Cinema Dispatch: Power Rangers

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Power Rangers and all the images you see in this review are owned by Lionsgate

Directed by Dean Israelite

Look, I’ve been dreading this one since they released the first image of them in their power suits, and everything since then just seemed to confirm my suspicions about what this movie was going to be.  On top of that, while I do have a soft spot for some Power Rangers/Super Sentai stuff (I have the movie with Ivan Ooze on VHS and I’m a pretty big fan of Tensou Sentai Goseiger), my knowledge of the Mighty Morphin iteration of this franchise is pretty limited.  It’s an odd place to be in when going into this movie as I’m someone who still needs to be taught pretty much everything about the movie, but I’m also gonna be more aware than most when it comes to how much this diverts from what the core of Power Rangers is supposed to be.  Now I don’t often go into movies READY to hate them, but there have been occasions where I went in knowing that there’s a pretty good chance I’ll end up hating it, and this is one of those times.  Now that’s not to say I wasn’t going to give this movie credit if it DID end up being great… it was just that my expectations were very low from the outset.  Did this movie ultimately prove me wrong and ended up being a worthwhile reinterpretation of the original series as well as a great continuation of the Power Rangers brand, or was this movie everything I dreaded it to be and so much worse?  Let’s find out!!

As I’m sure we all know, the story of Power Rangers is about five teenagers with attitude who are chosen by the Great and Powerful Zordon (Bryan Cranston) to fight alien monsters who threaten their small town of Angel Grove and by extension planet Earth.  This sticks pretty close to that, though replace teenagers with attitudes to teenagers with angst, tragedies, mean streaks, and felonies, and replace chosen with begrudgingly accept because unlike the previous version, the teens find Zordon rather than the other way around.  COINCIDENTALLY ON THE SAME DAY THAT THE TEENS FIND ZORDON, Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) is fished out the ocean instead of being uncorked from some canister on the moon, and proceeds to run amuck in Angel Grove while slowly gaining her powers back.  Now the new Power Rangers which are comprised of Jason, Kimberly, Billy, Trini, and Zack (Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Becky G, and Ludi Lin) must come together as a team and fend off the bad guy before she finds the McGuffin of Ultimate Destiny (I think they called it a Zeo Crystal) and… blows up the Earth I guess?  Can these teens who aren’t even friends to begin with find a way to overcome their differences and beat the crap out of the space witch?  Will they learn to control their individual animal robot vehicles in time to fend off Rita’s gold monster thingy and eventually come together to form one giant robot?  WHY IS EVERYTHING I JUST DESCRIBED SO DISAPPOINTINGLY REALIZED IN THIS MOVIE!?

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Hey, I’m pretty sure drugs are the only thing to make this even REMOTELY resemble Power Rangers.

This movie isn’t quite as bad as I thought it would be, but it’s still exactly what I imagined every time I saw a picture of those awful looking suits or whenever I sat through that trailer with the Kanye West song.  I honestly have no idea what Saban and Lionsgate were thinking when they decided that Power Rangers, a franchise that has been consistent in terms of tone and aesthetic since the early nineties (or even the mid-seventies if you want to include Super Sentai), should drastically change all of that so it can more closely resemble other popular franchises (*cough* Transformers *cough*).  I mean, I guess the answer is right there; be a coward and pretend you’re something you’re not rather than stand on your own and hope that the audience who’ve supported you up to this point will continue to do so, but then again… didn’t like half the episodes of the original show have a moral to the story that told kids to do the exact OPPOSITE of that?  Did Haim Saban even WATCH the shows he made?  Then again… if he DIDN’T, well then this movie makes a whole lot more sense.

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THOSE AREN’T POWER RANGER SUITS!  THEY LOOK LIKE THE ONES FROM DEAD SPACE!!

