Think of a TV show, movie, or even a toy from the 90s and there’s a good chance it’s being remade or rebooted into a new commercial property right now. Most of these will merit merely a shrug or a passing comment on the original being better. One of those big 90s things attempting a comeback is Power Rangers. It had a reputation as a goofy kids show filled with lame kung fu, but Power Rangers was a multi-billion dollar industry with legions of hardcore fans. So, for many, Dean Israelite’s (Project Almanac) reboot sits somewhere between “Why would they make a blockbuster of that?” and “They’d better get this right”. And, to much surprise, it overcomes low expectations to do the latter. It’s actually kinda good. It’s fun, funny, and it’s not ashamed of what it is or what it wants to be.
That’s a message that it transmits through its story and characters too – be who you want to be; ignore what others say you are. It doesn’t try to be dark and edgy like most other superhero movies out there. It doesn’t feel made just with fanboys in mind, like a Suicide Squad. It doesn’t come across like a 100% conveyor belt product like many Marvel movies (though it’s totally a cash-grab franchise planned commodity). It isn’t dripping with the gloom and toxic masculinity of something like a Batman vs Superman. But that doesn’t mean it’s afraid to think about darker stuff and address issues that might affect teenagers today – illness, mental health, anger, pressure at school and at home, and sexuality. Power Rangers is totally unsubtle about what it wants to talk about – basically staging a group therapy session at one point – but who cares? It’s a movie about teamwork, honesty, being “friends forever!”, and the idea that there’s hope for our young people to save us all (from a vicious, empathy-lacking bully that has an obsession with gold, no less).
The plot is not original in pretty much any sense (in fact Max Landis might strongly point to the similarities between the first halves of this and Chronicle). But it feels like the movie knows that, doesn’t care, and is just looking to have fun with it, while the script also manages to subvert some expectations of the genre. In Power Rangers, ancient aliens leave a great power on Earth. Five diverse, The Breakfast Club-style weekend detention teenagers stumble across that power. They have to learn to work together to defeat a former Power Ranger gone rogue who wants to control the power to create and destroy worlds. Along the way we get the classic ‘learning the extent of newly acquired powers’, a comedy relief robot, a training montage, and a big, town-destroying villain showdown. Put like that, it shouldn’t be as entertaining as it is, but you can’t help but enjoy it.
The main cast all put in decent performances, from lead Red Ranger Jason (Aussie Dacre Montgomery) – who kind of reminds of a young Matt Damon – to Naomi Scott as Kelly the Pink Ranger. RJ Cyler meanwhile, as the on-the-spectrum Billy the Blue Ranger, will probably be the breakout star. The one actor that feels like she’s from a totally different movie is Elizabeth Banks as villain Rita Repulsa. Banks is in full on chewing-the-scenery, hamming it up mode. She is having way more fun they everyone else; like a leftover from the original TV series she changes the movie into something quite different when on screen.
Israelite does a fine job of balancing the varied tones of the movie – from fun, to angst, to action – and actually displays some really nice directorial flourishes. The first transition is surprisingly artful; a chase shot from inside the car while the camera swivels around offers a different take on what otherwise could have been a routine set piece; and an underwater shot is reminiscent of a nature documentary and the cover of Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’. He avoids the standard over-cutting of fight scenes to let the action flow, and the special effects are good quality, but he can lean a little too heavily on the use of slow-mo.
There are parts that are silly and that don’t really make sense. The film somewhat loses its way by the final set piece, and the insertion of the original theme song feels like an overindulgence. But while the recipe for Power Rangers might be one you’ve seen before, there are enough twists on the method and interesting new ingredients to make it fun to snack on.
Director: Dean Israelite
Cast: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Elizabeth Banks
[This post first appeared on Filmblerg]