It is spoiling absolutely nothing to say that at the end of “Power Rangers,” the big screen update of the long-running television series, the group of five teens at the story’s center will indeed become Power Rangers. That is, after all, the movie’s whole raison d’etre. The audience then has to care about the journey in the Dean Israelite directed film—which actually sports the full title “Saban’s Power Rangers”—and the journey is relatively disappointing. The other elements of the movie from Elizabeth Banks’ Rita Repulsa, to the action, and the film’s stylistic choices largely work. The journey does not.
Oh, things start off well enough with Red Ranger Zordon (Bryan Cranston) sacrificing himself during Earth’s Cenozic Era in order to defeat Repulsa and stop her from taking the fancy crystal that allows life to exist on Earth (every planet with life has one…. didn’t you know?). From there though we jump to the present and get a bunch of formulaic teens who hate each other but together find the Power Ranger coins Zordon buried, find Zordon’s buried ship, and learn they are destined for so much more. Sure, it sounds silly but… no, it’s silly and the way the kids are depicted are silly.
First, there’s Jason (Dacre Montgomery). He is the high school quarterback and destined for greatness until a prank lands him in detention forcing him to miss the rest of the season. He is a would-be bad boy who isn’t really a bad boy at all and destined to be the leader of his team. Think a young Zac Efron who maybe doesn’t have his head in the game as much as he should.
Then there’s Kimberly (Naomi Scott). She can be thought of as akin to Claire from “The Breakfast Club” and is having trouble with her popular cheerleader friends – she sent her boyfriend a picture of another girl (a friend of hers) which was being passed around school and… it’s a whole thing. At one point it’s even pointed out to her that she’s not that different from everyone else, that thousands of pictures get passed around the school, but this is different for her because she’s Claire… err… Kimberly.
Billy (RJ Cyler), he is quick to tell everyone, is “on the spectrum.” While there are moments of slightly stilted conversation with Billy, “Power Rangers” doesn’t go out of its way to show him overcoming any sort of challenges due to whatever part of the spectrum he may be on. Mostly he’s just shown as being good with technical stuff and caring about other people.
Second to last is Zack (Ludi Lin). He’s the guy with the tough exterior over a soft heart. Also, he hangs out alone and worries about his sick mother. The two play chess together.
Last up is Trini (Becky G). She’s an angsty teen who doesn’t want to talk to her parents and pretends she wants to be an outsider.
Neither John Gatins’ script nor Israelite’s direction of “Power Rangers” ever really pushes past any of these broad characterizations. To be fair, the movie doesn’t have time to what with Zordon having his own agenda, the would-be Rangers not being able to morph into their super suits, and Rita Repulsa wanting to build Goldar (a giant gold creature) so that she can get the crystal and have the ultimate power. However, whatever the reasons for their not being terribly deep, watching these teenage caricatures get to the inevitable moment when they can morph and fight Repulsa doesn’t make for good viewing. And, because it takes them so long to learn to morph, their ability to use the giant machines, known as Zords in order to beat Rita and Goldar, comes out of nowhere.
That said, again, other elements do work. “Power Rangers” is a high-gloss film, even if it does have muted colors, with some fun special effects. One moment early on features a camera turning in full circles, offering the illusion of a single take (which feels unlikely) during a disorienting car chase. Another scene in which the would-be Rangers deal with a changing gravity field is both beautiful and funny. Even the training montage is enjoyable. And, while the actual moment when they learn to morph is over-the-top, the emergence of the five heroes together in their suits is well executed.
If the film is a success at the box office it seems unlikely that this will be our last trip to Angel Grove. Next time, with the dull origin bits out of the way, hopefully we will get broader, deeper, better looks at the teens whom we are meant to admire so greatly. Regularly, the actors feel as though they are hemmed in by the blandness of the material, now that they have their suits maybe they’ll break free. And hopefully we haven’t seen the last of Rita Repulsa as Banks truly goes for it in the role and is great to watch in every scene.
photo credit: Lionsgate