The dream of the ’90s is alive in POWER RANGERS, a reboot of the live-action series that was a staple of youth television almost 25 years ago. Based on the Fox Kids series Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, itself an adaptation of Japan’s Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger, the 2017 version of the gang adapts to the modern conventions of the superhero genre. Yet even with this tendency towards darkness, it hasn’t completely forgotten its roots in this unashamedly chaotic action drama.
In a plot that is reminiscent of 2012’s Chronicle, a group of five teenagers happen to be the the right place at the right time to inherit the ancient totems that allow them to be the new Power Rangers. However, Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), the old enemy of their mentor Zordon (Bryan Cranston), seeks to claim a vast power for herself, one that will potentially destroy the world. It’s up to the ragtag group to find their esprit de corps and morph into their destiny.
Borrowing liberally from the conventions of teen dramas and superhero films alike, with visual and thematic cues lifted from The Breakfast Club and Spider-Man in equal measure, POWER RANGERS is a curiously quaint take on both genres. On the one hand it is grounded in the same conventions of modern superhero films, consciously keeping the characters out of costume until the last possible moment so that an exploration of feelings can achieve Peak Introspection™. At the same time, given the propensity of its contemporaries to embrace broodiness, director Dean Israelite’s film is positively joyful in comparison, keeping its content suitable for morning television despite the format shift. Having said that, few modern blockbuster superhero films can boast a lesbian and an autistic spectrum member of the team, and while little mind is given to either during the film, it speaks volumes that it is a point of difference from the major offerings from DC and Marvel.
Yet the film manages to stay stylistically distinct as well, starting with Matthew J. Lloyd’s photography shining in discombobulating car chase sequence that opens the film. A spectacular series of underwater shots hold the middle act together, and it’s actually quite beautiful watching the characters on a submerged voyage of self-discovery. It’s just a shame that the final act of the film comes at us with a literal jarring crash, and is as subtle as the placement of a Krispy Kreme as the final battleground. The soundtrack, consisting largely of a Spotify playlist made up of songs with ‘Power’ in the title, is drowned out by the relentless sturm und drang. With no incremental drama leading us to this point, it undoes the tone of the first two acts, but at least provides fans with the kind of action they were expecting.
The titular Rangers, who consist of a cast made up of Australia’s Dacre Montgomery through to YouTube sensation Becky G, are completely eclipsed by the wonderful Elizabeth Banks, who simply doesn’t get enough screen time. Whether she is chewing on a donut, or the scenery around it, Banks delightfully believes she is in the 1990s version of the franchise, even if the rest of the film seems determined to forget it.
POWER RANGERS leaves itself in a prime position for a sequel, and whether one eventuates will depend on the box office prospects of this long-running franchise. Perhaps Rita Repulsa can whip up a mountain of gold to deposit on the studios to fund the proposed five or six sequels that have been touted. If the franchise is to move forward, it’s on solid footing for future films, as long as it remembers to embrace the silliness that this outing falls just shy of achieving.