Back in 2015, a dark and gritty fan film called Power/Rangers released on YouTube and Vimeo, showcasing a more adult-specific take on long-running Japanese live-action show franchise, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, or Super Sentai as it’s known in its native Japan. This fan film was remarkably well-received, though despite that, it was quickly taken down, due to a copyright claim by Mighty Morphin Power Rangers license holders, Saban Entertainment, much to the anger of those who made it and those who watched it.
If there was good to come out of the casualty of Power/Rangers though, it was the inspiration for Saban to partner with Lionsgate so that they could produce a true gritty film reboot of the Power Rangers franchise, despite the TV shows, comics and other such tie-in canon for both Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Super Sentai alike still being ongoing to this day. Much like with Paramount’s Star Trek film franchise and the ongoing Star Trek television lore, the idea seems to be balancing two separate universes and series timelines as story foundations, one for the movies, and another for television.
Thus we have Saban’s Power Rangers, a movie courting both adult fans who grew up on various incarnations of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers from its prime in the 90’s, and tween/teen newcomers who can discover these fan-favourite characters for the first time. It’s pretty obvious that Power Rangers is just the latest in the line of calculated dark reboots for young adult target audiences then, something that has become particularly popular for Hollywood to adapt lately, though at least some of the goofy, unlikely magic of the franchise is still present in Power Rangers.
If you grew up on the franchise especially, Power Rangers is a fairly good time, and doesn’t start its inevitable series of movies on a bad note. Being yet another dark re-envisioning of a beloved license though, the movie also suffers from dry periods of awkward teen melodrama that doesn’t always work, along with surprisingly little featuring of the actual Power Rangers. It’s pretty clear that this first movie is pulling punches and saving tricks for its hopeful sequels, so bear in mind that Lionsgate and Saban aren’t too concerned with hitting the ground running with this first offering.
In going back to basics, we have redesigned incarnations of the original Power Rangers from the series’ beginnings in the 90’s headlining Power Rangers. For those unaware, that means that the movie stars: Red Ranger, Jason Scott, played by Dacre Montgomery, Pink Ranger, Kimberly Hart, played by Naomi Scott, Blue Ranger, Billy Cranston, played by RJ Cyler, Yellow Ranger, Trini Kwan, played by Becky G, and Black Ranger, Zack Taylor, played by Ludi Lin. As with the series’ origins on television, these five begin as teenagers living in the small town of Angel Grove, only in Power Rangers, they’re extra angsty and have even more attitude.
Fortunately, one thing that Power Rangers does pretty well is making its lead ensemble more grounded and relatable. All five of the would-be Rangers begin as troubled teens, but many of their troubles come from a recognizable and real place. This means that, when the drama works with these characters, it really works, especially for older viewers who have already gone through their teenage years. The original television series, by contrast, portrayed its Rangers as more idealistic and brave, heroes to fully aspire to. In the reboot, they’re more like a bunch of misfits that come together through extraordinary circumstances, and have to learn to work as a team. Yes, it’s a page pretty obviously ripped from Marvel’s playbook, but hey, if it ain’t broke, and all that.
Like I said though, some may be disappointed that the actual Power Ranger moments are pretty much entirely limited to the climax. This whole first movie is spent on establishing the more human side of the lead characters, which is welcome and necessary, but that also means that we have to fill up most of this first movie with character foundations that are obviously meant to sustain future movies. Thinking ahead is well and good, but if you’re coming specifically for the campy Mighty Morphin Power Rangers appeal, you’d best reset your expectations a bit, especially since not every effort to modernize the characters is a universal success. I can’t go into these character updates much for want of avoiding spoilers, but it’s not hard to spot the points where Power Rangers fumbles its character development, and comes dangerously close to making its leads angsty to the point of being unlikable.
