Every new would-be reboot of a long-running franchise faces the same challenge: honor what long time fans love, while still refreshing the brand in an attractive way for a new generation of potential fans. Few reboots get the balance right; the new vision of the Power Rangers (barely) gets by, thanks to a talented young cast, and a bit of substantive character drama to go along with all the silly neon superheroics.
The film takes us to Angel Grove, where we meet Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery), high school football star / all-around popular hunk - who decides to throw away his so-called perfect world for a wild joyride that ends badly. Jason ends up in his school's detention ward, where he has a Breakfast Club-style meet-cute with two other misfits: "On the spectrum" wiz-kid Billy Cranston (RJ Cyler), and fallen-from-grace popular girl, Kimberly Hart (Naomi Scott).
Fate draws the three kids out to a woodland quarry where Billy's late father was investigating strange energy readings. There, they stumble upon two other outcasts: wild child Zack (Ludi Lin) and sardonic loner, Trini (Becky G). That awkward group introduction takes a turn for the weird, when the kids discover five colored gems hidden in the mountain. When the gems give each of them superhuman powers, they return to the site looking for answers, and instead discover an entire destiny they can hardly believe.
However, the kids' individual issues keep them from reaching their full potential as the Power Ranger team they're meant to be. And when an ancient foe of The Rangers awakens, all of Angel Grove (and Earth) is put in danger.
The new film from Project Almanac director Dean Isrealite, Power Rangers is a shepherd's pie of a film: various leftovers from famous teen-dramas, thrown together under a flaky superhero movie crust, slathered in a gravy of origin story tropes, (half-)baked in an oven of bright colors and served as if new. Narratively, it's way unbalanced and ploddingly slow; however, the visuals are pretty; the main cast's ensemble dynamic (plus a scene-stealing villain from Elizabeth Banks) is fun; and a hefty dose of fan-service nostalgia helps this new Power Rangers clear the bar, and earn a shot a larger franchise.
Paradoxically, the film's greatest strength and weakness is the teen drama story that drives it. The positive is that we actually get to know (most) of the Rangers in a very intimate and interesting way; but a negative is that the female Rangers get way less development than the three male ones. The story of the team discovering their powers, and forging their bond, has a great "Chronicle meets Breakfast Club" vibe; but way too much screentime (2.5 out of 3 acts) is dedicated to that dramatic arc. The new versions of the Power Rangers, their Zords, their allies and foes, all play well onscreen; but too little time is given to the superhero action people wants to see. In other words: the film is a mixed bag.
As stated, the young cast is pretty good for the most part, with the clear standouts being RJ Cyler's Billy (who carries a lot of the film), and Ludi Lin's Zack, who brings a wild, livewire energy to the group. Dacre Montgomery looks eerily like a Zac Efron clone (i.e., good for the ladies), and of the "old pros" helping to support the youngsters, and bolster the superhero silliness: Elizabeth Banks pretty much stars in her own wicked witch horror flick - one that is wonderfully frightening (had a young child walkout in my screening), but tonally out of step with the rest of the film. Bill Hader's Alpha 5 does a pretty good job dropping winking meta-humor callouts, but Bryan Cranston's Zordon isn't that likable, as a curmudgeonly mentor. It's hard to take the enjoyment out of Cranston's soft, baritone tones, but Power Rangers definitely finds a way to do just that.
Unfortunately, the film invests so much time and effort in its team-building, teen-angst story that the actual climatic battle with the full-fledged Power Rangers feels rushed, unearned, and ultimately unimpressive. Beyond the giddy moments of fan-service nostalgia and Easter eggs (which are delivered by the basket full), the action is just your basic, CGI-filled stunt choreography, made even less impressive by the amount of Star Wars-style shots of the actors sitting in what are clearly hollow cockpits (The Zords), surrounded by green screens. A big-budget modern Power Rangers movie shouldn't draw comparison to the shoddy spliced footage techniques of the '90s show, but here we are...
In the end, Power Rangers is somewhere on a level above, say, Ninja Turtles, but below something like the first Transformers film. It'll be a good time for hardcore fans of the franchise (keep your eyes peeled for Easter eggs, cameos, and a sick mid-credits tease!); but beyond that, it's hard to peg which crowds the film will appeal to. Too much CW-style teen drama for superhero fans; too much superhero nonsense for the John Hughes crowd. Too scary for young kids; too childish for grownups; yet just weird enough to work... sort of. No worries if you pass up the theatrical experience: a Netflix or cable TV viewing will get you all caught up, just in time for the next (and hopefully improved) installment to arrive.
Power Rangers is now opening in theaters everywhere. It is 2 hours 4 minutes long, and rated Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, language, and for some crude humor.
The film came into opening weekend with a very solid 3.59/5 ranking in our user Anticipation Ratings - but now it's time to actually rate your viewing experience after seeing the film! Be sure to let us know how much you like (or hated) it, by rating it for yourself, below!
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