'Power Rangers': Film Review
Dean Israelite ('Project Almanac') directs this reboot of the teen superhero franchise.
Twenty years after the last Power Rangers theatrical release, the sci-fi series returns with an updated visual style and reconfigured storyline, as the Saban Entertainment property moves from 20th Century Fox to Lionsgate. Unlike the TV program (still running after 24 seasons), the feature films faded away after 1997's Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie, the follow-up to Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie, released two years earlier.
The current version creatively reimagines the Power Rangers' origins by establishing them as a team of intergalactic protectors, which certainly provides a high degree of flexibility for potential future iterations. However, a proliferation of memorable teen action-adventure movies have solidified their own loyal followings over the past two decades, leaving the impression that a revived Power Rangers franchise may lack the distinction necessary to sustain a full-fledged relaunch, although its worldwide appeal should assure satisfactory initial results.
An opening flashback reveals that the original Power Rangers were actually humanoid-like extraterrestrials, arriving on earth millions of years ago as Zordon (Bryan Cranston) and his team of Rangers attempted to defend the planet from power-hungry alien invader Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks). When an errant meteor strikes, Zordon's Rangers are all killed and he almost perishes before his loyal robot assistant Alpha 5 (Bill Hader) saves him by uploading his consciousness into their spacecraft's computer system, while Rita's body is consigned to the depths of the ocean. Digitally imprisoned within the ship indefinitely, Zordon will have to wait until the power coins that enable the development of Ranger superpowers are discovered sometime in the distant future before he can be freed.
More than 60 million years later, a decrepit gold mine outside the rural California town of Angel Grove attracts the attention of outcast teen tech-whiz Billy (RJ Cyler), who's focused on a project started by his late father to unearth a mysterious energy source within the mountainside. Billy gets some unexpected assistance from disgraced football star Jason (Dacre Montgomery), who needs his help hacking the tracking anklet the local police department forces him to wear after he's apprehended for staging a disastrous high school prank. It turns out that some other marginalized teens are also drawn to the mountain, including bad boy Zack (Ludi Lin), ostracized cheerleader Kimberly (Naomi Scott) and (in one of the first representations of an LGBTQ superhero character) gay-questioning Trini (Becky G).
After Billy's homemade explosive device blows away the wall of the mine, they discover the buried power coins and quickly begin developing unexpected super-abilities, including incredible strength, speed and agility. It's not until they discover Zordon's buried spaceship and encounter Alpha 5, however, that they begin to understand their anointed role as Zordon's next team of Power Rangers. As the kids struggle to control their newfound talents, the revival of Rita from deep beneath the ocean snaps their situation into sharp focus when she arrives in Angel Grove seeking Zordon and begins destroying the town. If the Rangers can't find a way to come together and form a cohesive team, they'll never be able to defeat Rita and save the world from her destructive ambitions.
For longtime fans, the newest installment preserves some of the most beloved characteristics of the original franchise, updated to reflect technological advances. The Rangers' color-coded power suits now benefit from nanoparticle properties and the robotic mecha assault vehicles known as Zords that they pilot take on enhanced battle capabilities, while Rita's menacing sidekicks the Putties and the gigantic warrior Goldar get more polished, fluid CGI representations. (And yes, the "Go Go Power Rangers" theme song makes a triumphant return.)
Screenwriter John Gatins succeeds in effectively distilling the Power Rangers' sprawling mythology into a manageable scope and dialing back the campy humor and martial arts fixations that characterized the TV series and liberally informed the feature films. The current version instead emphasizes more realistic dramatic situations by imbuing each Ranger with some type of personal issue.
Whether they're dealing with bullying, alienation or sexual orientation, these teens are more three-dimensional than their Ranger predecessors, but eventually this repetitive effort to emphasize their relatability becomes so heavy-handed as to appear transparently manipulative. However, some judiciously timed humor, frequently aimed at Billy's tech obsessions or Zordon's sarcastically judgmental attitude toward his young proteges, helps curtail the self-consciously jokey tone of the earlier films.
Standing out in a field of largely emerging young talent, Cyler (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) strikes a heartfelt balance between Billy's obsessive and creative tendencies, playing them against one another for both humor and emotional impact. Cranston as the pompous alien with unrealistic expectations and Hader as the ever-optimistic robot form a resourceful if unexpected comedic team, but can't quite match Banks for Rita's sheer campiness (even if she appears practically unrecognizable under layers of makeup and prosthetics).
Israelite, building on his experience with teen sci-fi feature Project Almanac, orchestrates a vastly more complex array of characters, action set pieces and technical resources for a combined effect that maintains dramatic tension even while teetering on the brink of excess. CGI characters and special effects sequences by Weta Workshop and a variety of other companies are seamlessly integrated and consistently thrilling.
Production companies: Lionsgate, Temple Hill Entertainment
Cast: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Ludi Lin, Becky G, Bryan Cranston, Bill Hader, Elizabeth Banks, David Denman
Director: Dean Israelite
Screenwriter: John Gatins
Producers: Haim Saban, Brian Casentini, Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey
Executive producers: Allison Shearmur, Brent O'Connor, John Gatins, Joel Andryc, Takeyuki Suzuki
Director of photography: Matthew J. Lloyd
Production designer: Andrew Menzies
Editors: Martin Bernfeld, Dody Dorn
Music: Brian Tyler
Casting director: John Papsidera
Rated PG-13, 124 minutes