There’s been similar big changes in the characters of Power Rangers mentor, Zordon, now played by Bryan Cranston (who famously provided English voiceovers for a couple of classic Mighty Morphin Power Rangers monsters on the TV series, plus also provided the naming basis for the Blue Ranger), and Alpha 5, who is voiced by Bill Hader, as well. Much like the Rangers, Zordon and Alpha 5 were very idealized and light-hearted in the TV series, to the point where Zordon was specifically requesting, “Teenagers with attitude” to save the world. In the case of Power Rangers though, Zordon is a reconstructed alien that is just as cynical and pessimistic as his team, thinking that Earth is doomed, and having to be won over. By contrast, Alpha 5 is still a little more chipper and light-hearted, but even he is more snarky and sardonic here, being just as initially unimpressed at the idea of human Power Rangers as Zordon.
If this all sounds too self-serious and heavy for a Power Rangers movie, then you’ll at least be happy to know that Elizabeth Banks steals the movie and runs with it as its lead villain, Rita Repulsa, now heavily re-envisioned as a former alien Power Ranger who is seeking a powerful artifact to gain unimaginable power, because it’s all about power in this franchise, obviously. Banks seems to be the one person making a concerted effort to keep things in the recognizably campy form of classic Mighty Morphin Power Rangers media (Hader tries too in fairness, to a somewhat lesser extent), as she wonderfully chews scenery and dominates every scene she appears in, now portraying a more monstrous and violent Rita who is no longer a screechy-voiced dimwit that impotently hides on the moon with a bunch of idiot sidekicks, but engages the Power Rangers in direct combat to the death without breaking a sweat. Making Rita a more vicious and active direct threat is probably the best decision made by Power Rangers, especially when Banks is so much fun to watch in the role. More than the Power Rangers themselves, it’s her that you’ll want to see coming back for the sequels most of all!
Through Rita, we also get another classic villain resurrected in the form of Goldar, formerly Rita’s right-hand monster in the classic TV series, who is now re-envisioned as a colossal golden titan that more or less serves as Rita’s own ‘Zord’ than an actual sidekick. Oh yes, the Zords, dinosaur-themed mechs that the Rangers drive to fight the bigger monsters, do appear in Power Rangers, as does their combined OG form, Megazord, which the marketing already gave away at length, though as with the Power Ranger transformations, they have disappointingly little screentime in this first movie. You at least get to see a bit more of Rita’s classic Putty Patrollers, now redesigned as huge golems formed from any terra firma substance in the area, but it doesn’t completely allay the thirst for more true Power Ranger battles.
The balance between light-hearted ass-kicking and credible teen drama certainly isn’t realized perfectly here, since Power Rangers pretty blatantly favours the drama over the fun, sometimes to its detriment. That said, after the stubborn demands of establishment in this first movie, there is a fair amount of indication that these personalities could keep getting better and more appealing in follow-ups.
As much as the more grounded new leads have their moments of genuine heart, and do eventually manage to come together into a worthy new spin on the Power Rangers, it’s difficult to deny that Power Rangers does have a very blatantly by-the-numbers storyline. A bunch of misfit teens accidentally discover an alien spaceship, which contains an alien force and his robot sidekick, being granted five ‘Power Morphers’ that grant them incredible abilities like super-strength and superhuman leaping, but can’t be used to their full potential until everyone learns to work as a team. They have to do it quickly too, because a villain is moving towards the big macguffin that will allow her to conquer the planet, and eventually the universe. It’s a very bare-bones plot that feels more like a story foundation than a fully fleshed-out storyline, and as far as superhero movies go, you really can’t get more basic than this in terms of the storytelling. That’s a big problem when most superhero movies of today have become so rich and ambitious in their own storytelling!
