Saban’s Power Rangers (2017) – Movie Review
Saban’s Power Rangers
Directed by: Dean Israelite
Written by: John Gatins
Starring: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Becky G, Ludi Lin, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Banks & Bill Hader
Music: Brian Tyler
Release Date: March 23rd 2017
When it comes to the “Power Rangers” franchise, it’s hard to know where to begin. It’s a multi-media empire built off of a Japanese Superhero series called “Super Sentai” where giant robots and monsters would fight each other and when it was imported to America they kept the action scenes but re-shot everything else with a U.S. cast, making it an odd amalgamation. It started in 1993 with “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” and it’s still going on to this day with over 20 different variants including but not limited to “Turbo”, “Lost Galaxy”, “Ninja Storm”, “Dino Thunder”, “Jungle Fury” and “Super Ninja Steel” (the latter is the latest series).
Despite dominating TV, Video Games, Toys and Comics, breaking into movies has been difficult for the franchise. 20th Century Fox distributed a moderately successful TV-to-Movie sequel in 1995 but its 1997 sequel was a massive bomb. Now Lionsgate, well known for their recent Young-Adult movies “The Twilight Saga”, “The Hunger Games” and “The Divergent Series” are taking a stab at the franchise, hoping to create a new YA franchise. Is the battle for multiplexes a battle that the Power Rangers simply cannot win or do these teenagers with attitude have what it takes to start a successful franchise?
In Angel Grove a group of teenagers find themselves in detention; football star Jason (Montgomery), outcast nerd Billy (Cyler) and popular girl Kimberly (Scott), all of whom become friends. Whilst exploring a nearby quarry and stumbling across other students, rebellious Trini (G) and loner Zack (Lin), the group discover, buried in the quarry, a set of Power Coins which give them all superhuman abilities. These five teenagers are selected by Zordon (Cranston) to become the new Power Rangers and save the world from their arch-nemesis Rita Repulsa (Banks) who has been revived and is planning to destroy the Earth.
The plot itself is rather basic and textbook YA material with a group of outcasts who have to come together to stop some extraordinary threat with superpowers and fans of the “Power Rangers” franchise, particularly its earlier entries will be well familiar with the nuts and bolts of the plot, but it’s easy enough for non-fans to get into. This version actually throws in some decent new twists to the formula such as Zordon and Rita’s original identities but when all is said and done this rather basic set-up could have been done in a 90-minute movie. ‘Power Rangers‘ is pushing 120 minutes and that is the main thing holding this new iteration back.
‘Power Rangers‘ may be dealing with rather arch characters and a basic good vs. evil set-up and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that because this film is clearly aimed at kids and young teenagers. But the film’s pacing and almost inert first two acts will do little to engage younger audiences. The characters don’t have much chemistry with each other on-screen, their personal drama and lives aren’t particularly interesting and reek of “First World Problems” (apart from Zack who…okay, he’s actually got some legitimate problems going on but out of all five Rangers he gets the least amount of screen-time). Kimberly in particular is very hard to root for as she’s in detention for sharing revenge porn. There’s just not many ways a character can recover like that. The film seems to be aiming for ‘The Breakfast Club‘ but without actually expanding upon character traits in any meaningful way.
But the first two acts of ‘Power Rangers‘ won’t have much to engage younger viewers. There’s not much action, it’s almost entirely dialogue and while there are some horror-esque sequences with Rita Repulsa coming back to life it might be a bit too horrific for younger audiences to watch. We’re dealing with a movie with an identity crisis; its 3rd act has awesome robot-on-monster action, but before you can get to that you’ve got to deal with teenage drama, horror-scenes and really bad attempts at comedy. Just who is this iteration of “Power Rangers” for?
It’s rather mangled, but there’s definitely some potential in the set-up. Billy feels like a fresh character and it’s cool to see a character on the autistic spectrum just exist in a superhero movie and while Trini is also being touted as the first LGBT superhero the movie probably could have expanded on that aspect more. The action in the 3rd act where the famous Zords (giant mechs that are animal themed) come together to protect Angel Grove is fun and it feels like an episode of the original TV series with a bigger budget, but you’ve got to wait a whole 90 minutes to get there and younger audiences likely won’t have that sort of patience. By the end, everyone has learned a valuable lesson about believing in yourself, teamwork and how great Krispy Kreame is (no, really) but did we need a 2-hour movie to get there?
The teen cast members do pretty well but the stand outs are understandably Bryan Cranston as a re-imagined Zordon and also Elizabeth Banks who is really letting loose and having a fun time as Rita Repulsa. Banks goes off-the-wall here and it’s a pretty fascinating performance to watch unfold. Cranston makes the reams of exposition he has to read seem engaging and while Bill Hader is a bit grating as a re-imagined Alpha-5, that was probably the point. Though much has to be said about the film’s terrible re-designs of the Megazord and Goldar, both of which seem like horrendous first pieces of concept art if the filmmakers were making a spoof of “Power Rangers”. The Zords look pretty awesome on-screen but they really dropped the ball on the over-designed yet also bafflingly simplistic main visual selling points of the movie.
But, once again, it all comes down to the big-question; who is ‘Power Rangers‘ for? Fans will have seen this time and time again, non-fans and adults won’t be engaged because there’s nothing interesting character or plot-wise to latch onto and a presumed young-adult audiences likely won’t have much interest in the rather bland characters. The film comes to life 90 minutes in (the average run-time of the last two “Power Rangers” movies) but it feels way too late and that 3rd act will likely find a second life in YouTube music-video compilations or 60FPS re-uploads for free.
Despite costing $100M, the money does not really feel up on screen. Angel Grove feels like a 50-square feet studio lot, director Dean Israelite stages scenes rather blandly, the newly redesigned Power Ranger costumes look cheap in motion and Goldar just…looks terrible. The rest of the action in the 3rd act looks decent and there’s a fun Rangers vs. Putty fight before the big robot action kicks in, Rita Repulsa’s costume is unique and Elizabeth Banks pulls it off well but this does not look like a $100M action movie. Brian Tyler’s score also feels generic with the main musical standout being the brief “Go Go Power Rangers” motif that plays when the Zords first charge into battle. The rest of the film desperately needed more of that energy.
All in all, ‘Power Rangers‘ suffers an identity crisis. Lionsgate seemed to want to refit the series into a new Young-Adult franchise but without fully embracing what has made “Power Rangers” such a pop-culture institution to begin with. There’s very little character depth, it’s blandly put together and nothing of interest or fun happens until the last 30 minutes which I’m sure younger audiences will enjoy but not appreciate slogging through the rest of the movie to get to. It’s self-serious yet also trying to provide winking fan-service, drama-oriented without much drama going on and wanting to deliver Michael Bay ‘Transformers‘-esque action but without getting in an action director and giving them an adequate budget or resources to pull it off. All in all, the Rangers have got the power to morph but they couldn’t even up this score.
I give ‘Saban’s Power Rangers‘ 2 stars out of 5.
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Posted: 26th Apr 18