Saban’s Power Rangers brings the Power Rangers to the big screen for their 3rd appearance and the first since 1997. This was a “reboot” that nobody asked for, but it was one that worked. This film brings a creative reimagining of the classic warriors that took their classic origin story with a modern twist on both the characters and the story. The result of this ambitious adventure is a super hero movie with the feel of a coming of age tale, which is a whole lot of fun for the audience.
There has been mixed response to the darker and grittier tone due to the expectations and history of the light and cheery rangers of old. However, while this film tackles far more serious issues and is not afraid to go after realistic problems for the modern era, but it never forgets what it is and stays true to itself.
There were announcements before the movie that it would be taking on two serious issues that are rarely represented in film or popular culture. The Yellow Ranger, Trini (Becky G.) is referenced to being a lesbian, making her the first gay super hero represented in film. However, Trini is not overtly a gay superhero, instead she is a super hero, who like many of us, feels out-of-place within her family. There is a subtlety to the subject that is handled eloquently and with class in a way that makes sense within the tone of the film in a relatable way. The other issue which is made known early on, is that the Blue Ranger, Billy Cranston (delightfully played by R.J. Cyler) is “on the spectrum”. When Cranston makes this declaration early on to the Red Ranger, Jason (Dacre Montgomery) responds with a joke asking if that is “a new workout plan or something” which Billy does not understand. That is the last time that this is mentioned, and again it is handled with class and dignity. There are a lot of ways they could have made this aspect of the character over the top and disrespectful, but instead it does so in a way that makes it one subtle part of the most likable and charismatic character in the film. The other rangers deal with issues of their own, such as cyber bullying, a dying mother, and an abusive father, but in a way that develops the characters and gives them motivation for their actions.
The cast which is comprised of young and relatively unknown actors as our Rangers with Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Banks and Bill Hader (voice) as the supporting cast around them. Hader’s Alpha-5 may not go down as one of the greatest droids we have seen in film but brings some timely humor to the training sessions, as well as an ability to advance the plot by explaining the Rangers extensive history and backstory to the team without dumbing down the story for the audience. Zordon, former Red Ranger and leader of the Rangers, served as the team’s current advisor. Instead of the standard moral guidance and almost God-like nature of the character, this incarnation brings a more realistic aspect to the character. Cranston, of course brings a sense of gravitas and power to this character for the younger actors to play off of. He has an arc himself that sees him going from having a hidden agenda and selfish cause with good reason, to having the most selfless and moving moment of the film. After spending much of the movie trying to open the morphing force to bring himself back to life to fight Rita, he instead brings back Billy, stating that “there could only be one”. He shows a sense of leadership that not only is important to his own character but also the development of Jason, the new Red Ranger.
Elizabeth Banks gives a portrayal of the villain Rita Repulsa that many have described as “hamming it up”. However, she clearly is having fun in the role as she sinks her teeth into every aspect of Rita as she tries to take over the universe in a way that would make any fan of the 90’s series proud. She is truly grotesque in this role and seems to take delight in that, as she disgusts every every character she shares a screen with, almost all of whom she either brutally maims or kills, or threatens to do so. She serves as a legitimate threat to the team and is as intimidating to them mentally as she is physically. She gives them a cause to grow and to bond as a team as well as to get stronger and adapt as warriors. She constantly gives them new challenges as she throws “putties” at them before unleashing Goldar which she eventually takes control of herself. She is not given a lot of depth in terms of background but she is given a solid motivation in her attempt to take over the universe and is built as a valuable threat to our newly minted Rangers.
