Film reviews

#347 – Power Rangers (2017)

Power Rangers (2017)

Film review #347

Director: David Israelite

SYNOPSIS: 65 million years ago, Rita Repulsa attempted to take the powerful Zeo crystal from Earth and destroy all life on the planet. She was sealed away by Zordon, leader of the Power Rangers, who are the guardians of life. In the present day, Rita is released from her prison, and the powers of the the rangers find their way into five new teenagers. They learn that Rita will destroy their hometown of Angel Grove in search of the Zeo crystal, and must find a way to overcome their personal troubles and learn to work as a team and unlock the full might of the Power Rangers.

THOUGHTS/ANALYSISPower Rangers is a 2017 sci-fi film that is a re-imagining or reboot of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers franchise. The film starts off 65 million years ago, with the Power Rangers defeated and their leader, Zordon, deciding to seal away their powers along with Rita Repulsa to stop her getting her hands on the Zeo crystal and destroying all life on Earth. In the present day, we see high school student Jason and his friends pulling a prank that goes wrong, leading to Jason crashing his car (also, the opening joke with the cow just feels completely out of place). Cut to a few weeks later and Jason is now tagged after being arrested, his car is ruined, and his dreams of getting a scholarship are over. He starts going to detention where he meets Billy and Kimberley, who are also stuck there. After Jason stops a bully from picking on Billy, he offers to hack his tag so he can stay out after curfew. Billy then makes him an offer for him to drive him to a local mine in return for using his van, to which Jason agrees. They arrive at the mine and Jason leaves Billy to go and do whatever he came to do. Jason also runs into Kimberley and some other teenagers who are hanging around the mine, as Billy uses some explosives to blast some strange rocks out of a wall. Each of them takes one of the stones and escape the mine with security in pursuit. The opening of the film really focuses on exploring the different origins and personalities of the five teenagers, and how they start off from not knowing each other to developing a common bond. It’s a little slow to start off with, and you don’t see much of the typical Power Rangers action, but there’s enough to keep things interesting, with each of the characters making a unique mark on the film. There’s also a decent amount of effort taken to provide more of a backstory and make it more clear, such as the Zords forms being taken from the dominant lifeforms on the planet 65 million years ago, and Zordon being the previous red ranger and their leader, with Rita also being a power ranger that betrayed them.

The original premise of the Power Rangers was that they were five “teenagers with attitude”, but given that it was a children’s show, that “attitude” was rather muted and ineffectual. This film changes that, by allowing the teens to act like teens, and to have the sorts of issues and difficulties that teenagers have. Each of them has a unique problem in their life, and everyone can probably relate to at least one of them. Their characters are based on the original series, but there’s enough difference to make it feel fresh and different. When the group finds Zordon and Alpha 5, they learn they must learn to work together to unlock their full potential as Power Rangers, and try to figure out what they are missing. In the camp fire scene, which is probably one of the highlights of the film, they all share their secrets and despite they are all messed up in their own individual ways, they can still support each other and work together to protect what is important to them. Again, this is something you don’t expect from a film based off a kid’s TV series: the film takes nothing and turns into something, and that is an accomplishment. Perhaps the direction it goes in turning it into a teen drama would not appeal to some people, but it had to do something different to hold the film together and justify its existence. The rest of the characters, such as  Zordon, Alpha 5 and Rita Repulsa all have a familiar look and feel to them, but also are different enough to offer a fresh take on their characters, with Zordon previously being the red ranger and getting his team killed, he displays regret, but also has his own motives, which makes him a much more dynamic character rather than just the benevolent overlord of the original. Alpha 5, who was arguably the most annoying character in the series, is toned down, and feels more like an exasperated administrator rather than the squealing worrier he was. Rita’s character too is toned down, and is a lot more menacing, while still having enough of the dramatic deliveries that made her so iconic. Sadly, the characters of Bulk and Skull, the school bullies aren’t present in this film, probably because they were so slapstick and silly that it would have been out of place, and bullies really don’t go around wearing leather jackets and pulling pranks anymore (although the bully that goes after Billy does wear a leather jacket, probably as an homage to the two).

Eventually, the power rangers are able to morph into their iconic suits, and it certainly takes a long time to get to it. As a consequence, there isn’t much time to showcase them fighting, but at this point you’ll be too invested in the characters to be concerned about it. It is a shame we don’t get to see more of the suits and Zords fighting, but one of the mistakes the previous films did was prolonging the fights to the point that made them boring to sit through, and drew attention to the fact that there was little substance underneath it all. This is quite a long film, coming in at just over two hours, and overall I think it does justify that screen-time through the way it develops its characters and backstory. The build-up to the final battle and the fight itself goes through all the stages you’d expect, so there’s no big surprises, but it keeps to the power rangers formula and gives you what you would want to see. In particular, the scene with the Zords rushing into battle and the original TV theme accompanying it exactly what you would want to see.

So who is this film aimed at? The focus on teenage drama obviously points to an older audience than the TV series, and that is further supported by the language and some of the jokes being a little more adult-oriented. For people who grew up watching the TV series as a kid this would be a decent nostalgia trip, while also being fairly entertaining. Kids who are also on the cusp of getting too old for the TV series might find this film would appeal to them, but I’m not sure if someone who had never seen anything power rangers related before would appreciate it as much. Again, the characters are very well developed, and stand on their own so you can invest in their stories no matter how much you know about the power rangers, but fans of the franchise will definitely appreciate some of the details thrown in. One such detail is how Rita seems to use a green power stone, which presumably means she was once the green ranger, a character which was a big part of the original series as it went on, and the mid-credits sequence hints that Tommy Oliver, the green ranger will show up in a sequel. I certainly hope that a sequel would get made: there’s a lot of investment in setting up these characters, and I would be interested in where they could be taken. The issue is Power Rangers is being released into the cinematic medium where superhero films are prevalent and all-consuming, and there’s really no room for something like the power rangers anymore, and so is going to struggle to offer anything exceptional in the genre.

Overall, I enjoyed Power Rangers more than I thought I would. I’m not a huge fan of the franchise, but I do remember watching the original series as a kid, and there’s enough nostalgia in here to make things familiar and also to overlook some of the nonsensical story elements in keeping with it. Giving the main characters a lot more depth and their own individual problems and dilemmas is the film’s main strong point, and creates some surprisingly emotional moments. I wouldn’t say they were groundbreaking, but they were very good. Even though it takes a large portion of the film to get to the power rangers morphing, the film fills its runtime with plenty of drama and story that means it’s never really boring. Some of the jokes are a bit out-of-place or just fall flat, and the effects are not overly special (although fairly decent), but I think the film overall retains enough entertainment, fun and drama to make it worthwhile to watch. It’s never going to compare to the vast library of superhero films it has to compete with nowadays, but it’s a fun nostalgia trip and one that gives the source material much more of an edge than one might expect.