I grew up when the original Mighty Morphing Power Rangers television show was at its peak popularity. I remember, every day after school, settling down in the living room with my younger sister and watching the continuing adventures of Jason, Kimberly, Billy, Zack, and Trini as they fought the evil that Rita Repulsa would bring raining down upon Angel Grove. I couldn’t get enough of their adventures, nor the toys that the show spawned. I remember one Christmas in particular when I awoke to find all of the essential action figures and their corresponding zords beneath the Christmas tree so that I could reenact the adventures of Rangers for days on end. As a child of the ‘90s, I can assure you that nothing was cooler when growing up than the Power Rangers.
When I first heard that Lionsgate wanted to adapt Power Rangers into a new, feature length film, I was dubious. The original television series was so campy, and such a product of the ‘90s, that I didn’t know how well it would work in today’s climate where a new superhero is released every month. Then there was the fact that rumors were swirling around that this reimagining of the classic series would be darker and more grounded in reality, which I believed would take away from what made the original show so fun. Yet, even though I wasn’t impressed by any of the trailers or surrounding marketing, nostalgia got the better of me and I not only became excited to see the film, but eager enough to see it opening night.
After watching the movie, I can honestly say that it was legitimately good. In fact, I’d go as far to say that the film has no business being as good as it actually turned out to be, considering the source material it’s based on. Before I elaborate, however, please note there are spoilers after the jump!
Still with me? Good.
The original series was all about “teenagers with attitude,” which this new movie took to the next level by making every one of our five heroes delinquents in some way, shape or form. Jason stole and crashed a car, ending his high-school football career; Kimberly sent a nude picture of her best friend to a boy she was seeing, who ended up passing it around the whole school; Billy accidentally blew up his school locker; Zack constantly skips school; and Trini neither goes to school, nor interacts with any family or friends, preferring to spend her time alone and not talking to anybody.
By pure happenstance, their paths end up crossing and they end up finding five power coins which lead them to a spaceship that’s been buried in the ground for centuries. Inhabiting the ship is Alpha-5, a robot who’s been waiting for the power coins to return with humans worthy enough to become the Power Rangers. Also inhabiting the spaceship is the memory of Zordon – the original Red Ranger who nearly died saving the Earth back when dinosaurs still walked it. He explains to the five teenagers that they’re destined to protect the planet from total destruction, and warns them of the imminent threat of Rita Repulsa – the original Green Ranger whom he failed to kill during the Cenozoic Era. She plans on resurrecting her minion, Goldar, to steal the Zeo Crystal buried deep beneath the small town of Angel Grove, the power of which would allow her to create and destroy life at will. In order to stop Rita, Zordon and Alpha-5 train the five high school students to become the Power Rangers.
If the premise sounds zany, I promise you that works in the film’s favor. The original television show was extremely frenetic and madcap, and while this movie tries to take the story more seriously, it doesn’t ever lose the sense of fun and camp that made the source material so iconic. Thankfully, despite this (or perhaps because of it) the movie itself is pretty straightforward and easy to follow.
The film is strongest when it focuses on the five teenagers who become the iconic Power Rangers by the end of the film. One of the things I was surprised by while watching it was that it wasn’t until the third act that the kids actually donned the redesigned versions of the classic Ranger suits. Funnily enough, this didn’t bother me, as the writing was compelling enough that I wasn’t counting down every second waiting for them to finally suit up. The script actually gave all five of the children backstories that, while not as fully realized or fleshed out as they could have been, definitely rounded out the characters and made them much more three-dimensional. Indeed, the strongest scenes in the film by far are the ones where the five are interacting sans suits – outside of the command center – getting to know one another and trying to understand the changes that they’re going through.
Though there are five leads, the characters of Jason, Kimberly, and Billy get the most to do in this film. Jason not only struggles against the expectations his father has for him at home, but – upon discovering the command center – also begins to struggle against the expectations that Zordon places upon him, as leader of this new generation of Power Rangers. Kimberly, meanwhile, serves as the glue that seems to bring and hold the team together in the first place, while Billy is the slightly autistic, nerdy outsider who serves as the heart of the team. Zack and Trini – though entertaining enough – aren’t given as much to do as the other three, although the movie should be praised for making Trini openly gay. The film should also be praised for the diversity of its cast, something that Alpha-5 remarks upon in the movie when he remarks how the five Power Rangers are all “different colors”. Considering how many superhero and science fiction films are churned out on a consistent basis, it’s crazy to think that Power Rangers is the first one to really have such a varied cast.
Other positives include the characterizations of Zordon and Alpha-Five, who are – at first – incredulous, and seemingly sure of the fact that the power coins made a mistake by choosing new Power Rangers who are so young. Indeed, Zordon’s character in particular is fascinating, for he’s much more bitter than his television counterpart, wanting to regain a full body again and lead the Rangers himself. He’s also much more easily frustrated when it appears the teenagers aren’t taking their newfound responsibilities seriously enough, serving as a wearier, reluctant father figure than he did in the television series. His interactions with Jason in particular are some of the best in the film, as the two clash over control of the team.
The cinematography is also really well done. Some parts of the movie are downright gorgeous, including a scene when the five kids come face-to-face underwater with another wall of water. And though the score itself is unmemorable for the most part, there is a glorious moment when the Power Rangers utilize their zords for the first time, rushing into battle as the original Power Rangers theme song blares loudly throughout the theater, overlaying the scene.
Though there is much to praise about the film, there are a few fundamental problems with it as well. For one, the tone is all over the place. The film switches between horror, darkness and wanting to be taken seriously to indulging in the cheesiness that makes the original television show so endearing. The biggest problem with the film, however, is the main antagonist herself.
Make no mistake, Elizabeth Banks chews up every single scene that she’s in as Rita Repulsa. She’s clearly having a ball playing such an iconic villain, and makes the most of every second that she’s on the screen. Unfortunately, Rita’s motivations are murky at best; the movie does a horrible job of explaining why she wants to obtain the Zeo Crystal and destroy the planet in the first place. And the way in which the Rangers dispatch of her in the end is anticlimactic in every sense of the word.
Besides Rita Repulsa’s motivation, however, the film’s designs are downright awful. Honestly, the only modern upgrades I appreciated were the looks of Zordon, Alpha-5, and Rita Repulsa. The zords, however, look too much like toys and not like enormous robots capable of saving or destroying the world. The Rangers’ costumes too are pretty unimpressive, looking as though they belonged in the world of Halo more than our “real world”. The biggest design failure though is Goldar. Lacking a face that can properly express emotion – whether it be anger, depression, pain, etc. – truly served as a detriment during the climax of the movie when the Rangers are uniting to fight the incarnation of this giant. Like the costumes of the Rangers, I feel like the design of Goldar could have remained the same as the original television show, only with some updated special effects.
Despite the negatives, Power Rangers is definitely worth seeing in movie theaters – in 3D if you have the chance to! Whether you were a fan of them as a child or not, I feel like this movie has something in it for everyone to enjoy. It truly is more of a sci-fi remake of The Breakfast Club than the first installment of a planned saga. Whether or not this movie will make enough money to spawn multiple sequels as the plan stands now? Only time will tell.
In the meantime, what did you think of Power Rangers? Did you like it? If not, what didn’t you like about it? Leave a comment below and let me know!