“The answer to what is happening to you is here. You five are the Power Rangers”
Synopsis: “An ancient threat has reared its head in the town of Angel Grove and the only people who can stop it are five local teenagers who become the Power Rangers. Mentored by former Red Ranger Zordon and his robot assistant Alpha V, the team must learn to work together if Rita Repulsa is to be stopped from creating Goldar, an enormous monster created from pure gold, in order to find the Zeo Crystal and laying waste to the planet”
It isn’t great. There are a lot of very good points in this film’s favour, but they are sadly outweighed by details that just fall short of reaching their full potential as well as aspects of the original franchise that have been excised completely, which hurts the film immensely.
Fortunately one of the stronger aspects of the film is that the Rangers themselves are all very likeable and well acted, as well as having a well-established goal to work towards. Each one has some kind of inner turmoil that they must come to terms with and share with each other in order for them to fully gel as a team to save the world. Basic, but perfect for an origin story. Through no fault of the main cast is that goal mishandled; the personal stories of the Rangers are well handled, sympathetic, empathetic and the actors all reflect that very well. Particularly during a scene midway through the film, the characters simply sit around a campfire and share, for lack of a better term, themselves and in doing so become friends. It’s difficult to not make a comparison to The Breakfast Club, because we see people become friends through honesty.
The supporting cast performs very well. Bryan Cranston as Zordon is excellent in the role and exudes a perfect amount of authority and emotion, which is saying a lot considering he’s a head stuck in a wall. Bill Hader also shines as Alpha V and is possibly the best mixture of old and new in the entire film. However, rounding off the supporting cast is Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa, who is clearly having an immense amount of fun in this role. Whilst Rita doesn’t do much for the film’s run time outside of hunting for gold in order to construct the obligatory giant monster, Banks easily lights up the scene with a performance that ranges from quiet and menacing all the way to feral, bordering on hammy—in the best possible way. Sadly the classic characters Bulk and Skull do not make appearance in this iteration. I’m still holding out for an appearance in the inevitable sequel, but I will not be holding my breath.
This next point is both the film’s greatest strength and its biggest weakness: the aforementioned teenage drama. As I stated above, the cast makes the drama work for each character and I have no problem with them. What I do take issue with is how much of the film it takes up. The main characters don’t appear in full costume until the final battle with Rita and Goldar, because throughout the entire second act (and a good amount of the third) of the film, the focus is clearly on the character drama; as well performed and written as that drama is, it does tend to drag when the main cast inevitably refuse The Call to Action in order to brood some more. In no way am I saying that characters cannot be reluctant to take up the battle to save the world, but when it starts to hurt the pace of the film, I really can’t help but start to wonder when the giant monster will start to stomp around Angel Grove.
Whilst the pacing does suffer due to the character drama, what needs the most improvement here is the structure. For a film that advertises a giant monster, super-powered fight scenes, and an equally giant robot that is built from five smaller giant robots, there isn’t a lot of action until the final act. When it gets going, the action is a lot of fun—it’s easily as much fun as Pacific Rim—but as soon as it’s over, I found myself wondering if that was all. It then struck me that there wasn’t much action in the build up to the final battle. We had the odd training scene and car chase, but a car chase is extremely generic considering in the final act we see rock monsters (the new version of the Putty Patrol) and this film’s giant version of Goldar, who sadly lacks any and all personality. It isn’t until the final showdown that Rita actually does anything that could be considered worth the Rangers’ notice. All Rita does up until the final battle is hoard gold and toy with the Rangers once or twice. That’s not to say that Rita isn’t fun to watch, but a good performance needs to be coupled with interesting activity in order to be, for lack of a better word, interesting. This brings me to my main problem with Goldar: he’s just the big monster at the end. Nothing really of value except where he stands in the plot, that being the final boss fight.
