Film reviews

#345 – Mighty Morphin Powers Rangers: The Movie (1995)

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie (1995)

Film review #345

SYNOPSIS: The power rangers, a group of teenagers who defend the city of Angel Grove from alien threats face their biggest challenge yet as a construction work accidentally uncovers a strange device. On their moon base, Rita Repulsa and Lord Zedd recognise the device as the capsule within which Ivan Ooze is sealed; an alien menace that ruled the Earth over 6000 years ago. Lord Zedd frees him and tells him to go kill Zordon, the power rangers mentor. Ivan leaves Zordon close to death and the power rangers without their powers, and so they must travel to a far-off planet to find a great power that can save Zordon’s life and give them back their powers to defeat Ooze once and for all.

THOUGHTS/ANALYSISMighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie is a 1995 film that is a continuation of the TV series of the same name. It should be noted that the franchise was absolutely huge in the early-mid 90′s, and so a movie was almost inevitable. The series had lost a bit of steam by the time the movie came out, but it was still fairly popular. The film opens with the team doing a skydive, along with Angel Grove punks Bulk and Skull, the comic relief characters from the TV series. Next, the team go do some roller skating…because that’s what teenagers do I guess? The Power Rangers were always portrayed as “teenagers with attitude”, so doing these sorts of things goes some way to making them look cool and hip or whatever the mid-late 90′s term was (I was never any of those things, so forgive me if I can’t remember). Either way, you’re not really going to watch a Power Rangers film to watch some mediocre roller skating, and the film certainly doesn’t open very strong. Nearby, a construction site unearths a strange capsule from underground. Villains Rita Repulsa and Lord Zedd are watching on from their secret base on the moon, and Zedd remarks that the capsule contains Ivan Ooze, a powerful being that ruled the Earth six thousand years ago, before he was stopped by Zordon and a group of chosen teenagers. Zedd and Rita free Ooze from his containment, telling him to go and destroy his old enemy Zordon, which he happily does (he doesn’t kill Zordon though,for some reason), leaving the Power Rangers without their powers.

The story revolves around the Power Rangers having to go to a far-off planet to obtain “the great power” that can save Zordon’s life, and give them new powers. The structure of the story feels very much like an episode of the TV series, with a new monster arriving to terrorise Angel Grove, and the rangers fighting them on foot, then fighting them in their Zords, then combining the Zords to defeat them. The film offers nothing new to that structure, or provides any fresh ideas to expand the idea of the Power Rangers. It seriously feels like nobody had any idea what to do with the story outside of their comfort zone so they padded it out with the Rangers losing their powers for a good chunk of the film, and also having this subplot with this random kid and his Dad that really serves no purpose. One essential component of the TV series is that the scenes with the Power Rangers in their suits and the Zords are taken directly from the Japanese TV Super Sentai Zyuranger, while the rest of the episodes are made specially for the Power Rangers series. This film is the first time that there is no footage taken from Super Sentai, and everything is originally written and directed. You may think that this gives the film a chance to try something more ambitious, but as mentioned the film seriously struggles without that original footage to coalesce around, and simply tries to copy it to fill that void. The TV series worked because even though it was basically the same thing every week, it gave kids what they wanted in short bursts, with fight scenes that were delivered with a decent pacing that filled its slot nicely. In this film, the decision seems to have been taken to just stretch out those fight scenes, giving more of what kids want: but this was a very bad move, as the fight scenes seem to go on for far too long, and those short, sharp bursts of action become dragged out and you realise they’re actually pretty empty. The same goes for the one-liners that the Rangers deliver, which work once or twice a scene, but when they’re constantly delivering these multiple times a scene, they cease to have any impact, and draw attention to the lack of variety in the story. At some points the Rangers are on screen just doing constant backflips all over the place and nothing is happening, and the film just feels hopelessly lost.

All of the main characters from the TV series reprise their roles in this film, which at least preserves the continuity. Some of the Power Rangers changed throughout the series, and the cast is correct at the point of the series this film was released. The Power Rangers themselves, despite being described as “teenagers with attitude”, are all equally dull, with no real personality or chemistry between them. Tommy, as the leader of the group, makes himself stand out a little, but that’s about it (maybe because the majority of the overall story arcs in the TV series revolved around his character once he was introduced). In contrast, I find the villains are much more entertaining to watch, and even though they are all rather incompetent, have a good chemistry between them. Bulk and Skull, the punk bullies, are very cartoon-like in their mannerisms and actions, and I’ve always found them to be strong characters, even if they don’t do anything too special. Rita Repulsa and Lord Zedd also have a good chemistry, and manage to flirt the line between being comedic and seriously menacing depending on the scenes. The fact they are played so over the top also makes them enjoyable to watch. It’s a shame that Ivan Ooze imprisons them and locks the out of the majority of the film, as it could have done with more of their energy. Ooze himself is a rather forgettable villain: he has his menacing moments, but this is undermined by some rather cheesy lines (”smells like…teenagers”) really lessen his impact. Rita and Zedd could manage both in tandem, but Ooze just doesn’t have that same appeal.

One of the major detriments of the film is that it uses CGI to render the Zords, instead of the models or physical costumes used in the TV series, and it has not aged well at all. Since the TV series used previously made footage, the show didn’t have to produce new footage for the Zord fights at all, and so for the film, which as mentioned used no previous footage, this is the first time these scenes would have had to be built from scratch, and the fight scenes scripted and directed by the writes and producers themselves. Models and physical costumes age significantly better than CGI, and I wonder if the effects used to render the Zords were already out of date when the film came out. The fight scene in the city with the Zords is also rather dark, which obscures a lot of the Zord’s detail so you can’t really get a good idea of what they look like: this might have deliberate because the CGI might have looked even worse in a brighter setting. Overall, the film doesn’t really feel like much more than a cash-grab or an excuse to sell toys. I think what was more appealing about the physical costumes/models as well is that they look more like action figures, and would definitely spark children’s imaginations more than CGI creations (and would probably sell more toys). The film feels like an extended episode of the TV series, but seems to have no idea how to fill in the longer runtime, and so just pads out what they already do, which waters down its impact. The film doesn’t add anything to the franchise, nor does it benefit from a bigger budget or production. Maybe kids at the time would have enjoyed some more Power Rangers action (It is one of the few films I went to see at the cinema as a kid, and I remember having a lukewarm response to it), but a kid nowadays would not be able to get past that awful CGI. The soundtrack is full of mediocre songs that are plucked right from the mainstream of the time, but the worst part is they don’t use the TV theme song, which is one of the most recognisable themes and is really quite good and full of energy. They only use a snippet of it in a fight scene early on, and I think that was a huge mistake not taking advantage of one of the series most iconic aspects. If you were into the Power Rangers hype it kept that hype going, but outside of that it really is not a good film, and I think does some damage to the franchise by undermining the best parts of it, such as making the fight scenes too long, sidelining the iconic villains, ditching the iconic physical models/costumes etc. If you were a kid that was caught up in the original Power Rangers hype, then I would suggest watching the TV series instead of the film: it offers very little as part of the franchise or as a film in it’s own right.