‘Power Rangers’ doesn’t cut it, go see it anyway

Images courtesy Lionsgate.

4/10 Calling it “Saban’s Power Rangers” doesn’t really do this film justice. For everything wrong with it, the title is what’s going to prevent most people from taking it seriously. It’s so overambitious and dramatic, I really think they should have gone with something like The Rangers in the Rye or Power-dise Lost.

Power Rangers follows five teenagers with attitude stuck in a life of Saturday school in dreary Angel Grove, the kind of drive-through town that escaped wealth even with its healthy fishing industry and large gold mine. While fooling around in the mine for a variety of reasons, Jason Scott, Kimberly Hart, Billy Cranston, Zack Taylor and Trini Kwan (Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Ludy Lin and Becky G) discover colorful power coins that grant them fantastic abilities. The teens soon discover they have joined a long heritage of warriors sworn to protect all life in the universe, and they must learn how to morph in preparation for the return of the fallen green ranger, Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks).

Power Rangers is what it is. It’s a dramatic reboot cut from the same cloth as Jurassic World or the 2014 Godzilla, but also from the same cloth as the 2015 Fantastic Four and Warcraft, a sad blend of rigid production guidelines, commercial nostalgia and inspired filmmaking. It’s Darker and Grittier for the kids who made the franchise a cultural icon, now in our mid-twenties and having lived through the Batman Begins shift toward what studios are calling “realism,” it’s paced like lightning for kids today, and it’s got that Guardians of the Galaxy jukebox element to keep everyone else entertained.

Lionsgate has seen the original show’s inclusiveness with black far eastern characters and raised it Hispanic, gay and autistic characters, the latter two being hailed as firsts for superhero movies.

Taken as a whole, the movie doesn’t work. Its tone shifts so often and so violently viewers will be lucky if they don’t leave the theater with a sore neck, and the shaky cam gets really old really fast. The pace is pushed to the point that I’m getting about half of what I want out of most scenes, leaving me with the distinct impression that there’s a stronger, probably 10-20 minutes longer version of this somewhere on the editing room floor.

Still, Power Rangers accomplishes its stated goal of taking this ridiculous, monster-of-the-week Saturday morning cartoon in which the faces under the helmets never really mattered and turning it into something character-driven.

As much as Power Rangers is about dinozords and morphin’ time, it’s about being a teenager and breaking free from that adolescent restlessness. It’s got the best visual representation I’ve ever seen of the teenage immortality complex. There are even overtones of sex anxiety around their powers as they rush to morph for the first time and are chided by Repulsa when they cannot.

In this version, the rangers can only access their armor by being emotionally united with each other, and their training revolves around getting to know each other as much as it revolves around kicking through rock monsters. This segment, which is reduced to just a few scenes, is where the film misses most of its opportunity. There’s enough pre-existing attachment to the red, blue and pink rangers to carry the emotion, but this is the segment where it could have really delved into these people in a way that still drove the plot and forced them to confront themselves and each other and their fears on the cusp of adulthood. Instead, we just get a canned campfire scene.

This sequence also could have gone deeper into their martial arts training, an element of the movie that stands out as a weak point in a world of Bourne movies, Raid movies and Marvel and DC’s excellent, action-packed television shows.

It also rather obviously suffers from comparison to Joseph Kahn’s excellent 2015 fan short, which is everything this movie wanted to be. It could even be the end goal Lionsgate is working toward, for all I know.

Repulsa also stands out as a fantastic character that I wanted to see more of. Banks has an absolute blast as the grotesque, completely psychotic character who spends most of the movie savagely murdering Angel Grove residents for their teeth. Sadly, she’s vaguely written and sparingly used and we never get to actually see her attacks, another missed opportunity for a movie that wants to be Dark and Gritty.

So while Power Rangers is not a great movie or even a great execution of its core concepts, it definitely demonstrates the potential of reboots that are this wild with their source material. This is a weak movie, but it has the potential to be a weak episode in a strong series. I want this movie to be successful, and I want to see all those five sequels they’ve got planned for it.

Well, maybe two or three of them.

Leopold Knopp is a professional film critic, licensed massage therapist, syndicated columnist at the Lewisville Texan Journal and journalism student at the University of North Texas. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@gmail.com.

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