When reviewing a movie, a good rule of thumb is to determine what the film was trying to accomplish and did it succeed.  So then we have to ask the question, what was the point of this movie?  It’s clear they want to jump on the Disney bandwagon with an extended movie universe, and that means that this needs to be an open ended origin story as well as broad enough to hit an audience large enough for the whole idea to be sustainable.  What they ultimately decided was the best way to accomplish the latter goal was to cut down on the artifice of the show to make something that would be much more relatable and meaningful to the general audience who turn out for every Marvel and Star Wars movie.  I will give the movie credit that they manage to succeed in doing this in precisely one area.  The characters in this are well acted and have a depth to them I wasn’t really expecting to find, with the exceptions of Zordon and Alpha 5 who are just kinda phoned in.  Now admittedly, the script isn’t doing any of them much favors (we’ll get to THAT soon enough) which puts all the onus on the actors to bring something to the table, but I was genuinely surprised that they managed to do it with aplomb; even Elizabeth Banks as the thankless villain Rita Repulsa.  Out of everything the movie mishandles, her role is one of the most egregious but I can’t really fault her performance for that which is menacing and over the top in just the right ways to add a bit of life to this dismal affair.  Despite how this particular movie turned out, I would be more than happy to see everyone return in a much better (and significantly retooled) sequel.

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So… is that supposed to be neck armor or something?

Unfortunately, they are wasted in a movie that doesn’t know what tone it wants to be and stifled by a script that can’t even figure out how the three act structure works.  If you REALLY want to boil it down, this movie is a two hour retelling of the first episode of the series and it certainly feels like they only had enough plot for a half hour show.  The movie is trying so damn hard to give more depth and weight to every aspect of this story and its characters, but it all lands with a resounding thud; adding very little to the mythos while doing so in the most ham handed way possible.  There’ so much they try to throw in here to provide pathos to every last person in the movie, yet it’s all surface level and don’t have any actual impact on the events in the movie itself.  The revised history between Zordon and Rita is brought up quite a few times, but we don’t get much detail on that and there’s never a time in the movie where that comes to a head in any significant way.  Each of the five Rangers have a subplot of their own to distinguish them from their original iterations (they have more weight on their shoulders than the happy-go-lucky teens of the original who spent most of their time at the local gym), but it feels less like adding something to these characters than it is checking off some cynical list of Weighty Topics to make this feel like it has more depth than it does.  Whether it’s Jason’s self-destructive attitude (never gets explored by the way), Kimberly’s mean girl phase that she’s super sorry about (which includes sending revenge porn), or even Zach’s dying mother; it all just feels extraneous and is never really integrated into the plot itself.  This is doubly bad because of how good the actors are doing to sell these characters on their own WITHOUT these additional plot threads that it only points out how unnecessary and time consuming they are.

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Dad beard!  Take a shot!

