Of all the pop culture products of the 1990s to make a comeback, ‘Power Rangers’ is one of the least deserving. The original serialized action figure commercial was never particularly good. But ’90s kids love nostalgia, so now here’s that ‘Power Rangers’ blockbuster you wanted. It still ain’t good, but at least it’s watchable this time.
While the original ‘Mighty Morphin Power Rangers’ series was able to condense the entire origin story of the small town superhero team to an opening credit scene about “teens with attitude,” somehow this movie takes over 90 minutes for the Rangers to morph for the first time. That might sound like a horrible misstep, but it’s actually one of the best decisions that director Dean Israelite ‘(Project Almanac’, which actually isn’t bad) made while reviving this property. As much as this is a ‘Power Rangers’ reboot, it’s also a remake of ‘The Breakfast Club’ with the teen outcasts eventually saving the world from a giant gold monster.
The archetypes are the same. There’s an athlete (Dacre Montgomery, Red Ranger, not as together as he seems), a brain (RJ Cyler, Blue Ranger, mildly autistic/genius), a princess (Naomi Scott, Pink Ranger, her perfect life slowly corroding thanks to a texting drama), a basket case (Becky G., Yellow Ranger, loner, lesbian, rebel), and a criminal (Ludi Lin, Black Ranger, not really a criminal but with some Judd Nelson attitude for sure). They don’t all meet in weekend detention because that would waste too much time and this movie is long enough. But three of them do and they meet the other outcasts while exploring a mine for convoluted reasons that aren’t really worth mentioning.
The important thing is that these moody teens all find colored crystals that give them superpowers. As a robot (Bill Hader) and giant talking wall (Bryan Cranston) soon explain, that means these troubled kids have been chosen to save the world from the evil Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks, easily the best part of the movie). The Breakfast Club 2.0 will need to endure training montages, bonding sessions, and learn to pilot robot dinosaurs in order to stop her. Where will she strike? Why, a Krispy Kreme donut shop, of course! Yay, product placement. On the plus side, at least that part is kind of a joke. I think so, anyway. It’s tough to tell.
Israelite’s take on this 20-year-old crap franchise has a very strange tone. On the one hand, it’s a dark and moody reboot that attempts to give the characters a second dimension they never had in the ’90s kiddie series. On the other hand, the movie also has a tongue in cheek attitude that playfully references the old ‘Power Rangers’ and gently mocks the absurdity of the new rendition. It’s somewhere between ‘Chronicle’ and the first ‘Transformers’ movie. Somehow that’s not as awkward of a tonal leap as it sounds. In fact, it’s likely the best possible way to make a ‘Power Rangers’ movie.
The young leads are actually pretty decent (certainly better than the wooden 30-year-old “teen” leads from the ’90s). The way that they all represent different minority voices is played in a refreshingly casual way without dwelling on it. When Israelite is whipping his roving cameras around the teen archetypes aching with angst and bursting with new superpowers, it’s kind of amusing.
The guy is clearly a fan of the source material as well, managing to write a rock quarry where all the action takes place into the script, rather than just serving as a budget-conscious action setting like the old show. He lets Cranston, Hader and especially Elizabeth Banks have some ironic fun with their roles, winking at the audience to ensure they never take it too seriously. (Banks in particular is a damn delight, vamping it up with a mixture of self-parody and theatrically evil glee.) The movie has constant in-jokes both loving and mocking. It’s one of the rare reboots that’s often superior to the original project in almost every way. There’s one problem, though. Despite getting to hear the iconic “Go-Go” theme song again, the movie actually bottoms out when the Power Rangers themselves appear.
Somehow it takes an hour-and-a-half of a two-hour movie for the teens to morph into their metallic ninja warriors for the first time. When that finally happens, the designs of the Ranger costumes and Zords are so ugly in their chrome Michael Bay eye-fuck ways that you’ll feel deeply nostalgic for those old cheap plastic suits. The action is decent, but Israelite relies so much on shaky-cam and harsh shadows that this feels like a ‘Transformers’ movie in the least flattering ways. Then, right when ‘Power Rangers’ should be delivering the goods that everyone came to see, it all falls apart.
Granted, the movie was still dumb, overlong and derivative before the anti-climax, but at least it had enough humor and style to be watchable. It’s strange to watch ‘Power Rangers’ fall apart right when it finally becomes a ‘Power Rangers’ movie. Then again, these are still the best big screen Power Ranger effects that the franchise has ever seen, even if that’s more to do with the standard being so low than anything else.
Chances are that anyone with enough inexplicable ‘Power Rangers’ nostalgia to want to see this movie will probably like it. For a while, the movie seems like it might appeal to viewers outside of that sad little cult as well, but then those dreams die. I suppose the fact that this ‘Power Rangers’ reboot is mediocre rather than a complete waste of money, talent and time is still a pleasant surprise.