US Release Date: Friday, March 23, 2017
Look, I get it. If you’re going to make a movie out of a camp 90s (and current) kids TV show, you’re going to want to give it a bit of a twist. Modernize it, certainly, add in some easy humor, dial up the action. And since you’re going back to some well-known characters now a quarter-century-old, you’re probably going to want to reinvent them a little, update them for the millennial crowd.
And the filmmakers of Power Rangers certainly did all of that.
But now I just don’t understand who this movie is for.
If it’s for the children who currently watch the assorted Saban Power Rangers incarnations, then it has been way too aged-up to be wholly appropriate for them. I mean, when you have a bull-wanking joke in the first five minutes, this is obviously not a film for the kiddies. So maybe it’s supposed for those of us nostalgic for the original series, for the Jason and Kimberly and Zack and Billy and Trini of yore? But if that is the case, then why make such distasteful changes to the premise, and then take so very long to get back on track? I mean, the show dealt with pretty much the entire plot of this movie in just one 22-minute episode.
Here’s a quick précis of the show’s first episode:
Alien witch Rita Repulsa escapes from millennia of captivity on the moon and begins to plot taking over Earth, and thence presumably the universe. Meanwhile, in a postcard-perfect California town called Angel Grove in which the Youth Center is apparently the hub of all teen activity, the athletic Jason and Zack teach nerd teen Billy karate while the very nimble Kimberly and Trini practice their gymnastics. But Rita’s escape has the ancient and wise alien Zordon, the self-imposed protector of our planet, worried, and so he bids his robot henchman, Alpha-5, to bring him five teenagers who will become his earthly avatars and stop her. Seemingly at random, our five aforementioned teens are seconded into this battle, and after some initial reluctance, they agree to become superheroes and on the mantle of the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, gaining expertise in martial arts and some color-coordinated flashy outfits as well as control of gigantic dinosaur-themed armored vehicles. They punch their way to victory, but Rita vows she WILL be back. Then the episode ends with a terrible joke.
So, someone looked at the basic plot and thought to themselves, I know! Let’s make an entire feature film out of that! A 2-hour feature film out of that! But how will we fill out the running time? Oh, with some backstory on a sexed-up Rita (Elizabeth Banks, channeling Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy), of course! And Zordon (Bryan Cranston) could be a total jerk! And maybe we meet some of the kids’ parents! And maybe they are initially way more reluctant to become Power Rangers than had previously been explored, and they have actual superpowers — they can leap across canyons and not get their bones broken by bullies! (Yes, I see you there, faux Bulk.) Maybe they need not one, not two, but seventeen million training montages! And maybe they don’t hang out at the Youth Centre, maybe they meet in detention, and on a cliff face! And maybe Alpha-5 doesn’t choose them to be Rangers, maybe it’s all just a big accident! And maybe Billy (RJ Cyler) isn’t just smart, he’s on the autism spectrum! And the kids yell at each other a lot! And! And! And!
Come on, movie. Why so terrible? You had one job. Cool fights, cool kids and some admittedly cool new Ranger outfits. Instead, it all takes SO LONG and it is SO TEDIOUS and it is SO WRONG.
Oh, there are a few redeeming features to the movie. Yes, the Ranger armor update is awesome (of course, it takes them three quarters of the movie to use it, so even that becomes a zero-sum game), and there is nice call out to the racial profiling of the original — the black guy being the Black Ranger and the Asian girl being the Yellow Ranger — by mixing up the ethnicities and colors. Dacre Montgomery’s Jason is highly watchable and believable as the natural leader of the group (and Dacre is just a very cool name), and Bill Hader is rather adorable as the voice of Alpha-5 (even if he, much like the Zords, looks super-weird and ill-designed by his alien masters). There is also a kind of proto-romance between Jason and Kimberly that sets up a good love triangle with the mentioned-in-a-mid-credits-scene Green Ranger, Tommy, for the sequel — not that I hope this movie will get a sequel — and a swipe at mean girl cyber-bullying that isn’t entirely out of place.
But the very, very occasional moments of levity, of callback, of clever reference to the original material and of actually viable drama are so woefully eclipsed by the sheer amount of stupid this movie throws at us — again, and this cannot be emphasized enough, across more than two hours — that they might as well not be in there at all. (No, not even Alpha’s patented “Aiyaiyai”s.)
So, I’m sorry, new Jason, I do appreciate the attempt, but it is emphatically not morphin’ time. You do not deserve it.
SF Adaptation | PG-13 | 124 minutes
Based on Power Rangers by Haim Saban
Story by Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless, Michele Mulroney, Kieran Mulroney
Written by John Gatins | Directed by Dean Israelite
Starring Naomi Scott, Dacre Montgomery, RJ Cyler, Becky G, Ludi Lin, Elizabeth Banks, Bryan Cranston, Bill Hader