Power Rangers (2017)
Five ordinary teens must become something extraordinary when they learn that their small town of Angel Grove--and the world--is on the verge of being obliterated by an alien threat. Chosen by destiny, our heroes quickly discover they are the only ones who can save the planet. But to do so, they will have to overcome their real-life issues and before it's too late, band together as the Power Rangers.
2 hours 4 minutes
March 24, 2017
Director: Dean Israelite
Writer: John Gatins
Starring: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Becky G, Ludi Lin, Bill Hader, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Banks
I’m a hardcore 90s kid. Ergo, I’ve dedicated more than my fair share of school and weekend mornings to that colorful team of teenagers with attitude. With the current state of summer blockbuster offerings, the time could not be better for us to be blessed with a worthwhile Power Rangers movie. And maybe that’s part of the problem…
Violence: Some intense bouts of superhero action are on display, but no blood and broken limbs are shown. Townscapes are leveled and explosions happen. The rangers also do a great deal of insanely dangerous daredevil acts once they discover their newfound abilities. Some frightening macabre imagery of masses turned into stone is shown.
Language/crude humor: A masturbatory reference is made near the beginning of the film. Some harsh language like “b***h”, “bulls***”, and “a**hole” are infrequently used.
Sexual content: Brief mild LGBT innuendo (more on that below). One brief instance of a young woman removing her shirt (no nudity). A few topless male shots.
Drug/alcohol use: None.
Spiritual content: The state that Zordon occupies from his physical body is a bit ambiguous. His “consciousness” lives inside a wall in the Rangers’ space station.
Other negative themes: Some of the characters have a degree of contempt and resentment for their families. This provides useful conflict for their characters, but it’s not really resolved in the film properly.
Positive Content: The importance of self-sacrifice for the sake of the greater good is a central theme to the narrative. As one would expect from a Power Rangers film, teamwork is a virtue held in very high regard. Understanding and making amends for those of certain disabilities, whether they be family or not, is encouraged and championed.
This is a film that begins with a gag about masturbating a cow and ends with the fate of all life on the planet resting beneath a Krispy Kreme shop. All right, let’s get this over with…
Despite a surprisingly robust and respectable cinematic approach, Power Rangers (2017) is a pretty bad movie. This really didn’t surprise anyone, least of all myself, but that doesn’t make it any less disappointing an outcome. There are some of a different mindset. In his Variety review, Justin Chang suggests that everything that is objectively bad about this film quite easily finds a parallel in its source material. The 90s Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers program admittedly was schlocky, campy, badly-executed fun permeated with bad writing, acting, plotting, and one-dimensional cookie-cutter archetypes brazenly presented as “characters.” Having established that, in Chang’s mindset and those of many others, any kind of Power Rangers movie is more-or-less DOOMED to be mediocre at best, since what’s originally on offer doesn’t exactly gear itself towards worthwhile cinema on any level. In short, there really can never be a good Power Rangers movie, so long as it is a legitimate Power Rangers movie.
I must respectfully disagree. If there is one axiom that I have taken to heart through my years of study and practice in the narrative arts is that you can make a great movie out of ANYTHING. Whatever the source material may be, insightful and clever storytellers can certainly bring something fantastic out of it, provided that they have the means and drive to do so. The very history of cinema itself is bedizened with examples of this.
Have you ever read Mario Puzo’s original novel of The Godfather? It’s actually not all that great; largely consisting of unengaging records of actual mob crime stories with some names changed here and there. Give that book to Francis Ford Coppola, and he turns it into what is internationally regarded as one of the greatest cinematic achievements of all time. The original novel of Jaws was largely dismissed as a rather poorly-executed suspense tale with the shark being the most interesting and likeable character on the page. Give that book to Steven Spielberg (who actually shared a lot of those same sentiments), and he turns it into an Alfred Hitchcock-inspired creature feature that changed American monster movie-making forever.
The inverse of this principle is equally true, in that no matter how stellar and praiseworthy the source material may be, poor execution can render its adaptation unworthy of attention. The Bonfire of the Vanities is widely regarded as one of the most important works of 20th Century American literature. It was adapted into a film in 1990 starring Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, and Morgan Freeman, and it was so bad that the director Brian De Palma publicly disowned it. I have seen terrible films based on the life of Christ, and I have seen great films centered on a 30-plus-year-old billionaire who dresses up like a giant, flying, nocturnal mammal swinging around buildings and beating up clowns and scarecrows at night because he misses his mommy and daddy.
Having established that, it really doesn’t strike me as all that complicated of a proposal to make a decent and worthwhile Power Rangers movie–especially now. In all honesty, everything that is typically on offer in a standard Power Rangers episode has already been done to a remarkable level of accomplishment in one work or another in just the last five years.
Don’t think a story about young and somewhat attractive people engaging in fast-paced martial arts brawls would offer much in the way of a compelling narrative? Check out The Raid and Into the Badlands and call me in the morning. Having trouble with a tale about an odd motley crew of dysfunctional outcasts who have to put aside their differences and team up to save a world that does little in the way of even recognizing–let alone appreciating–them? Guardians of the Galaxy says “Hi.” You think giant robots fighting giant monsters seems too outlandish and unapproachable to such a cynical and desensitized audience? Replace “giant robots” with “Jaegers” and “giant monsters” with “kaiju” and hop on Google for a few minutes.
One would think that even the marketing department at Lionsgate would have looked into these kinds of suggestions of their own accord; and hey, maybe they did. If so, they clearly didn’t learn much of a lesson from those points of reference, and decided to include inspiration from somewhat less reputable works. Very few can look at a story that begins with recluse high school students meeting and forming camaraderie in detention without thinking of The Breakfast Club, but since Emilio Estevez is nowhere to be found and Naomi Scott is significantly more attractive than Molly Ringwald, your cognitive dissonance can be easily forgiven.
