Movie Review: ‘POWER RANGERS’ (2017) – A Character Driven Underdog Story That Requires Suspension Of Cynicism
When you think of the reboot of a cheesy after school special about nice teenagers saving the world in brightly coloured spandex, you don’t expect much depth in the storytelling. So imagine my surprise when the brand new ‘Power Rangers’ remake actually offered some thoughtful character development, and an emphasis on more story than flashy gimmicks. This Movie Review will be Spoiler-free so stick around for why you should be watching ‘Power Rangers’.
The original 90’s show was a mish-mash of happiness sprinkled with kid friendly depictions and action that even my 8 year old can find flaws in now. After the first season of ‘Mighty Morphin Power Rangers’ the show would go onto become a massively successful continuing franchise where each season would reboot the previous, without bothering to even connect the story lines together. The brand new movie ‘Power Rangers’ opens by innovatively creating a larger universe for these stories and characters, using source material from the original franchise.
‘Power Rangers’ sees the coming together of a band of rebellious teenagers, chosen through a force unknown to them, to become a team of powerful warriors destined to protect the world from evil. Yes, it’s cheesy. It was the 90’s, so the cheese is part and parcel of the ‘Power Rangers’ mythos. The new movie by Dean Israelite takes all those concerns into consideration when crafting a movie that has to be as fun as it is unavoidably cheesy, while still being a dramatic story for non fan-boys to enjoy as well.
When star football player Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery) destroys his high school football career in a childish prank, he’s confined to detention and house arrest. In detention he meets Billy, (RJ Cyler) a gifted student who persuades Jason to accompany him to the town mine in exchange for bypassing his ankle monitor. At the mine, Jason runs into troubled former cheerleader Kimberly, (Naomi Scott) where the two discuss their parental troubles. All the while Billy blows up a portion of rock, causing nearby mobile home dweller Zack (Ludi Lin) and social leper Trini (Becky G.) to take notice. The five teenagers find strange and colourful rocks that seem alien in nature, just before they flee from on-site security. Waking up the next morning with inexplicable powers, the group come together and decide to investigate, finding a mission that leads them on their destiny to train to become warriors to stop a menace that threatens to destroy their hometown.
‘Power Rangers’ is very aware of the challenges in a story of this magnitude, while also realizing where their strengths lie. The screenplay by John Gatins, writer of amazing underdog team films like ‘Coach Carter’ and ‘Hardball’, makes the story more about the group of 5 and their internal relationships, than the ridiculous larger than life external conflict. The group of teenagers need to become a team, not just superficially, but find friendships that enables them to do the things that warriors must learn to do together.
It’s a great emphasis on an aspect of the original ‘Power Rangers’ story that has never been explored to date. The original incarnation just casually presents friends from diverse backgrounds with varying interests and hobbies who happen to be best friends, when the harsh reality of high school social life of any generation is much different than that.
Directed by Dean Israelite, the film isn’t without its weaknesses, most of which stem from the outlandish nature of the source material. The film’s weakest sequence is near the climax with the massive Robot-like vehicles that the Rangers have to utilize against the face-less monster rampaging through their town. Monster fights in giant dinosaur robots may not be the most coherent action sequence, however, the director seems very aware of that, and again switches focus to the characters and their handling of their current situation in trying to save the world, instead of a long drawn out CGI-laden fight scene. The sequence is less a fight scene and more an ending to the film that is in tone with everything else that lead up to it. That sequence does make it very apparent thought that, for there to be a ‘Power Rangers’ franchise, the makers need to move away from giant monster battles, and focus more on street level hand to hand combat, highlighting on the Martial Arts aspect of the franchise.
The response to ‘Power Rangers’ will be very much determined by a willingness to not suspend disbelief, but rather cynicism. The film boasts of familiar tropes, done in optimistically new ways that convey the true sense of relationship building, and how being part of something more can truly enrich and enhance the lives of youth. It’s not a point driven home as the original series would present it, but more subtle. Through a brilliant training montage of the group learning to fight, we also get glimpses of how their lives in other aspects are made better by their friendships with one another. It’s typical of any sports film, but that genre of film is perfectly adapted into the superhero film model, and it works!
‘Powers Rangers’ could easily have been a summer blockbuster with gratuitous action scenes, flashy merchandising gimmicks, one-liner and mindless entertainment. But it becomes much more than that. Everyone involved clearly has put more effort into what is essentially a character driven film where it’s the characters that carry the movie to the third act on substance alone, instead of CGI wizardry.
RJ Cyler is the breakout performance of them all playing a character that is essentially the heart of the ensemble. The young actor is able to be the comic relief, the soul and has almost a great dynamic with the leader of the team played by Dacre Montgomery. Montgomery himself is outstanding while from some angles giving very serious James Van Der Beek vibes. Naomi Scott as Kimberly shares great chemistry with Montgomery and holds her own in many scenes. Ludi Lin and Becky G. have less to do than the others, but are able to still strike a chord in the moments they have in the story. Bryan Cranston is amazing as always, while Bill Hader as Alpha 5 is the perfect amount of comedy to enhance the on screen serious-ness. The only weak spot in the performances comes unexpectedly from Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa. Although, the blame should fall a lot more on the material and direction she is given as it definitely feels forced and over played.
‘Power Rangers’ is a great throwback to its source material, but also to a time when the audience wasn’t inundated with formulaic superhero movies. The film is genuine in its portrayal of troubled youngsters with little direction in life, finding something greater than themselves, coming together because of it and becoming heroes. While it’s familiar territory, this story is able to infuse new life into it with inexperienced actors whose eagerness and honesty come through in their characters, adding to the story that much more.
The movie will be enjoyable to fans of the franchise, but also general audiences if it’s taken at face value, and not held up to the major studio standards of the current superhero movie model.