Directed by Dean Israelite
Written by John Gatins
Starring: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Ludi Lin, Becky G., Elizabeth Banks, Bryan Cranston, and Bill Hader
Runtime: 124 minutes
Let’s face it: the TV show Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers stunk. It was a hodgepodge of styles and countries sensibilities forced together to middling-to-poor results. It’s funny, then, that a reboot of a franchise should succeed where the original failed as so often the opposite is true. Power Rangers isn’t a masterpiece, but it tells the story of these heroes more completely than the show ever did. At least, as far as I watched it, which was about the first handful of episodes when it premiered in the early ‘90s. I was not a fan. So I was surprised that this picture worked for me at all, let alone as well as it did.
The story starts in prehistoric Earth, with Zordon (Bryan Cranston) giving is last breath to save Earth from former Ranger Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks). He saves these multi-colored stones and seems to die. Flash forward to 2017 Angle Grove, a sleepy little town in the Pacific Northwest where kids from different backgrounds are sent to Saturday detention a la The Breakfast Club. Jason (Dacre Montgomery) stands up for Billy (RJ Cyler), who is being bullied because he’s on the autism spectrum. Everyone in the room, including Kimberly (Naomi Scott), a cheerleader who we later learn sent an inappropriate picture of one of her friends to her boyfriend or just some guy and got in trouble for it, sees this and applauds. Billy wants to hang out with Jason (the star quarterback who stole a rival’s mascot and then got into a very bad car accident running from the police) and Jason reluctantly agrees. They go to an old mine that is about to be filled in or destroyed or something and through a series of events end up finding those stones/coins that Zordon buried millions of years before. Also with Billy and Jason were Kimberly, Trinny (Becky G.), and Zach (Ludi Lin) by sheer circumstance. They each get their own coin and end up running from security (who were alerted by the extremely loud blast that Billy sets off while trying to dig for treasure). They wreck Billy’s van and all end up at home, unscathed and very muscular. The have powers now, and the next day stumble into a spaceship, meet Alpha (voiced by Bill Hader) and Zordon, now a consciousness integrated into the ship’s computer. They are told that they are now the Power Rangers and have to stop Rita from destroying some crystal that is present on every planet with life on it. if she removes it, all life on earth will be destroyed. So, the motley crew starts to train and unsuccessfully try to ‘morph’ into their armor.
It’s amazing that this isn’t as stupid as it sounds. The script, by John Gatins, goes a long way to make these kids real, suffering from a myriad of teenage issues that they feel are the end of the world (as teenagers do). They’re moody and real in a lot of ways. Also credit has to go to him for writing in a kid on the spectrum, though it’s not particularly well sustained (as it was in The Accountant). The fact that Billy is on the spectrum and becomes included in the group and a superhero is really positive for any kids on the spectrum watching the film. Beyond the characterizations, though, the film gets bogged down in plot and for long stretches of time the characters are largely ignored for this purpose. Gatins does work in some quiet scenes where the kids bond and share things about themselves, growing them as characters and not just as kids. It’s rare for a film of this nature to spend time on the characters, instead of making them archetypal, though it shouldn’t be surprising considering Gatins wrote Real Steel and Flight. Gatins also seems to try and avoid as much nostalgia as he can, though I’m sure fans of the show(s) will find more than I did. The film does eventually give way to gobbledygook and repetition for filler, but the third act is a lot of fun and the whole thing is very entertaining.
For his part, director Dean Israelite does a good job at coaxing some decent performances out of his principle actors. He lets Banks chew the scenery a bit much, to the point that she rarely feels like a threat (except one scene that she has the Rangers tied up, then she’s pretty menacing). Israelite works to keep as much of this fantastical story grounded in pseudo-plausibility and though the picture gets repetitious while the Rangers are training and failing, he never lets the pace lag. The climactic fight between a giant monster made out of gold and a giant robot isn’t anything you haven’t seen before, but it’s still fun.
The people who are having the most fun seem to be Cranston, Hader and Banks. Cranston is actually a Power Rangers alum, having voiced a couple monsters on the television show back in the original run, which explains how an actor of his magnitude chose to do this film. Hader is largely there for comic relief, something that Alpha was there for on the show (though was not successful at being) and he is genuinely funny. The kids are super serious, which may be a turn-off for many people, and their lives aren’t particularly good, at least most of them aren’t, but each of the five of them seem to have spent time developing their approaches and they come off well.
Power Rangers isn’t some magnum opus nor is it astounding, but it is entertaining and that makes up for a lot of problems, but they’ve done something right if they can take an active Power Rangers hater like myself and make me like what they’ve done. If they can keep up the focus on character and the lighter moments, along with avoiding a too-grave attitude, the sequels should do well. It’s a decent movie that will entertain you as well as your kids.