For nearly 24 years the Power Rangers have faced hundreds of tough enemies. Rita Repulsa, Peckster, Queen Bansheera, Mesogog, Emperor Gruumm, Disney and (a brief) cancellation. Today they face their toughest challenge yet – a big budget modern re-imagining. In time where seemingly everything is getting one reboot or another, is Lionsgate’s take on the beloved franchise Morphinominal, or is it another “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?”
Saban’s Mighty Morphin Power Rangers TV show premiered on August 28, 1993. Combing action scenes from a long running Japanese tokusatsu show named Super Sentai (or more specifically Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger) and newly filmed footage of American actors, the show was a beautiful (albeit cheesy) mashup of karate, foam monsters and lessons of the day. Unlike anything seen before on television, the show became an instant success. Merchandise flew off of shelves, a show at Universal Studios blocked traffic for ten miles, and kids everywhere suddenly became playground karate experts.
Since August 1993, the world has rarely found itself without a team of Power Rangers. Every year, the show reinvents itself with a new team of Rangers (courtesy of Super Sentai’s ever-changing roster). Dozens of teams, and hundreds of Rangers later, we arrive here; at the franchise’s third theatrical outing, which also marks the first “reboot” of the series (the 1995 film was an alternate take of what would be the beginning of the third season, and Turbo, well, we don’t talk much about Turbo.)
While the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was entrenched in the early 90’s, the reboot has brought the teenagers with attitude well into the 21st century. The movie does a great job of updating the story and characters for modern times. Gone are the totally one dimensional traits such as “Jock,” “Nerd” or “Valley Girl.” The team is introduced with more depth than that of their television counterparts. The once tight-knit group of 5 BFF’s are no more. These are 5 people from different walks of life who have to come together.
AHEAD THERE BE SPOILERS – SCROLL DOWN IF YOU WANT THE SPOILER FREE REVIEW
Our Red Ranger Jason is played by Dacre Montgomery. Jason is the former star quarterback who has fallen from grace. He clashes with his dad (David Denman) about his future after his run in with the law. (Jason’s dad, Sam also happens upon the mummified body of Rita while out on his fishing boat.) Naomi Scott’s Kimberly is a former “queen bee” who has fallen from status.RJ Cyler as Billy absolutely steals the show. Though we learn early on that he’s autistic, he’s not played as the butt of jokes for it. His character is the heart and soul of the movie, and is a delight.
Becky G’s Trini and Judi Lin’s Zack seem to take more of a backseat during the movie. Outside of having some problems at home and not a lot of friends, we never see a lot of development for either. There also aren’t many moments where the two of them “click” with Jason, Billy and Kim. They seem almost ushered in to bring us to five Rangers.
The show has always embraced a theme of diversity and unity. Regular kids could envision themselves as heroes. The movie continues this by having Trini be the franchise’s first openly gay character, and having Billy fall on the autism spectrum, both risks the television show aren’t necessarily able to take.
The film’s supporting cast boasts some big names. Bryan Cranston plays wise sage Zordon, who, in this version, has moved his giant floating head out of a tube and onto a wall. Supporting Zordon in his efforts is his trusty assistant Alpha 5, voiced (and mo-capped) by Bill Hader. The pair train the Power Rangers to fight Zordon’s nemesis and former Green Ranger Rita Repulsa. Rita is no longer dubbed footage of Japanese actress Machiko Soga – here she’s played by Elizabeth Banks, posing a more direct threat to our Rangers.
After Rita returns, it is up to our 5 heroes to learn to embrace their destiny, morph, and become the new Power Rangers.
SPOILER FREE SECTION BEGINS
While generally paced well, one struggle the movie has is tone. At times, its fun, campy and silly (Rita takes a moment to eat a Krispy Kreme doughnut, or Zack crashes his zord). Other times, it’s heavy or serious (Zack’s mom has a terminal illness, or Rita apparently mutilates a bum for a gold tooth.) I don’t know if going from the reported original cut of 3 1/2 hours to the theatrical cut has lead to the off putting pace or not.
The film shares a complaint I had with the 2015 Fantastic Four reboot – which was that each act seemed to be its own movie. Power Rangers has a fun “Breakfast Club”-esque first act, a “Superhero-Action” third act, and an odd “silly but really serious you guys” second act. A great example of clashing tone is when we see the Dinozords triumphantly roll into battle and the “Power Rangers theme;” ripped straight out of the 1995 movie blares. By this point the theme seems out of place with the tone of the movie.
Much like the TV show, things happen for plot convenience, such a Rita being found at the exact same time the coins are,
The movie features plenty of nods to longtime fans of the show. Street names in Angel Grove being references to cities in various Power Ranger series, a blink and you’ll miss it Putty, Finster and Squatt Figure or a cameo featuring Amy Jo Johnson and Jason David Frank (the original Kimberly and Tommy, respectively) you can tell the movie was written not just as a reboot, but as a love letter to fans of the long running series.
If you’re a fan of the original series, you’ll more than likely find yourself enjoying the reboot. If you never enjoyed karate and giant robot dinosaurs, this reboot probably won’t do much to sway you otherwise.
So hop in your Megazord or teleport to your nearest theater to go go watch this movie – Saban’s Power Rangers opens today and is playing in theaters nationwide.