Power Rangers is a mystery. First off, how does it exist? That’s bonkers. But also, how does it work? It manages to be innovative, progressive, and just the right amount of referential and reverential at the same time. It’s far from a perfect film—it’s biggest problem is caused precisely by that Megazord-sized ambition—but it gets so much right, you can’t help but walk away with a smile on your face.
In many ways, it was built to fail. Feeling like a cash-in on a cornerstone of millions of childhoods that now have money of their own to spend on movies that require their parents to drop them off at the theatre, it still somehow managed to collect an Academy Award-nominated writer, several big names for the cast, and a director that had already been down this road before in Dean Israelite with Project Almanac to moderately negative reviews.
From the get-go, however, it draws you in. It revamps the origins of the fighting force, putting them on a Green Lantern sort of level of organization, defending the universe from evil. Zordon (Bryan Cranston) and his own team of Power Rangers fails to defeat Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) in any conventional means 66 million years ago and resort to a drastic measure that ends in their and a planet’s worth of dinosaurs’ collective demise, but not before he buries five colorful coins with a Mjolnir-like desire to seek out those that are worthy.
And then the movie goes on to aggregate those five angsty teens, and it feels a lot less perfunctory than you would assume. It feels damn near organic, in fact, to a point. Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery), for instance, is the star quarterback of Angel Grove, but he’s also a perennial troublemaker, a penchant that culminates in him ruining his career, nearly ruining his education, and worsening his relationship with his father. After ending up in detention, he meets Billy Cranston (RJ Cyler) and Kimberly Hart (Naomi Scott).
Each of them have their own reasons for being there as well, and each of those reasons is the tip of the iceberg to a surprising amount of depth and meaningful characterization that is revealed as they begin to form friendships. Admittedly, it’s not hard to see why this works since it’s the exact setup for The Breakfast Club, but rather than an affront to the classic and any sensibilities of plagiarizing, it feels more like its own thing, using this as a springboard for the greater story than being the focus of it.
That doesn’t, however, stop it being problematic in its own way. In a wise move of looking too convenient, it introduces Trini (Becky G) and Zack (Ludi Lin) outside of school, but in what feels like a move that actually is too convenient, their introduction is more or less “well, here they are, I guess.” It’s damn near laughable looking back on it, even with the supposed influence of destiny and whatnot.
If that sounds like a lot of setup, that’s because it is. This behemoth of a movie comes in at just over two hours, and most of that is dedicated to this overflowing first act. And that’s primarily because it gives a reason to do so. Each of the Rangers has a wealth of backstory, and each one is meaningful. Billy, for instance, is dealing with some complexities of intellectually mourning his father but failing to emotionally grasp it due to his autism. And Zack has to battle his own conflicting feelings about being there for his mother and wanting to dodge an inevitable but life-wrecking bullet.
Granted, in many cases, the effectivity of these rich histories is underutilized (though that could also be a problem of underwhelming performances). Trini, for example, is a first for superhero movies and conceptually deep and affecting as it smashes together the needs for personal identity with the need to belong in a family and a greater and constantly changing school community, but it doesn’t really go anywhere other than explain her aloofness. And in other cases, it just rattles away in cliché territory, but given the piles and piles of story the movie needs to get through, it’s hardly surprising.
This grand characterization ambition, though, spreads out to the villain Repulsa, where Banks is just terrific. Rather than sticking with the source’s original desire to beat the Power Rangers just because, it builds a more solid foundation of conflict between her and Zordon. And in that, it overcomes the greatest and endless criticism of the television series (other than indirectly advocating violence in youths) where she and her great, building-sized monster have seemingly little impetus to fight the Power Rangers at all.
This is what I mean when I say it’s just the right amount of referential and reverential. It takes the entire breadth of the franchise into consideration while building up this reboot, and then makes it into something new that honors the source material while being its own thing. It would have been easy to be just a 90-minute collection of smash cuts and montages where 30 minutes in, you see them all suited up and in their Zords and already battling bad guys. Instead, it luxuriates in the fact that it has you on the hook already, and it plays with the idea that it knows what you want.
It’s to the point that when it finally reaches the last act and it unleashes a god damn unfettered barrage of overt shoutouts and subtle head nods and playful jabs at the campiness of the series, it feels earned. It borders on being an ideal crescendo into the climax of the whole film, where even the unavoidable Big Thing That Happens (you know) feels necessary rather than obligatory. I felt like I was smiling the hardest I’ve ever smiled in my life.
And it would be a flawless orchestration if it didn’t seem to mire itself at all the wrong times in its profundity. It stumbles in every other scene as it tries to mix drama, humor, action, and worldbuilding in turn. It’ll go from incredible integration of exposition into natural dialogue to things happening because they need to establish something else for later on a dime before slowing to a crawl because that’s how it’s written.
Visually, though, in all the action sequences, it’s (thankfully) impressive, even if the CG looks just a bit too perfect at times. For featuring five heroes at once battling dozens and dozens of Putty (who also get their own fantastic reinvention), it’s all surprisingly digestible. The Michael Bayness of overengineering costumes and mechanical designs to the point of disgust continues to be problematic from their original reveal, but they at least make it work in motion. Iron Fist could learn something here.
By the end, it certainly feels like the movie bit off way more than it could chew, let alone fit on a plate, but it cobbles itself together into a mostly coherent and cogent film. Far too much of its prolific setup is wasted, but it gives itself into a sequel that, given the potential shown here, is more than welcome. If you have the stomach for some lethargy with a side of childhood rekindling, then this just might be the movie for you.
Final Score: 7 out of 10