Review: Power Rangers (2017) — Reboot focuses more on characters than action

power rangers 2017

Saban’s Power Rangers

Movie review

I went into this expecting to hate it as much as the trailers suggested that I should but surprisingly, I enjoyed it in overall. The feeling was almost like how I wanted to hate the Robocop reboot (2014) and Pacific Rim (2013) but ended up being okay with the former and totally loved the latter. However, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying it’s fantastic either.

Saban’s Power Rangers is a reboot of the popular 90s superhero series Mighty Morphin Power Rangers which is about five high-schoolers in a fictional town called Angel Grove who’re chosen to become a team of powerful superheroes to defend earth from the evil sorceress Rita Repulsa and her creations of monsters. Screenwritten by John Gatins (Flight, Real Steel), the film has reimagined of the origin story and all characters. Despite drawing comparisons with Chronicle (2012), The Breakfast Club (1985) and Spider-Man (2002) due its combination of similarities, I couldn’t help but to feel intrigued and engaged by the charming, energetic and likable characters. It also feels more diverse (first ever autistic and LGBTQ superheroes featured) and less stereotyped than the original. And I admire that.

Instead of a group of five teenagers “with attitude”, this reboot has teenagers with their own unique personal problems at school, at home and with their own identity. Jason Scott / Red Ranger (Dacre Montgomery) somehow doesn’t seem to enjoy being the popular high school football player in town and gets caught committing a petty crime. Kimberly Hart / Pink Ranger (Naomi Scott) is a popular high school babe but gets kicked out by her group of plastic friends. Billy Cranston / Blue Ranger (RJ Cyler) is an autistic science nerd who likes to blow things up but gets bullied at school. Zack / Black Ranger (Ludi Lin) is mischievous, “crazy” fellow, or at least that’s what he’s being to hide his fear of losing his mother. Trini / Yellow Ranger’s (Becky G) family moves around a lot and therefore she’s afraid of getting attached with new friends or anyone at all.

The opening prologue sequences look very interesting and seemingly inspired by the “bootleg” reboot on YouTube by Adi Shankar and Joseph Khan. Undoubtedly, the film has a great start in overall with its considerably balanced character development for these five main protagonists and good pacing. And I liked how self-aware to a certain extend the film is that the world’s fate ridiculously lies in the hands of five flawed kids and their sarcastic responses of being technically “superheroes”. Director Dean Israelite (Project Almanac) does what he does best, effectively blending dark, gritty tone with goofiness and teenage humour and drama. The performances by the cast are commendable and they have pretty good chemistry together as well, particularly RJ Cyler (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) and Dacre Montgomery (A Few Less Men). Naomi Scott (The Martian, The 33), too, is a worthy new pink sweetheart.

power rangers 2017 cast still

While the character moments are fun and entertaining, the superhero stuff is where it starts to fall apart a little, somewhere from the second act onward, due to uninspiring cliches of training montage, internal conflicts, teamwork issues, cheesy speeches and predictable outcomes to dramatic and climatic moments. On top of that, the film seriously lacks of action and Power Rangers itself. The characters only morph to the superheroes in the rather rushed final act. The differences of their abilities, weapons and zords are not explained. And when the action comes, it’s a CGI fest and would’ve been Transformers 4-level of boring if it isn’t because of the well-developed characters. And even with CGI, the action sequences are mostly shot with closeups and shaky cams. An evident weakness compared to the 1995 non-canonical Power Rangers film which features actors who have actual martial arts experience. Speaking of which, there are cameo appearances by two original stars, Jason David Frank (Tommy) and Amy Jo Johnson (Kimberly). Would’ve been a greater tribute if David Yost, the actor who portrayed the original Billy, made an appearance as well as he quit the show back in the 90s due to abuses received during production for being openly gay.

I also didn’t like the new unoriginal way the protagonists morph to Rangers. It’s similar to how Captain Power and CyberCop do it in their series where the superheroes have to step onto a stationary platform to get into their suit armours. The original’s Power Morphers would’ve been a great device for additional thrills. The designs of the new costumes are fine albeit they do look very CG. The Megazord (giant robot) though, is almost as ugly as the one in the 1995 film. We also don’t get to clearly see it merged up from the separate Dinozords. The new Alpha 5 (Bill Hader) takes a bit of getting used to. And Goldar is probably the laziest design I’ve ever seen.

The film’s storytelling also has quite a bit of inconsistencies and question marks. The antagonist Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) and this anti-mentor version of Zordon (Bryan Cranston) don’t get enough backstory. I’ve no clue why Rita stays trapped underwater for 65 million years before awaking in present time (she can’t swim?) or how the Morphin Grid power works. Zordan learns English from his spaceship (formerly known as the Command Centre) but Rita seems to be able to instantly learn the language from nothing? Billy’s mother’s car? Trini’s room? Basically plenty of no-followups or just lack of exposition.

With all that being said, Power Rangers is more of character-driven film than the superhero action flick it’s supposed to be. It’s entertaining enough and doesn’t really “ruin” childhoods — and that’s already an achievement. Its ambitious themes of diversity and how even imperfect people could respect each other’s differences, be friends and band together for something good, is admirable as well although I’m not sure if the kids today would appreciate it as much as grownups and nostalgia-seekers (when the original theme song plays, I was cheered along with many others in the hall). It also has the one of the best brand/product placement of all time (ha-ha).

power rangers zordon meme

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Post-credits scene: There’s a mid-credit scene that would make hardcore fans go “woooo”. No other scene after that.

Malaysian censorship: The local distributor TGV Pictures announced that there are “no cuts”. We still get to find out that a certain character is LGBT. However, I don’t recall seeing the kissing scene (between Kimberly and Jason) as shown in the trailers, probably removed from the actual final cut.

Verdict: Surprisingly much better than what I was expecting. Wouldn’t mind a sequel but it would need way more action than this.

Rating: 3 / 5

power rangers 2017 movie poster malaysia tgvBased on: “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” by Haim Saban, “Super Sentai” by Toei Company

Genre: Superhero drama
Running Time: 124 minutes
Director: Dean Israelite
Screenwriter: John Gatins
Cast: Dacre Montgomery, Becky Gomez, Ludi Lin, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Elizabeth Banks, Bryan Cranston

Malaysia Release Date: 23 March 2017
Rated: P13
Local Distributor: TGV Pictures
Production: Lionsgate, Temple Hill Entertainment

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