I’ll lay my cards on the table: I’m a Power Rangers fan. From the moment I first saw it, it ensnared me; when I wasn’t watching Power Rangers I was out with friends playing Power Rangers. And it’s never really left me – whilst I can’t say I’ve seen even half of the output after around 1997, I’ve kept it close to my heart.
That said, there’s a bit of a negative perception around the franchise; for everyone who remembers it fondly, there’s someone else who remembers it as a campy load of rubbish. And that may explain why Power Rangers – Lionsgate’s reboot of the franchise for the Marvel Studios generation – is afraid to be a Power Rangers film. Barring a giddy-yet-traumatic pre-credits sequence, we don’t so much as glimpse a Power Ranger until around the one-hour mark. It’s then a further half hour before we see the whole team in action. The result is that this two-hour film contains roughly as much morphed action as one of the more exciting episodes from the TV series that spawned it.
Fortunately, what we do get in its place is hugely watchable. Power Rangers is a Breakfast Club-esque tale of five teenage misfits who destiny weaves together to become a team of friends who happen to save the world. When the teens are caught in the same series of unfortunate events in a local quarry, they develop superpowers, but in order to unlock the full potential of those powers they must learn to trust and care about each other.
It’s a risky approach and, while John Gatins’ script isn’t lacking in warmth or funny lines, its success here is notably down to the talented cast of relative unknowns playing the troubled teenagers. Each one brings with them a compelling screen presence, from Dacre Montgomery’s rebellious jock Jason to Becky G’s Trini, a loner who is struggling with her identity and place in the world. Special mention must go to RJ Cyler, though, whose character Billy is both the heart of the team and the movie. Cyler brings a real wit and likeability to the hapless genius, a role that could so easily have fallen into parody.
Though the cast are ultimately warm and likeable, the same cannot initially be said for most of their characters. Those who are used to the saccharine do-gooders of the original series will be surprised to learn that the reboot has taken the term ‘teenagers with attitude’ to heart. These are teenagers who drink, get in trouble with the police and spend half their time in detention. Trini and Ludi Lin’s Zack in particular are deliberately difficult to warm to in the first hour of the film. The script struggles to move them from prickly rebels to characters the audience should care about, and when change does happen it’s thanks to a clunky scene in which the rangers sit around and spell out their vulnerabilities to one another.
Watching all of this unfold are the giant head of Bryan Cranston, which more closely resembles a wall monster from 80s kids’ TV show Knightmare than the rangers’ mentor Zordon, and the perennially annoying robot Alpha 5, voiced by comedian Bill Hader. Much has been made of Cranston’s casting, and he brings an appropriate gravitas to a slightly thankless part; it’s hard not to sense a little bit of Heisenberg peeking through as Zordon struggles to maintain his patience with the struggling group.
Taking on the role of evil empress Rita Repulsa is Elizabeth Banks, who proves to be scary and shouty as the film’s only real antagonist. Rita’s early scenes, in which she is vulnerable, desperate and feral are genuinely unsettling. As the character gathers steam so does Banks, who is clearly having a ball by the time she’s chewing up the scenery in her later confrontations with the rangers, which bring the character closer to the Rita Repulsa of old. No headaches, though.
It’s a pity that Rita is sorely lacking in minions in this film; where the character on television was surrounded by useless lackeys to order around and chastise, Rita in the film only gets Goldar, who in this iteration is mute and featureless.
The CGI explosion that is the last half hour of the film is undoubtedly a highlight, as director Dean Israelite is finally able to let rip with Power Rangers’ trademark action. The new ranger suits in action are wonderful to watch, with the spandex swapped out for colourful armour that feels like it has a real weight to it, and it’s a joy to watch them smashing through Rita’s army of Putties. There’s even a brief snatch of the original theme song (well, technically the version used in the 1995 movie).
Comparisons to Michael Bay’s Transformers films are unavoidable once the rangers call on their robot dinosaurs, and it’s a subject the film tackles head-on with a well-timed nod. The bright colours of the zords do make them stand out more than some of the creations from that other franchise, and at one stage, the film has the teens leave their visors open while controlling them. It’s a small move that makes a world of difference by restoring a degree of humanity to proceedings.
It’s a much better film than you may be expecting, this. Power Rangers may only occasionally embrace the fun and over-the-top spirit of the series that inspired it, but nevertheless it’s a thoroughly entertaining watch, with no shortage of heart and some witty dialogue. It’s not up to the standard of the Marvel superhero films it so obviously emulates, but a number of compelling performances make it recommended viewing. And if nothing else, it’s got the most blatant and shameless bit of product placement since Mike Myers cracked open a can of Pepsi in Wayne’s World. Krispy Kreme, anyone?