At the risk of sounding uppity, I would have preferred if Goldar had been accompanying Rita throughout the entire film as an actual character. Instead of the master-servant relationship they shared in the original show, they could have shared a partner-in-crime parallel. It would have been a refreshing spin on how they used to operate, would have given Goldar a chance to actually have a personality, and would have given Rita more to do than hunt for the one ingredient she needs to cook up her enormous, faceless monster. Overall it would have been a lot more entertaining to have two villains stomping around Angel Grove throughout the film as opposed to one. As fun as Rita is to watch, she never feels like much of a threat until the very end.
Therein lies my main gripe with the film’s structure. The best action is saved up right until the very end. If I was to compare it to a real life activity, it would be a Christmas cracker—one single entertaining moment, and afterwards you realise that it wasn’t all you cracked it up to be, despite the fun you did have.
Lastly, is what I consider to be the film’s largest failing. I’m also not going to be playing the “as a fan of Power Rangers card,” firstly because it makes me feel like one of those awful “True Fans,” and secondly because I didn’t expect this as a fan. I expected it from a film called Power Rangers. There is little to no cheese in this iteration of Power Rangers. The Rangers don’t call out their respective animal powers; the theme song is heard all of once before the final battle (and only for a very short time at that); and there are no explosions that appear behind the Rangers as they strike a ridiculous group pose before a martial arts fight—nothing that gives this version of Power Rangers as much punch as every show and film in the franchise that has come before it, good or bad. You won’t find me bleating that just because those aspects don’t appear here that this “isn’t Power Rangers” because it is. It just isn’t my Power Rangers, and I’m okay with that. But when those very aspects are removed and replaced with nothing, there is a distinct feeling that the film is missing some vital part of what pretty much everyone associates with the title of the property. I will say however that certain aspects of the original lore have been altered, and that only helps this film, considering the source material had hardly any lore to begin with, other than what the writers could think up that particular day.
As I mentioned earlier, I enjoyed the Rangers each having to overcome their respective angst or personal problem. I enjoyed seeing them bond together as a team and as friends. But when they finally charge into battle to destroy the evil monster, what I wanted more than anything was to feel like I should be cheering them on as their theme song trumpets “Go Go Power Rangers!” I like the characters in this film as people and as villains, but as superheroes, as Power Rangers, absolutely nothing makes them stand out. The only time I got that feeling of fist-pumping joy was when the theme started playing, but that was over as quickly as it had began. The film’s score in general is pretty bad. No scene stands out because of the music, which is confusing considering music is a much larger part of the Rangers pop culture identity than most realise, including myself.
Some people may say that those particular tenants were removed so that I could take the film’s final battle seriously. To that I say: Why would I want to? This is the franchise that is built on pillars made of silly. Look at any given series of Power Rangers from it’s beginning to where it stands right now, look someone in the eye and ask them to take it seriously. I’m not saying there can’t be good character drama in a Power Rangers property but when the film already has that; wouldn’t it be balanced out with some of the franchisees original silliness?
To summarise, good acting from the main and supporting cast, very enjoyable character drama and writing, changes to the original source material that are very welcome and fairly decent action. But on the other hand, the smallest smidgen of the originals charm for older fans, structure that could have been beefed up with more action and pacing that suffers noticeably drags through the second act.
Power Rangers is easily one of my favourite nostalgic properties. If not my absolute favourite, it was my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and whilst I will always love the franchise, warts and all, I can’t help but be disappointed by this latest addition to the franchise. It has everything it needs to stand out from every other superhero franchise that’s out there right now, and yet it doesn’t manage to.
I remain hopeful however that the sequel(s) will keep what worked here and work on what did not. If it does not, then this new iteration of the franchise will most likely not be for me. Should that happen I hope the new generation of fans have fun playing with what made my Saturday mornings and after schools so enjoyable.
Summation: Good acting, good writing, not much staying power.
Power Rangers (2017)
Director: Dean Israelite
Starring:Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Becky G, Ludi Lin, Bryan Cranston, Bill Hader, Elizabeth Banks
Running Time: 124 Minutes.
Stay until the mid-credits. It’s predictable, but cool.