I will never forget watching Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie at the cinema. It was 1995, I was fourteen years old, and I really didn’t want to be there. I had never been a proper fan of the early ’90s TV series that spawned that movie, what with its creepy nightmare face costumes, no-budget rubber monsters and characters cheesy enough to give you lactose intolerance. Not to mention the fact that nobody seemed physically capable of talking without rapidly punching the air in sync with every syllable. I found it all embarrassingly silly. But my nine year old cousin utterly adored the show, so I was forced against my will, through gritted teeth and balled fists, to chaperone him at the movies.
Walking into that cinema, I expected it to be filled with kids the same age and disposition as my cousin, and that was indeed the case. But as the (terrible) movie ended and we were walking out, I saw that sitting two rows behind our allotted seats was a girl my age who I knew from our church. As I walked by we made fleeting eye contact… the look we instantly gave each other, before rapidly trying to just get the hell out, was crystal clear: We would never speak of this to anyone for fear of premature death by embarrassment.
Fast forward twenty two years and once again I’m walking out of the cinema after watching a Power Rangers movie. Except this time, all I want to do, with every hyped up cell in my body, is tell everybody about this movie. Roar about it from the rafters, bellow from the balconies. Because what I had just witnessed in all my slack-jawed shock, may very well have been the biggest cinematic surprise of 2017. Power Rangers was actually good!
This new reboot of the classic TV series from director Dean Israelite (Project Almanac) follows the same basic outline of the original: Five teenage friends from the small American fishing town of Angel’s Grove get granted superhuman abilities to become the colourful Power Rangers to combat the threat of evil alien villain Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) who wants to destroy Earth after escaping her eons-long imprisonment. The details are just slightly different this time around though.
Jason/Red Ranger (Dacre Montgomery), Kimberly/Pink Ranger (Naomi Scott), Billy/Blue Ranger (RJ Cyler), Trini/Yellow Ranger (Becky G) and Zack/Black Ranger (Ludi Lin) are not friends. In fact, its only by pure chance – and the reckless archaeological digs of the nerdy Billy – that the teens find themselves in the same fortuitous place. The very place where five mysterious, multi-coloured coins were buried millennia ago. But when each of the teens come into contact with these coins, they start to undergo a strange physical transformation granting them super-strength.
The coins are from a massive crashed spacecraft buried underground, home to motormouth robot Alpha-5 (voiced by Bill Hader) and disembodied alien entity Zordon (voiced by Bryan Cranston), who inform the teens that the ancient Rita has escaped and in less than two weeks she will be powerful enough to complete her plan from millennia ago, leaving the Earth a wasteland. The only way to stop her is for the teens to train under Alpha-5 and Zordon, work together and embrace their destiny to finally “morph” into the Power Rangers. A task easier said than done – whereas in the original series these were just “teenagers with attitude”, here they’re teenagers with many prickly personal issues making the teamwork required by them to morph much more difficult than expected.
If that sounds like way too much melodrama for a movie in which characters use giant mechanized dinosaurs as attack vehicles, I’m happy to report that it’s not. In fact, Oscar-nominee John Gatins’ script does a fantastic job of balancing out this added layer of personal grit with the lighthearted, poppy fun you would expect. And damn, is it fun! Fun in an entirely surprising way! The screenplay is peppered throughout with moments of hilarity that is mostly aimed at adults and which totally stretch the bounds of the film’s PG rating (I would love to hear parents having to explain a gutbursting early bovine gag to their young kids). In-jokes and meta pop culture zingers abound, with a number of nods back to the original series.
It’s not just about the funnies though, as Israelite – a protege of Michael Bay – directs it all with some serious technical acumen. While the film’s final act goes completely gonzo, and thus suffers a tad from the old Bay-ism CG pixel-on-pixel overload, he stages several action beats before that superbly. An early long-take car chase is some of the best engineered action I’ve seen on screen this year. Isrealite also knows when to up the gritty darkness factor – like the film’s sci-fi battle opener – and when to lighten up so that things never get tiresome. He even borrows some of the original’s “cheaper” aesthetics, like the iffy wire-work, and somehow makes it all work.
It helps that he mostly has a very likeable cast, with RJ Cyler’s Billy being the standout with his utterly charming social clumsiness. Dacre Montgomery, looking like Zac Efron-lite, fills the role as troubled team leader Jason well, while Naomi Scott is pretty solid as Kimberly (with the exception of one laughable bit of scripting involving her feeling like a monster for the most innocuous of reasons). Becky G’s Trini is unfortunately burdened with some shoddy lines earlier on and delivers them about the same, but as the film goes on she manages to salvage things quite well. The weak link on the team though is Ludi Lin as Zack, who already has the worst material (“I’M CRAZY!”) but then takes it a step further with a very wobbly performance. He just doesn’t have the acting chops to sell it.
While some purists may balk at some of the changes – just visuals in the case of the monsters the Power Rangers face, but much more pronounced character tweaks in some of the Rangers themselves – it does make it more appealing to newcomers. At the forefront of this is Banks’ Rita Repulsa who undergoes a sexification with her skimpy costume and feline posturing (Rita was a frumpy space witch with a loopy hair-do in the original). Whether unnecessary or not, at least Banks goes for broke, clearly having a ton of fun with the role of Rita, and you can’t deny how enjoyable it is watching her work.
And that really holds true for the entire film. You could be critical of the fact that the movie takes a bit long to get through its “origin story” phase, and that its many bawdy punchlines are going to catch younger audiences off guard, but it’s such an unashamedly fun rollercoaster, that you just can’t help but buy into it. Even the music score by Bryan Tyler, running under the prerequisite trendy pop-rock hits, is an unexpected electro synth delight. It may have its flaws – and I’m sure that hardcore fans may find more than I did – but given its dated source material, Power Ranger is just way better than it really has any right to be in so many different ways. There’s really nothing else I can say, except “Go, go watch Power Rangers!”.