RJ Cyler, Dacre Montgomery, Becky G., Ludi Lin and Naomi Scott in Power Rangers (Kimberly French)
Full disclosure: As a child of the ‘90s, I was far more partial to the madcap absurdity of the WB Cartoon lineup (“Animaniacs,” “Freakazoid,” etc.) than I was to the spandex-and-fisticuffs antics of the esteemed Power Rangers franchise. Therefore, I went into Haim Saban’s slick repackaging with little baggage – or expectations. It’s hard to say whether this fact made me enjoy the film more or less.
The Power Rangers began its life as a cynical product, cutting together pre-existing footage from the Japanese show “Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger” alongside micro-budget insert shot in the states to weave together the story of five (eventually six) good-looking teenagers who are imbued with superpowers, colorful costumes and the ability to pilot giant battle mechs in an effort to combat intergalactic evil. The new version, directed with limited charm but high technical proficiency by Dean Israelite (Project Almanac), tows roughly the same line, as we are quickly introduced to edgy jock Jason Scott/Red Ranger (Dacre Montgomery), depressed naif Kimberly Hart/Pink Ranger (Naomi Scott), badass punk Zack/Black Ranger (Ludi Lin), dorky genius Billy/Blue Ranger (RJ Cyler) and damaged cypher Trini/Yellow Ranger (Becky G.).
As you see above, most of the characters are drawn in rather thin terms, but they get the general point across. Montgomery convincingly fills a rather Zac Efron-esque role, putting up a pretty believable chemistry with Cyler’s twitchy, believably autistic Billy. Eventually, through a confluence of fairly standard plot points, the two end up in an old abandoned mine on the same night as the rest of the gang (conveniently). A mysterious meteor is unearthed, giving the kids both their powers and their assigned colors. After some Chronicle-esque strength-discovery sequences, the group encounters extra-dimensional being Zordon (Bryan Cranston) – his consciousness having been implanted into a sentient wall by wacky robot sidekick Alpha 5 (Bill Hader).
From that point on, anyone who’s ever seen a tentpole movie could guess the rest. The kids have to train themselves mentally and physically in preparation for the arrival of Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), an ancient witch who aims to create a giant monster out of gold for some reason. Eventually, the kids form deep bonds of friendship, learn lessons and become the Power Rangers, each now equipped with a special suit that trades in quasi-sheer fabric for sweet Iron Man-style body armor. They hop into their massive Zord robots and do battle with Rita and Goldar with the fate of their provincial town hanging in the balance.
Power Rangers does not break the mold, re-invent the wheel or even step outside the box. But when its source material did none of those things itself, can I really fault this new version for sticking to the playbook? Plus, there are bright spots: the aforementioned Cyler steals the show, but Scott delivers a fairly understated performance as Kimberly, and Lin conjures up a palpably wily bro with his turn as Zack. Faring less well are Becky G., whose Trini gets totally lost in the mix, as well as the usually-great Banks, who chews all the scenery as the already ridiculous Repulsa. The character dynamics generally work, but the action itself feels a bit lackluster – probably owing the movie’s budget, which feels significantly lower than, say, any of Michael Bay’s explosive Transformers installments.
Overall, however, as someone with little to no familiarity with Power Rangers lore, I left the theater largely entertained. The 2017 Rangers iteration was harmless, poppy and had the decency not to be three hours long. In these days of over-bloated blockbusters, that’s a win in my book.
Now in theaters
Films are rated on a scale of 5 stars (must-see), 4 stars (exceptional), 3 stars (solid), 2 stars (average) and 1 star (unworthy).