The 5 rangers brought to life in this film are Zack (Ludi Lin), Kimberly (Naomi Scott), Trini, Billy, and Jason as the Black, Pink, Yellow, Blue, and Red Rangers respectively. These 5 actors are all relative newcomers to the acting scene but you would not know it by their portrayals in this film. They take on serious issues in a lighthearted manor, and even more so they truly seem to like one another. That is incredibly important to these roles as they are playing kids who were outsiders and not only become super heroes but also become best friends. That is a strong theme throughout this film, these are kids that for one reason or another are outcasts, but together they are stronger, and their chemistry reflected that at times it seemed we would get a full fledged Breakfast Club moment announcing each member of the team with their role and stereotype they possess. The movie had the feel of a coming of age movie because of the depth of these characters. We saw what they struggled with and what they overcame, and we saw them grow. Jason, is the leader of the Rangers and grows immensely throughout this film. We first see him getting into trouble pulling a prank on the school and getting in trouble and ruining his football career. His first interaction with another Ranger is when he protects Billy who is being bullied in detention. We also see him bond with Kim early on over their hatred for Angel Grove and their desire to live. Throughout their time it is Jason who constantly is looking out for the team and feels responsible for their protection. Zordon keeps referring to his failures, which we see his father do in nearly every interaction they have. This failure we have seen, makes his success later in the movie that much powerful. While Jason is clearly defined as the leader and his role among the Rangers reflects that, it is Billy that is the heart and soul of the team. Billy is the one who finds the coins that give them their powers, he is the reason that they are there, he is the reason they find Zordon’s ship, he locates the Zeo Crystal, he is the first one to morph, and it is his death that inspires the rest of the Rangers and finally gives them the ability to morph. It is safe to see he is the leg that the Rangers stand on and he brings a light heartedness and sense of humor to the team at times when everybody else is dark and gritty. Kim is an interesting character because her tragic story is that she was a cyber bully and she is now resented for it. When this is revealed late in the film, you are filled with an amalgamation of emotion because you feel bad for her, but also you see blatantly her mistake and that it is her fault. It is that conversation with Jason where he states that “just because you did an awful thing doesn’t make you an awful person” that summarizes her story and gives her closure in her role on the team, it is a powerful moment for the character and for the audience. Trini was the ranger that was the most reclusive going in, playing the outsider role, being the one who nobody knew about. She started out wanting not to be known, but by the end of the movie she was as much a part of the team as anyone. She also became a key part of the plot when Rita snuck into her room and threatening her life and telling her plan to take over the world. It was at this point where she showed her loyalty to the team by choosing their safety over her own. She showed growth and development throughout this film going from aloof to a part of the team and becoming a bonafide hero. Zack was the character that was given the least amount of material to work with but still was a well developed character that had powerful moments with and talking about his dying mother. If only he had been given the chance to show off his dance moves like the Zack of old! Power Rangers spent much of the film developing its’ characters and it proved worthwhile in giving its’ characters proper motivation and true development in a way that many blockbuster films do not.
The action was well performed and well shot, and well paced. As opposed to many movies that try to get as much action as possible and show their hand early on, Power Rangers was patient in its’ action. It kept the action scenes to a minimum and get more value out of them because of that. We see good training sequences and a few fight scenes before the morphin’ ever happens. Due to that build up, and the knowingness of what is coming, it makes the moment where Jason finally declares that it is morphin’ time much more powerful. Once we see the Rangers in full gear we get good action sequences before moving to the Zords and finally morphing into the Megazord. It is a moment that is incredibly obvious, yet no less amazing to watch due to the wonderful build up and beautiful visual effects, even if you weren’t a fan of the original incarnations.
All in all, Saban’s Power Rangers gives an accurate depiction of the story that any fan of the originals can be proud of, including cameos from the original cast and a post credit scene that will make any Power Rangers fan glimmer with happiness. It stays true to its’ original characters as well as the story that was told. It even goes as far as to have Zordon give the same rules to the new Rangers that he did in the pilot episode in 1993. While Angel Grove may look significantly different now, it is like other things have never changed. The origin of the Rangers stays largely true as well as the stones that give them their powers and the rest of their morphin’ mythos.
Director Dean Israelite does a wonderful job mixing the old with the new, staying true to the story in theme and in tone while giving it a gritty modern feel. It is amazingly cheesy at moments as a Power Rangers film must be, while having enough substance to stand on its’ own two feet. The young and diverse cast more than bring their share of personality to their characters in a way that makes them some of the most relatable super heroes we have ever seen. Due to that, we get an action filled story with well developed characters that should please new and old fans alike. It is a movie that is able to go from the original “Go Go Power Rangers” theme song to Kanye West’s “Power” in a way that doesn’t make you think twice, and I think that says enough. All in all Power Rangers was as much like The Breakfast Club as it was like The Avengers and the result is an incredibly enjoyable movie experience.
TDN Rating: 8.5/10