Now those three are the easy ones to just point to as shallow and poorly developed.  Trini and Billy are a bit less clear cut, but I do have problems with them all the same.  Starting with Trini, a lot has been made about the fact that she’s the first gay superhero in a major Hollywood movie, and while I’m certainly not the person to ask when it comes to how LGBTQ+ individuals should be represented in films, it’s treated essentially the same as the other three characters where they have some additional attribute that’s basically just mentioned but never followed through on.  She mentions that she’s gay once over an hour into the movie, and then it’s never brought up again. Now to be fair, she’s no less developed than anyone else in here and it’s not my place to say if someone is “being gay enough” or anything like that when portraying their role.  It’s just that the move frames this revelation as simultaneously a significant moment in the movie (as if it’s a twist) but also ultimately irrelevant (never explicitly touched upon again).  Is it good that they don’t keep bashing you over the head with her sexuality in a way that would cheapen and dehumanize her role (LOOK!!  WE PUT A LESBIAN IN HERE!!  WE’RE SO AWESOME FOR DOING THAT!!), or is it a cheap excuse to make this movie feel more inclusive and important than it’s actually willing to put the effort into being?  I’m leaning towards the latter considering this is presented the same way as the other characters’ ADDITIONAL DRAMATIC SUBPLOT, but I’m absolutely not the person to be making that call about something like this.  Similar to that is the fact that Billy in this movie is on the Autism Spectrum which I’m also conflicted about.  All the same caveats for LGBTQ+ representation applies here as I’m not someone on the Autism Spectrum, nor should I be the one ask about proper representation.  What I can say is that I don’t think the movie ever framed it as a negative or anything like that… but they did try to mine a lot of humor from his behavior.  He’s basically framed in this movie as the Steve Urkel of the group (the nerdy guy who’s socially awkward and funny because of it), which isn’t a BAD thing, but coupled with negative stereotypes about people with Autism… I’m just not sure that focusing so much of his comic relief material on the way he interacts with others specifically because he’s on the Autism Spectrum was such a great idea.  And of course, on top of that is the fact that being on the Autism Spectrum (at least from my interpretation of the film) is handled with just as much weight as the other characters’ ADDITIONAL DRAMATIC SUBPLOT… even though being on the Autism Spectrum (as well as being gay) aren’t really the same as having an out and out PROBLEM in your life like being mad at your dad, having regrets about bullying someone, or having a sick mother.  Sure, there are problems that can come about because of that (and I think Trini implies as such with regards to her parents), but the framing feels… off.

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“My parents aren’t too happy about me coming out to them.”     “Oh, I TOTALLY know what that’s like!  A few weeks ago, I did something stupid of my own free will and lost my chance at a scholarship.”     “Wow!  I guess we really ARE all screw ups!”

Now some of you might not care about the story and just want to know about the action and fan service for which Power Rangers is known for.  Do they at least get THAT right?  HELL NO!  There’s not enough of them BEING the Power Rangers for this to reasonably be called a Power Rangers movie (similar to how the Jem and the Holograms movie ENDED with them becoming Jem and the Holograms), and what little Power Rangers stuff is in there isn’t done very well.  The suits are freaking terrible, the action scenes are a snooze because everything is in CG, and there’s just no fun or excitement to be had in the dour and overly produced finale.  The thing about Power Rangers (the franchise and not specifically this movie) is that every aspect about them, from the costumes to the weapons to the fight choreography, are all encapsulated within a universe that is rather lighthearted in tone and is aiming to capture a sense of childhood whimsy rather than a gritty sense of reality.  Could a more serious Power Rangers movie work?  Sure I guess, and there are flashes of what could have been done with such a concept in this movie itself, but the movie wants to have its cake of being a darker spin on the material but wants to eat its cake too by clinging desperately to what people remember from that original series and the two do not mesh together at all.

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The Megazord and Goldar both had faces before!  WHY DON’T THEY HAVE FACES NOW!?

There is so much more wrong about this movie that I didn’t even get to talk about; particularly in terms of structure and plotting (How did a cop die on a boat full of people and yet no one notices until the next day?  Isn’t Jason supposed to be under house arrest even his ankle bracelet is modified? How do you base your ENTIRE plot around a McGuffin, yet never DO anything with it in the damn movie!?) , but I think you get the point.  There’s almost nothing here for fans of the original series, and what little they manage to throw in is handled incredibly poorly.  Hell, that movie from 1995 isn’t great but it at least understood its source material!  There’s just not enough here to satisfy fans of the series and there certainly isn’t enough generic action spectacle to impress the undiscerning masses either.  It’s the biggest after school special out there, in that it tries desperately to impress everyone and fails miserably at doing so for anyone.  Saban and Lionsgate already five more suckers planned for this cinematic franchise, even though I doubt that this first movie is gonna be successful enough to warrant that, so there IS a chance for this to be salvaged and turned into something that people would actually want to see instead of this ME TOO derivative crap that’ll appeal to very few people.  I mean… they had four chances with the Transformers and those all ended up being squandered, but you never know!

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