Like I said, Power Rangers is aggressively content to be a ‘first chapter’ movie, with Saban even admitting recently that they and Lionsgate had already sketched out plans for six movies even before Power Rangers hit theatres! It’s obvious too, since the character establishment and development completely founds Power Rangers more than anything else, while the true power and potential behind the Rangers, along with the true intricacies of their history in this rebooted film franchise, are being frustratingly held to ransom in hopes that they can be explored in a follow-up movie. Considering the rich, if ludicrous lore behind this franchise, there’s a lot of story potential that Power Rangers just doesn’t fully tap, as it seems more interested in being a brooding teen soap for most of its runtime, rather than an enjoyable action flick. If you’re coming for the teen drama, that’s fair enough, but if you’re expecting, you know, Power Rangers in your Power Rangers movie, then the shallow, frequently listless storytelling is kind of a bummer, at least until things get enjoyably crazy for the climactic battle.
Power Rangers is directed by Dean Israelite, whose only other feature film credit is the decent, but forgettable Project Almanac. Much like that movie, Power Rangers tries to blend teen drama with outlandish sci-fi, and as with Project Almanac, Power Rangers doesn’t quite make the full impression that it could have, even if it’s still competently put together.
Israelite works very well with his cast at the very least, even if he leaves most of the actual camp factor that often defines this franchise to fall on Elizabeth Banks’ shoulders. These new Rangers effectively feel like real people most of the time, even if they’re not always likable or charming in all of their sometimes-overblown angst. While the teen drama is sometimes overdone though, this scrappier band of would-be Rangers does eventually manage to come together nicely, like I said. Israelite does seem to have a clear issue with pacing and balance in how the movie is put together nonetheless however, since getting to the fun parts is too often a slog, sometimes trying too hard to ground a franchise that has no business being taken this seriously. When you add too much darkness to a franchise that was never intended to be dark, it starts to become boring and charmless, as can sometimes be the case during the lesser moments of Power Rangers.
Fortunately, once we actually manage to get the Rangers’ asses in gear, which unfortunately doesn’t happen until they’re almost too late to stop Rita, Israelite takes the gloves off and delivers a legitimately explosive, entertaining climax, teasingly indicating the potential of where this team will go in their likely adventures to come, even if for some viewers, it will possibly be too little, too late. Still, the fast-paced action and large-scale mayhem that was all throughout this movie’s marketing (yes, that kick-ass Ranger action is all the same sequence, which is kind of a cheat on the part of the trailers), does prove to be worth the wait if you have the requisite amount of patience. It’s just too bad that so much of Power Rangers insists that you sit through a bunch of spoiled, selfish adolescents learning to be less spoiled and selfish. As with many real teenagers, that lesson takes a lot longer to sink in than it probably should.
Brian Tyler composes the score to Power Rangers, having a solid amount of experience with both blockbusters and teen flicks. Tyler most notably composed the scores to several Marvel Studios movies, including Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World and Avengers: Age of Ultron, which no doubt also influenced his work on Power Rangers, a movie that is very obviously attempting to take a slice of the lucrative superhero movie pie for Lionsgate. Power Rangers’ score stands apart nicely by having a decent adolescent-themed flavour to it, which reflects the teen protagonists well, even if some of the songs, like Kanye West’s, “Power” (which was also all over the trailers), are a bit on-the-nose. The music suite is noticeably heavier than the super-sugary and super-catchy Mighty Morphin Power Rangers tunes of yore here, but the score of Power Rangers is still a solid modern re-imagining for the franchise’s background tunes, much like the movie itself.
The rest of the audio work is also pretty solid, especially since this movie reboot is allowed to hit harder and more realistically than its TV inspirations. The Rangers sound more truly mighty than they ever have in the past here, and any destruction unleashed by Rita is surprisingly intense! Things get especially engaging when the Zords come out for the climax, creating an extra satisfying and giant-sized battle that rocks all of Angel Grove to its foundations, and presents something way cooler than the franchise has often delivered in the past! Again, it’s a frustrating tease that comes a bit too late, and feels like a blatant appetizer for Power Rangers movie sequels to come, but even if there’s not enough of it, at least the action that we do get still sounds appropriately powerful.
