If you were born before 1993, as I was, then you understand that Power Rangers isn’t just a popular children’s TV franchise that is still cranking out iterations after 24 years. For us, Power Rangers was a phenomenon when it first launched in the early 90’s. It was what kids watched when they came home from school, and what they talked about when they went back to school. Picturing you and your friends fighting monsters in giant robots, what’s not to like? By rebooting Power Rangers and reimagining it for a new generation, Lionsgate and Director Dean Israelite hope to play on that wonderful 90’s nostalgia and replace its after school special vibe with a more realistic take.
Based on the original Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, this new film takes the general concept: five “teenagers with attitude” are recruited by interdimensional floating head Zordan and his robot sidekick Alpha 5 to fight against evil sorceress Rita Repulsa and her army of monsters… and adds a few tweaks. This time around, Rita (Elizabeth Banks) is a former ranger who betrayed and killed her team but was defeated by Zordon (Bryan Cranston) who sacrificed his body to protect the power coins and planet Earth. When Rita is resurrected, fate claims former jock Jason (Dacre Montgomery), troubled cheer leader Kimberly (Naomi Scott), bullied nerd Billy (R.J. Cyler), class cutting goofball Zack (Ludi Lin), and loner Trini (Becky G) as the new team of Power Rangers. To defeat Rita, they must learn to come together as a team and more importantly as friends.
First, let’s get the most gigantic flaw out of the way. There is very little Power Rangers in Power Rangers. The team doesn’t morph and fight until the film’s final act. If you’re more excited about seeing the updated, and at times flimsy, CGI effects and the colossal Mega Zord, then prepare to be utterly disappointed. Sure, the action is enjoyable when it finally does hit, but that doesn’t change the fact that the movie is more of a character study than it is a science fiction action movie.
But that isn’t to say that Power Rangers is a bad movie, because it’s actually better than it even needs to be. And as a character study it surprisingly works. This is due in large part to a well rounded cast of young actors. Using the phrase “teenagers with attitude” for the original characters is a bit of a joke because they were all a bunch of goody two shoes. But here, the characters all have real problems that give them an edge. Jason is a star quarterback kicked off of the team after getting arrested. Zack lives in poverty with his deathly ill single mother. Trini has a tumultuous relationship with her parents and is struggling with her sexuality. Billy, who easily steals the show, is an autistic genius whose desire for real companionship is the endearing glue that holds the team together.
Even Zordon isn’t quite the wise, nurturing mentor we remember him as. He struggles with entrusting such immense powers to a bunch of emo teens and wonders if he should use them to return to physical form. Meanwhile Bill Hader’s Alpha 5 has gone from being meek and annoying in the T.V. show to being the Rangers’ snarky trainer. The only character back story that falls flat is Kimberly’s, but that isn’t for lack of trying by actress Naomi Scott who makes the character likable but not particularly interesting.
And just because the characters are a bit grittier doesn’t mean the movie is too dreary or boring. The actors all have fantastic chemistry and when jokes come they feel genuinely funny and have timing that never feels forced. As a result, these Power Rangers actually manage to tug at your heart strings so that when tragedy does strike, you genuinely feel a sense of camaraderie and family from the team.
There are still some cheesy moments and Elizabeth Banks’ portrayal of Rita Repulsa is a bit hokey, but would it really be Power Rangers without a few bad puns and the basic sniveling villain? The movie also deserves credit for polishing the Power Rangers mythos into something far more coherent and effectively setting up sequels. When Lionsgate first announced this movie, I wrote a post about my do’s and dont’s for the movie. After seeing it, this more emotionally grounded adaptation almost checks out perfectly. So even without a ton of action (that’s what sequels are for anyway), Power Rangers ends up being a fun and enjoyable homage to one of pop culture’s most iconic entries.
FINAL GRADE: B