“Go go” to the Power Rangers – but only if you’re a fan of the campy TV show on which it is based.
Yet another Hollywood relaunch, “Power Rangers” follows five California teenagers who are given special abilities to morph into superheroes to protect Earth from galactic conqueror Rita Repulsa.
It’s a potentially repulsing premise to anyone unfamiliar with the Japanese-American series. Still, director Dean Israelite manages his own morphing abilities by creating a relatively serious, touching relaunch, even arousing more emotion than reboot “Kong: Skull Island” and more social commentary than remake “Beauty and the Beast.”
Unfortunately for “Power Rangers,” it’s unlikely such strengths are powerful enough to attract many outside its community of devotees.
The film opens in a similarly small community: Angel Grove, California. Unbeknownst to townspeople, their land was once ground zero for an epic battle between Zordon (Bryan Cranston) and Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) over the Zeo Crystal, which has the power to destroy worlds.
Fast forward to present day, where all-state quarterback Jason (Dacre Montgomery) is losing his own battle – with authorities. He ends up in a “Breakfast Club”-esque detention hall where he meets Billy (RJ Cyler), a techy outcast, and Kimberly (Naomi Scott), a bad-girl cheerleader who can’t handle the power of a mobile phone let alone a “Power Coin.”
The three converge again at a mining site—speaking from experience, kids in small towns will go anywhere to find something mildly fun to do—where they stumble upon loners Zack (Ludi Lin) and Trini (Becky G.) as well as the Power Coin stones that enable their transition from high schoolers to world protectors. See, not everyone needs to go to college to save the planet.
In being chosen, the irresponsible now must take on the responsibility of guarding Earth from the recently, and coincidentally, awakened Repulsa. Like another Power(s) villain out for world domination, she loves gooold, and needs it to extract the Zeo Crystal from Earth, leaving the planet in its wake. The (Austin-less) Power Rangers can stop her – but only if they first can stop their teenage angst from holding them back.
It’s here, in the pull between their new alien abilities and human struggles, where “Power Rangers” gets its power. Jason doesn’t want to be his dad. Kimberly can’t forgive herself for the pain she’s caused others. Billy has autism. Zack fears the loss of his sick mother. And Trini is scared of revealing not her Ranger identity but her sexual one.
In those moments, “Power Rangers” is careful not to get bogged down in being too “dark” or “gritty,” a tendency among superhero films post-“Batman Begins.” It does, however, take itself seriously—a difficult task with such a ridiculous storyline—while maintaining a good amount of levity through appropriately timed high-school humor, with funnyman Bill Hader lending a hand as the voice of Alpha 5, Zordon’s sidekick.
On writing and character development, “Power Rangers” is surprisingly effective. It’s the action scenes that actually prove a little underwhelming—though some of that might be attributable to budget rather than direction.
The teens’ training, for example, lacks any sizeable sense of wonderment, including by the future heroes themselves. They almost appear annoyed they even have to do it—then again, they are teenagers.
And the screen time given to their dinosaur-sized and -modeled “Zords”—used for battling foes of equal or greater height—is far too short. This likely was the result of a production budget that reached only $100 million, with films of similar scope starting around $150 million.
But money isn’t everything. “Power Rangers” still gives a “Mega”-sized payoff for both Ranger strangers who paid the price of admission and for fans of the show, particularly those—this writer included—who have invested in it as far back as 1993.
Whether that proves lucrative enough at the box office to fund the director’s desired six-movie story arc, approving audiences will have to wait and see. Though as the end credits scene shows, there’s plenty of green in the “Power Rangers’” future.
3.5 out of 5