The story begins its rather long and arduous trek towards delivering on the promise of its title when Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery) and Billy Cranston (RJ Cyler) decide to hunt around an abandoned mining quarry (the filmmakers clearly took note of the original show’s deep-seated loyalty for rock quarries) for anything of interest, a pastime that Billy claims he shared with his now estranged father. During their excavation, which involves a somewhat liberal use of explosives, they catch the attention of Kimberly Hart (Scott), who supposedly frequents abandoned mines to clear her head, as well as those of Zack Taylor (Ludi Lin) and Trini Kwan (Becky G), who were hanging about the mine because they’re just plain crazy.
Look, this is a very unusual meeting with some very unusual people, so the likelihood of these folks meeting in a gold mine is about as slim as any other occurrence. I can certainly think of less satisfying ways in which those destined to become the Power Rangers could have crossed paths, but this hardly excuses the blatantly broken plot progression that follows.
From a large and seemingly obsidian rock face, the teens find what will later be revealed as the Power Coins (which here look more like oddly-colored natural formations rather than designed devices). They are forced to leave the mine in a tense high speed chase with the police who were called to the scene after the explosions went off. At the end of the chase, the team is t-boned by an ENTIRE FLIPPIN’ TRAIN and the film smash cuts to them all in their respective homes safe and sound with no explanation of how they either survived the crash or made it into their bedrooms. I can’t recall the last time I saw a smash cut used as deus ex machina. I’m sure I could think of one given enough time…
What follows after this will certainly remind many of Tobey Maguire’s performance in Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man film in which Peter Parker first comes to terms with his superhuman abilities. Household appliances are accidentally broken, wide-eyed expressions are given to crushed cell phones, and the five rush to figure out what exactly is going on here. Of course, we faithful fans know that the answer lies with Zordon (Bryan Cranston’s face in one of those old pin art toys), but good luck waiting out the time it takes for the Rangers to finally arrive in his bunker.
In fact, there is quite a bit of waiting to be done before the actual Power Rangers start showing their colors. This is not intrinsically a flaw of the film, since it would be unwise to deliver on all the spectacle without any of it being earned (I’m talking to YOU, Dawn of Justice), but if you are going to build up a character-driven narrative with the spectacle as the payoff, it is imperative that the tale leading up to the climax actually be just as engaging and compelling as the spectacle itself.
In a sense, that is what we have here, but that is simply to say that both the character build-up and the subsequent “cool stuff party” are both lackluster. Along with their physical coins, all the characters are given one easy token of conflict to help establish a reason why we should care: two are stricken with an enervating case of social disenfranchisement, one is on the autism spectrum, another has a sick mother, and one is allegedly struggling with same-sex attractions.
That last token, given to Trini the Yellow Ranger, is one around which a lot of pre-release scandal was drawn up for little reason other than in the spirit of “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” Scandal that proved to be much more interesting than the film itself, but ultimately showed itself to be largely exaggerated. Like the last famous instance of LGBT-oriented marketing with the new live action Beauty and the Beast, whatever could be even remotely seen as pro-gay in the character of Trini is so unassuming and latent, that it could just as easily be seen as anti-LGBT by the advocates of that movement.
During a key bonding scene with the five, Trini notes that she’s been transferred to three different schools in three years, citing relationship and family troubles. When Zack points out that she may have had “boyfriend troubles,” Trini affirms sarcastically. Zack then meekly suggests “girlfriend troubles” as an alternative explanation, and Trini gives a look that neither confirms nor denies the charge and immediately changes the subject. I’m hoping that inflating dubious material such as this doesn’t become a new marketing trend for blockbuster titles based on a preexisting intellectual property. After all, what was more substantially suggested in the film was something of a romantic chemistry between Zack and Trini.
A major plot point is Zordon’s frustration with the Ranger’s delay in coming together as a team to defeat the great threat of Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks giving a feral performance of some crossbreed between Suicide Squad’s Enchantress and Marvel’s Loki)–a frustration that could easily mirror that of the audience’s. It seems so baffling to him that it would take them so long to see past their differences and one-note quirks for the sake of the greater good, but it should be said that the bond and terms of understanding that the rangers come to with Zordon does work quite well in providing a mirror image to the bond that the rangers develop among each other.
Love’s sake, this review is going on longer than I thought. I guess I’m obligated to wrap this up in a rather haphazard fashion, but that’s how the film did it, so I guess it’s fitting. Banks really does try her darndest to infuse the name “Krispy Kreme” with a palpable degree of epiphanic tension, and God bless her for it. Goldar, who was a large blue-skinned ape in a gladiator/sun god getup acting as Rita’s right hand man in the original show, is here nothing but a molten golem of gold who’s needs to be summoned by Rita in a rather abstruse method.
The Zords, massive fighting robots that take the form of whatever are the mightiest beasts of the field at the time of arrival on the planet, were about as remarkable as the Transformers in Michael Bay’s films, so there’s that. Jason David Frank and Amy Jo Johnson (the original green and pink rangers respectively) make cameo appearances near the end, so that’s cool. And the Megazord’s a fairly decent victory dancer, I guess. I’m tired and hungry now. And, no, I’m not really feeling Krispy Kreme at the moment.
+ Nice camera work and cinematography at times
+ Some praiseworthy character development plot points
- Pacing is quite burdensome with little payoff
- Awkward performances and staging
- Jarring transitions
- Uneven tonal structure