Power Rangers, the latest cash-in for early 90’s nostalgia following last week’s live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, is a fairly faithful adaptation of the mega-popular Japanese/U.S. television show. What can one say about a film that opens with an alien superhero massacre on primeval earth that jaggedly transitions to a couple of teens having accidentally masturbated a bull in a high school gym locker room? The fact that what follows isn’t necessarily terrible is perhaps the greatest praise one can give this film. Simultaneously aiming to be gritty and down-to-earth (bovine pleasuring tangents notwithstanding) while awkwardly flirting with the more campy elements of the original show (not to mention an ungodly corporate fetish for Krispy Kreme doughnuts), Power Rangers is a tonal, inconsistent mess with one surprising element working in its favor – actual heart.
Five teen misfits playing hooky from responsibility discover five multi-colored coins at an off-limits construction site that imbue them with super-human strength and agility. Soon, they stumble across an ancient underground UFO containing the memory banks of Zordon (Bryan Cranston), the former leader of a group of prehistoric alien warriors known as the Power Rangers tasked with protecting earth’s life-sustaining Zeo Crystal from the hands of the evil Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks). Coincidentally, she has also recently returned and the teens find themselves with little time to learn how to harness their newfound powers as the planet’s last line of defense.
More Japanese fantasy meets The Breakfast Club than the Saved by the Bell aspirations of the original show, Power Rangers remarkably takes time to develop its leads beyond their checklist index of “singular” character traits: Red Ranger Jason (Dacre Montgomery), the rebellious jock under criminal probation; Pink Ranger Kimberly (Naomi Scott), the bullying ex-cheerleader; Blue Ranger Billy (RJ Cyler), the black, autistic, fatherless wiz-kid; Yellow Ranger Trini (Becky G), the Hispanic bisexual loner with over-protective, out-of-touch parents; and Black Ranger Zack (Ludi Lin), the “crazy” Asian high school drop-out with a dying mother. Far from the corny role models presented in the television show, Power Rangers fleshes these teens out and successfully balances their screen-time and arcs more fluidly than many large-cast high school melodramas of their ilk. It’s nothing extraordinary but appreciated. RJ Cyler, notably, proves to be the soul of the team. Though clumsily set up, his turn as the Blue Ranger is the highlight of the film, delivering its best laughs and drama (feeble as it may be). On a side note, the excuse for why he joins his peers in detention is as ludicrous as can be in today’s age – apparently, he keeps accidentally setting off bombs in school! Hell, in the wake of the clock boy incident this would make national headlines! At best, he would only end up on a terror watch list!
This is indicative of Power Rangers‘ major failing: it doesn’t quite commit to what kind of film it wants to be – the campy, consequence-free silly fantasy of the original or a darker, more realistic sci-fi contemporary spectacle. Disjointedly switching from one extreme to the other, the film attempts to take itself more seriously than it should, especially considering that the story features giant dinosaur robots battling gold monsters bent on world destruction. To claim it’s tonally inconsistent is an understatement. Case in point: a humorous reveal of a Krispy Kreme establishment which crossfades to a gloomy multiple victim funeral procession! It’s akin to the mania of a Transformers movie suddenly being interrupted by a Sophie’s Choice subplot (and with someone of the caliber of Anthony Hopkins appearing in the next film of that franchise, I wonder how long it’ll be before they pull in Meryl Streep?).
Oddly, there’s not much actual Power Rangers action in the film. Even for an origin tale, the screen-time of the characters in costume is perhaps just a tad longer than the average length of an episode of the TV show! Once powered-up, the climactic battle has its moments and contains many fun shout-outs to the show (including the catchy theme song), but it soon outstays its welcome as the odd tonal shifts begin to invade the cartoony carnage.
As a launchpad to a proposed six-film series, Power Rangers is an inauspicious kick-off; however, in a wise move, its story is self-contained (barring a mild mid-credits sting that any nostalgic fan can see coming from a mile away) opting not to end in a stupid cliffhanger that may not be fulfilled should the film fail at the box-office. Overall, fans of the show may be annoyed with some of the updates/revisions, but it stays faithful enough to be satisfactory. Otherwise, it is quite doubtful that this film incarnation will have the staying power of the original’s runaway success.