Lionsgate doesn’t generally produce movies that command that high of a budget compared to many competing studios like Warner Bros., Disney, Universal or 20th Century Fox, with some of the Hunger Games sequels being the only recent and noteworthy exceptions. Power Rangers is a particularly ambitious blockbuster effort for both Lionsgate and Saban, packing an approximately $100 million budget, which isn’t that high compared to most triple-A superhero movies from Marvel/Fox or DC, but is quite lofty for the parties involved. Almost all of that budget is restricted to the climax, when we get some proper and consistent Power Rangers action, but all in all, the effects work in Power Rangers is pretty solid. It won’t hold a candle to something like The Avengers, obviously, but it’s solid nonetheless.
Easily the best part of the effects are the revised designs of recognizable Power Rangers creations. The revamped alien look to the Power Rangers’ suits is excellent, and does a strong job of separating this new movie franchise from the more campy TV incarnations. Likewise, Zordon and Alpha 5 look more appropriately inhuman in this movie, even if not everyone is going to love the bug-eyed new variation of Alpha 5, which deviates most heavily from the classic TV incarnation of the character. Then again, Rita also deviates even more heavily from her big-hatted, poofy-dressed stooge look of the classic TV series in this movie, now having her own sultry-looking Ranger-themed getup that blurs the line between seductress and witch. It’s a great new look for a more action-oriented Rita, one who manages to be a proper threat to Earth this time, rather than a mere recurring nuisance like she was in the TV incarnation.
You don’t get any premium blockbuster flourishes like 3D in Power Rangers, but the movie does have a strong amount of style and polish. Even with disappointingly little of the actual Rangers, the set design and costume work is really well done, and there’s a great sense of intrigue to the movie’s world. Likewise, Angel Grove is effectively dirtier and more seemingly soul-sucking here, making it a better contrast for the larger-than-life Power Rangers in this case, as the teen heroes learn to accept where they come from and what they mean to the world around them. There’s a lot of clear effort put into the style of Power Rangers, which is always easy to watch and enjoy, even during its slower and more dreary stretches, thanks to how nice it looks, especially when stacked against its TV counterpart.
Power Rangers is a bit uneven in some places, since it’s packed with teen drama and a little short on action or thrills, sometimes being too self-serious for its own good. As a darker take on Mighty Morphin Power Rangers lore though, it’s not bad, even if it does occasionally need to lighten up, considering the campy, ridiculous franchise it’s adapting. Even when it does remember to have fun with its license though, the movie sometimes feels gimped by Lionsgate’s expected budget constraints, which is made evident by a Ranger/Zord shortage, and some pretty awkward product placement (one particular brand deal is even made a part of the story, as a crass joke!), thus making Power Rangers feel like a pretty obvious B-list superhero blockbuster, even when stacked against the currently B-list DC Extended Universe, let alone the triple-A likes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or Fox’s X-Men film universe.
If you like teen flicks, or have a loving history with the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers franchise, then Power Rangers is a fairly good time, even if nostalgic fans will get more out of it than curious newcomers. Despite the movie’s shortcomings, the franchise potential is noticeable, with a second movie likely being primed to fix some of the storytelling balance and other such disappointments that occasionally drag down this first offering from Lionsgate. This dark, gritty reboot isn’t always all that it could have been, but it at least sets up the likely sequels on a good note, so if you enjoy this franchise, you won’t have too much of an issue reuniting with this new squad of Rangers again down the line.
In the end, Power Rangers is also a lot better than the previous two Mighty Morphin Power Rangers movies that hit theatres in the 90’s, and that alone will be a victory for many longtime fans of this franchise. You’ll likely have to adjust your expectations a bit, since this movie is surprisingly light on real Power Rangers-approved action until its final stretch, but if you can accept that, this is a promising, if slightly flawed re-invigoration of the Power Rangers brand, and I do look forward to seeing more from it.
- More grounded teen protagonists with credible character arcs
- Awesome climax that delivers hard-hitting action
- Lots of great style, particularly in the set and costume design
- Story is bare-bones and sometimes over-serious
- Teen leads can be a bit unlikable to start
- Not enough action and barely any featuring of the actual Rangers
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