Posted March 26, 2017 by Daniel Hodgson in
Halfway into a two hour plus film, Power Rangers stopped being fun. It started taking itself seriously. And then it gets really weird…
Ask me 30 minutes into Power Rangers, and I’d tell you how entertaining it is. It’s a fun movie, actually. Ask me about an hour in, and I’d tell you to wait till it comes to Redbox, or skip it all together. So, what happened? It morphed, and into something mighty awful.
The film is based on the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers TV show of the 1990s, if you’ll recall. Five racially diverse teenagers piloted five giant dinosaur robots called “Zords” that came together to form an even bigger robot called the “Megazord” which fought godzilla monsters. Perhaps I googled that, or it may be that I watched it in my teens because I had a crush on Amy Jo Johnson, the Pink Power Ranger. I’ll let you guess which.
It’s been 25 years since the show debuted on the Fox network. Cross-generational interest gives Power Rangers box office appeal, at least in theory: people my age looking for a nostalgia-fix, teens attracted to a cast that’s their own age group, and kids aching to watch a robots-vs-monsters movie (not to mention that Breaking Bad fans might come for Bryan Cranston, who was a voice actor for the Power Rangers TV show).
So it’s no wonder the film got the greenlight from Lionsgate, the studio behind Twilight and Hunger Games. They’re not Fox or Disney, or for that matter, Warner Bros (or even Sony). They don’t currently have a major comic property per se, but they’ve owned the YA market for years, catapulting the studio into the majors. And in a comic-book dominated marketplace, it’s necessary to market the teenaged Power Rangers as superheroes, and envision them accordingly. It’s not a stretch; they have secret identities and super powers (at least, in this iteration), and battle a super evil that Joe Average could not. Consequently, the Power Rangers once again see the silver screen.
And for the first half, it works. Unlike Pacific Rim, a joyful robots-vs.-monsters movie which had no idea how dumb it was, Power Rangers is a sarcastic, self-aware romp that knows exactly how ridiculous it is, and wears it like a badge of honor. “Have any of you ever morphed?” Zordon (Cranston) asks, a Wizard of Oz floating head -type character who inhabits the team’s headquarters, guiding the teens through the film’s fantasy world. “Yes, but only in the shower,” Zack, the Black Power Ranger responds.
For the first 60 minutes, the theater at my screening was filled with laughter, including my own. But halfway into a two hour plus film, Power Rangers stopped being fun. It started taking itself seriously, like The Fault in Our Stars seriously. Contemporary issues crop up. Sexting. Sexual Identity. And then it gets really weird.
The Rangers are Jason, Kimberly, Billy, Zack, and Trini, the Red, Pink, Blue, Black, and Yellow Rangers, played by Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Ludi Lin, and Becky G., respectively. Jason is the leader, the high school’s disgraced ex quarterback. Kimberly is an ex-cheerleader implicated in the aforementioned sexting scandal. Billy is the group’s black dude and high-functioning autistic. Zack is Asian, and it seems off-his-rocker. As for Trini, there’s something she’s keeping from her family.
As characters, they’re more real than their TV counterparts ever were, or were meant to be, dealing with real (and controversial) issues. They are likable characters portrayed by better performers than the film deserves. They meet one Saturday morning in detention, but discover their common destiny at a nearby abandoned mine, where they find magical coins which give them super strength and nigh invulnerability. But that won’t be enough. To be victorious in the final battle, the teens must learn to “morph” into the Power Rangers by materializing armor onto their bodies, but to do so, they must come together as a team and learn to accept each other as friends.
That, however, is the problem with the films itself. Power Rangers never gels. While the self-seriousness and self-deprecating tones collide with one another, a serial killer subplot runs off in its own direction. That’s right, the villain from the children’s TV show, called Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) is now a serial killer. Her scenes look like they’re borrowed from a J-horror movie. I can’t go further without spoilers, but it’s worth mentioning: she’s a lesbian, and attempts to seduce one of the Ranger’s underage members in a wildly over-the-top Nightmare on Elm Street scene. There’s no other way to put this: wtf?
Then there’s the product placements. The endless mentions of Krispy Kreme donuts. I kid you not when I say that the climax takes place at a local franchise, which grinds to a halt while the film’s villain stops to eat a donut, easily the lowest moment in the film’s running time.
Does it even matter, then, that the film’s biggest shortcoming is as a Power Rangers movie? There’s two requirements: fantasy martial arts fights, and robots-vs.-monsters battles, and Power Rangers fails at both. A montage is dedicated to the teens in training, and the entire film is about the Rangers morphing into the damn armor suites and finally kicking some ass, but they wear for all of about two underwhelming minutes (and why don’t they have weapons per the TV show?). As for the Zords, there’s not on screen long, and you can barely tell what they’re supposed to be, making the film look like an inept Transformers knockoff.
And so now my task is to assign a single star rating to a movie that essentially has two. The first half might be a B- or 3.5 stars, but the second half is abysmal. Therefore, 2 stars out of 5. But hey, there’s still Voltron and Neon Genesis Evangelion. Plenty of giant robots out there…