‘Power Rangers’ ably sets the stage for something greater
“Power Rangers” was one of two major entertainment tenets in my youth (the other being “Pokémon”). I grew up watching “teenagers with attitude” being given amazing powers to save the world from those who threatened it. As a kid, the teenagers who donned those color-coded outfits — a symbol of power and responsibility — were heroes to me. They did well in school, they were active in their community, they had good friends, they oozed moral righteousness. And then they saved the world, week after week for years. There were worse people to look up to.
So, you would think I would be worried, perhaps even traumatized about the release of Saban’s “Power Rangers” in 2017, many years after the series stopped mattering to me (and presumably much of its former audience) as it once did. But I wasn’t. In fact, I was thrilled. The storyline from Hollywood the past several years has emphasized darker tones where once something lighter may have sufficed, especially in superhero or comic-book material. (Think Batman or Superman.) Think of that course of action how you will, but I’ve been a big fan of that trajectory. And I adamantly hoped for something similar to “Power/Rangers,” a hyper-violent YouTube short that seemed, at least to me, more reflective of what would happen to a group of teenagers if they were weaponized to fight in an intergalactic war. (Spoiler: It doesn’t end well.)
I didn’t get quite what I wanted in the PG-13-rated “Power Rangers,” directed by Dean Israelite (“Project Almanac”), but I didn’t leave disappointed, either. What I got for two hours was an origin story about five basically misfit teenagers who struggle through conflict both personal and world-ending in a quest to find their inner strength to save the world. A bit cheesy, yes, but that was to be expected.
Saban’s “Power Rangers” contains many of the same elements that first appeared in the American TV show in 1993 (which continues to pull source material from the Japanese “Super Sentai” series): five teenagers, a villain, some super colorful outfits and a lot of working together to save the day. What’s different, however, is the tone and the way our heroes-in-training get to become superheroes.
Enter our protagonists: Jason (Dacre Montgomery) aka the Red Ranger, a golden boy who seems to be lashing out at life’s trappings; Kimberly (Naomi Scott) aka the Pink Ranger, the popular cheerleader who finds herself not quite so high on the popularity ladder any more; Billy (R.J. Cyler) aka the Blue Ranger, the “on the spectrum” tech genius; Trini (Becky G.) aka the Yellow Ranger, who we actually know little about at first; and Zach (Ludi Lin) aka the Black Ranger, who seems to live for adventures, dangerous or otherwise. All five attend school in Angel Grove (as least part of the time, at least). And all five seem to find themselves outside of the mainstream, a “Breakfast Club”-style grouping apparently destined for greatness.
Since these five wouldn’t normally be caught dead hanging out with each other, the story contrives a plot that forces them to be in the same place at the same time: a gold mine quarry late at night. Why each one is there simultaneously is beside the point; all that matters is what happens once they’re there. Which may or may not include finding strange, colored coins buried in rock; getting hit by a train while to trying to escape in a van; and then waking up to discover they can crush porcelain and smartphones with their bare hands and jump over homes. An odd night, for sure.
What happens next is the montage section, as the teenagers discover an alien named Zordon (Bryan Crantson) and his quirky robot, Alpha 5 (Bill Hader), in a spaceship buried underground near the coins they found. Having superhuman strength is great and all, but it does come with a price: These five teenagers, who don’t even know each other’s names, are tasked with saving their city, and the world, from one Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), who would rather see everything destroyed. (Personal vendettas are strong in this movie.)
The Rangers struggle to decide what to do next, if anything; these scenes more or less comprise the emotional arc of “Power Rangers,” adding some depth to characters who seem humanly conflicted but a little shallow at first. (Having five heroes to work with will do that to a movie.)
Getting down to technicals, most everything works here. From acting to cinematography, “Power Rangers” is a solid, if not necessarily inspiring film. Banks is by far the most interesting character around, what with her penchant for eating gold and talking in single words to no one in particular. It’s easy to tell she’s having fun being the villain. The Rangers themselves are compelling enough, leaving you not particularly rooting for them to win their battles, but not hoping they fall into the nearest crater.
The filming is lightning fast, almost too fast at times, cutting from one angle to the next in a blur. It’s a bit much at times, seemingly done to capture that Michael Bay-style of jittering action.
It should be said the film does take some time to actually get going; as an origin story, that’s expected, but we really don’t get to the good stuff (morphing and giant zord battles and the cheesy “We can do it together!” shouts) until the final sequences. Which, at that point, some viewers may be justifiably bored. One can only take so many teambuilding exercises.
In the end, “Power Rangers” strives to straddle that great divide: to honor its campy source material while adding more than a superhero-sized dose of grittiness and moody darkness. It doesn’t quite succeed at the endeavor, but it doesn’t necessarily fail, either. It’s a sincere attempt that wins more than it loses. Much like the Power Rangers themselves. These new Rangers may be heroes, but they’re still just “teenagers with attitude.” And for now, that’s OK.
Three “Everything is so shiny!” stars out of five.