By: Adam Basciano
“A group of high-school students, who are infused with unique superpowers, harness their abilities in order to save the world.” (Lionsgate/Saban)
To celebrate 25 years of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, let me say; I loved this television series as a kid. This Power Rangers movie stars the same characters as the original show, with different actors piloting the Zord’s, turning what was essentially a campy live action Saturday morning cartoon, into a live action science fiction, action adventure superhero film. While there is a shift in tone, to something that takes the source material a little more seriously, the core essential elements of the brand are upheld and respected. The Power Rangers are still teenagers under the guidance of Zordon, with the help of his assistant, talking robot Alpha 5. The Power Rangers derive their power from power coins, which connect them to the morphing grid. They still are the pilots of Zord’s, aka mechanical dinosaurs that can join together to form a giant robot, known as a Megazord. Their main goal is to protect the zeo crystal and the world from Rita Repulsa, the sworn enemy of Zordon, who is aided by her putty patrol and Goldar, her chief lieutenant. With the core retained and carried over, the filmmakers still managed to deviate and change elements within the core ideas and those decisions, I feel, are positive.
One aspect I absolutely loved is the back story and history of the Power Rangers. The Power Rangers go back all the way to pre historic earth. These alien warriors were charged with protecting the relatively young Earth and the life forms on it. The dominant life form at this time being the dinosaurs, which explains why the Zord’s take the form of those animals. In this iteration, Zordon is the leader of that team of Rangers, the red ranger. One of his teammates was Rita Repulsa, the Green Ranger. However, a power hungry Rita Repulsa betrays them in an effort to steal their power coins, the source of their power. However, Zordon hides the power coins, instructing Alpha 5 to cause a meteor strike from their ship. This results in Zordon’s death and sends Rita to the bottom of the ocean. The fallout of all this is the extinction of the dinosaurs. What I love bout all this is that, in the show Rita created the Green Ranger, so it’s serendipitous that in this take, she is the original Green Ranger. It also gives Zordon and Rita a deeper connection and fuel for their hatred. Tying the original team of Power Rangers, to the time of the dinosaurs, not only explains why the Zord’s are dinosaurs, the film also makes Zordon and by extension Alpha 5, somewhat responsible for the dinosaurs extinction. That was surprising. I like that the filmmakers actually created an alien language for Zordon and Rita to speak. It makes the events of the scenario and the story conceit more believable. Most films don’t go that extra mile and just have the aliens speak English, as if it’s some intergalactic universal language.
The TV Series boasted that the Power Rangers were “teenagers with attitude.” Yet given the nature of the show, in hindsight we got the most cookie cutter stereotypes (still loved it though). This film actually gives us teenagers with attitude, or at least ones dealing with issues. Jason was a football star in the making, who ruined his career after a prank gone wrong led to a car accident, ending his playing days. Kimberly Hart was a bit of a cyber bully of sorts, who sent nude photos of a fellow student throughout her previous school. Now in a new environment, she is the one who is ostracised by classmates. Billy Cranston is a science nerd whose experiment caused a minor explosion on school property. The added intrigue for this character is that he has Autism. These 3 eventual Power Rangers meet in Saturday after school detention. It has a very Breakfast Club feel to it, which I think is great and highly appropriate, given they are teenagers. Trini, the yellow Ranger is dealing with her sexual orientation and struggling with coming out to her family, while Zack, the Black Ranger, frequently skips school, to take care of his ailing mother. These two outsiders often skip school and hang out in the Angel Grove gold mines, or mountainous regions. While they all go to the same school, they aren’t necessarily friends and don’t know each other very well. That’s great for this film because the best part, is the interactions between the Power Rangers. You see their friendships grow and you watch them become a team. They need to be in tune with each other to morph and to pilot the Megazord, so when all that finally happens in the third act of the film, it feels earned.
For the most part, I’ve got nothing but praise for the young cast. Dacre Montgomery and Ludi Lin were solid. I thought both actors were believable in conveying their character various issues but I didn’t buy them 100% as outcasts or “teens with altitude.” The two best of our young cast are Naomi Scott and RJ Cyler. I had a huge crush on the original pink ranger as a kid, so any actress who can get me to totally invest in her take on the character is doing a good job. I really believed she was remorseful for her past deeds and was trying to escape the shackles of her past. RJ Cyler highlights how intelligent and uniquely awesome people with Autism are. I find people with disabilities are highly under-represented on film and when we are, we’re all painted with the same brush. Here though, this character is given his due. Not only is he incredibly smart, but he is the audiences conduit to what it would feel like to be a member of the Power Rangers and how cool it would be. He’s the first one to morph and is actually the glue that ultimately binds the team together, allowing them to become the heroes they’re supposed to be. As a kid ,I didn’t care for the Blue Ranger, but in this film he was my favorite. Part of that is how the character is written, but a lot of that comes down to the actor’s performance. The weakest of our heroes in terms of performance and character is Becky G, as the Yellow Ranger. First off, her struggle with revealing her sexual orientation to her parents is only glossed over, while every other character got more screen time. Also, the actor is a pop singer by trade, and only a select few have been able to make the transition with any success. Unfortunately for Becky G, I don’t think she will join that club!
