious power coins in their quiet home town of Angel Grove, and subsequently become the newest iteration of the Power Rangers. But when Rita Repulsa returns, they must accelerate their training and learn to become a team if they have any hope of beating her and saving the world from destruction.
Full disclaimer, I have never seen (or have the motivation to see) an episode of Power Rangers. As big nostalgic franchises go, that is one that completely passed me by. That being said, I have absorbed enough through pop culture osmosis that primary-coloured teenaged super ninjas are not a foreign concept – but neither is the franchise’s inherently campy nature. That makes it all the more interesting that this film has taken a pseudo-‘gritty’ approach to the source material and has actually managed to concoct a relatively fine film… until the original series begins to show through the cracks.
Lets start with what works – the actual Rangers. In its first half the film takes a John Hughesian approach to these unlikely teen heroes as they screw up, get stuck in detention and slowly begin to bond with one another. Each of the five rangers is distinct, developed and memorable in their own way and their dialogue and banter gives them all genuine pathos with one another. Special mention goes to Billy the Blue Ranger (played by RJ Cyler) who not only turns in the best performance but ends up being the heart, soul and all around best character on the team.
Unfortunately for the viewer however, this is not a John Hughes movie and eventually this cast of characters has to don outfits and fight aliens… and that’s where the problems begin. In a weird twist, the grounded approach taken to the characters pays off dividends while the actual Power Rangers part of a Power Rangers movie ends up being the weakest element. While the initial discovery of the power coins, and subsequent training montages are still held up by the capable cast once the action-packed third act arrives, the movie unfortunately devolves into a mediocre Transformer‘s knock-off. While director Israelite had a strong grip on the first half of the movie, his hold slowly loosens as it becomes apparent when it comes to large-scale action he’s far less competent. This is a real shame, because the character’s you’ve grown to like over the course of 90 minutes get lost in a concrete CGI milkshake of debris and alien machinery. As third-acts go, Power Rangers suffers through one of the weakest and unfortunately ends a relatively competent movie on a rough note.
That’s not to say everything sci-fi related in this film suffers. Both Bryan Cranston as Zordon and Bill Hader as Alpha 5 turn in very solid performances, and the engineering of Zordon’s ship and the suits/zords themselves is rather inspired. But once again on the negative side is Elizabeth Bank’s turn as the villainous Rita Repulsa. While she looks great and Israelite does a solid job making her appear almost horror villain-like, Banks seemed to have missed the memo that this film was going for a different tone to the original series. She’s chewing scenery more aggressively than this movie pushes product placements, and just doesn’t fit with the tone the rest of the movie tries to established.
As the credits rolled for Power Rangers I felt conflicted. While I had no vested fanboy interested in this film, the core cast, strong start and Hughesian approach really made me want to like this movie. But unfortunately as the film goes on and that’s replaced with brightly coloured armoured suits and giant robot dinosaurs, the film devolves into a mediocre franchise action movie. There may still be plenty for hardcore fans to like, but for everyone else this uneven franchise-starter isn’t likely to make you go go for a sequel anytime soon.
General Audiences: Meh
Film Buffs: Not Recommended