Elizabeth Banks relished her role as villain Rita Repulsa. Yes, her plan was straight forward, almost “mustache twirly” at times but I felt it was written that way on purpose as homage to the source material. Yes, Ms. Banks chews scenery and goes over the top, but she’s far less ridiculous than the Enchantress (the only thing I really didn’t like about Suicide Squad). Elizabeth Banks was genuinely frightening as Rita and in those moments, she was money! (See what I did there… Money in the Banks!?). Bryan Cranston as Zordon, was stunt legacy casting, as he voiced monster roles in the original show, but it is genius casting. His Zordon is confused at the complicated inner workings of the teenage mind. He’s stern, when the teenagers aren’t grasping what they need to learn, yet he is calming and compassionate, when the need arises. Having Zordon be former leader of the Power Rangers, who experienced failure, makes his bond with the team feel stronger. He’s no longer just the man behind the curtain. He’s not an all knowing Wizard of Oz type.
Let’s look at the visuals and action in this film. Gone are the spandex costumes and in its place is an armor with an alien look and feel to it. The updated design still honors the original concept but ultimately makes so much more sense, since the original team were in fact aliens in the film. The Power Rangers command center being Zordon’s old ship also makes sense. I also think it being buried deep underneath the Angel Grove gold mines, where the meteors strike at the beginning of the film, is a very practical story point. While I though the exterior of the TV show’s command center looked cool, largely because it looked like an Egyptian pyramid, its location never made sense. Rita Repulsa’s wardrobe is a definite improvement over the television predecessor. Since she was once the Green Ranger, I like that her outfit is essentially a defunct, dark and twisted take on the Green Ranger armor. Her armor has morphed to fit the characters personality. Goldar’s redesign seemed a little too much for my liking. He was literally a giant liquid gold monster. He reminded me of the golden fountain in the Ferrero Rocher chocolate commercials. Just imagine that fountain could walk and you’ll get what I’m talking about. Given the success of the Planet of the Apes franchise, there’s no reason they couldn’t have gone with a talking gorilla in gold armor, like the original show. The Megazord forming and fighting looked great. There’s even a nod to the original show in that it forms in the cover of fire, from the bottom of the damage from the Angel Grove goldmine. The fighting between the Megazord and Goldar was very clear and concise. I appreciated that I could actually clearly see fighting moves being performed. This isn’t always the case in some movies, like the first Transformers, or Pacific Rim. There’s even a joke about the Transformers film in the third act fight that got a laugh out of me. While the fighting between the Megazord and Goldar was well done, the hand to hand combat between the Power Rangers and Rita’s Putty Patrol as she attempt to steal the Zeo Crystal, leaves a lot to be desired. It’s not that the fighting was bad, it’s just there wasn’t enough of it to really judge. That’s a shame, especially since the cast said they worked hard at martial arts training for the film.
As a fan of the original show, I was worried that this franchise had passed its exploration date in terms of appeal with modern day film fans, who weren’t already fans of the property. I was worried the filmmakers would change the DNA of the property so much, that it wouldn’t feel like Power Rangers. However, the film stays true to the most important part of the concept and for my money, the changes made the Power Rangers better. As is sometimes the case with origin stories, the action beats and fighting sequences are less than I expected, though the Megazord battle does satiate that need to a degree. However, the focus was clearly on the characters and the team dynamics of the Power Rangers and in that department, the film succeeds. Whether you’re a long-time fan of the franchise, or totally oblivious to it, give the film a look for yourself. I think you’ll have a morphenomenal good time. With Hasbro acquiring the franchise, they’ve said they plan to develop a follow up to this film. Whether they mean a direct sequel or not remains to be seen. I hope it is a direct sequel, with the same cast. Especially after the mid credit tease of Tommy Oliver. Either way, 25 years after their debut, the Power Rangers have many adventures ahead of them, on the big and small screens, as well as the pages of their own fantastic comic book!