A nostalgic reboot nobody was really dying for made by one of Michael Bay’s acolytes in modes that attempt to appeal to all but almost always please none. Power Rangers is the sort of modern Hollywood product doomed to fail. But as God as my witness I actually sort of had a good time with this.
Do not mistake my court-oath swearing of enjoyment for a ringing endorsement. Power Rangers is undoubtedly a cash grab (its MacGuffin is a Krispy Kreme, I shit you not) and seems weirdly out of time in a modern superhero sensibility, occasionally apologizing for a goofiness that we’ve pretty much grown to accept these days.
But there’s an earnest and heartfelt love for the characters that occupy its power suits, letting something like actual teenagers be the heroes, and from time to time it lets those apologetics drop to be something unabashedly goofy and weird and entirely its own. It isn’t as though one should ever expect much in the way of artistic integrity from a series that started as a cheap way to make some Saturday morning cash, but the fact that Power Rangers finds anything worth watching within its corporate demands is a minor miracle.
The outline of this film remains largely the same as the now semi-famous intro. After millions of years, Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) is free and her former friend/ancient enemy Zordon (Bryan Cranston) needs five warriors, who end up being teenagers with attitude, to stop her plan to create giant monster Goldar that will destroy the whole world.
Those teenagers are Red Ranger Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery), disgraced high school football star; Pink Ranger Kimberly Hart (Naomi Scott), former mean girl in trouble for revenge porn (I said this movie got weird); Blue Ranger Billy Cranston (RJ Cyler), an autistic boy who lost his father; Yellow Ranger Trini (Becky G), a troubled girl who’s moved around a lot for reasons the movie keeps vaguer than it should; and Black Ranger Zack (Ludi Lin), a rambunctious kid who takes care of his ailing mother.
So, yeah, our kids have young adult problems. They’re often vaguely connected, but director Dean Israelite and screenwriter John Gatins approach them not out of a sense of obligation, but with an earnest and genuine care for these kids and their problems and their relationships.
This gives Power Rangers an odd and endearing sweetness, a legitimately strong bond between its character and an actual affection that you start to feel for them. It’s not hurt by the surprisingly solid performances our main cast is giving. All five Rangers feel honest and charming, even when the movie is awkwardly moving through their story beats (Trini is set up to struggle with her family because she’s a queer woman, but the movie functionally blinks through that important set-up).
Power Rangers is also gifted with two performances that actually go above and beyond the call of duty. One is Elizabeth Banks’ Rita Repulsa, who seems to be the only performer totally and completely aware of how ridiculous playing a character named Rita Repulsa is. She’s personally cooking and serving a five-course meal of the scenery and having the time of her life doing it. It’s the sort of endearing ridiculousness that the film could use just a bit more of at times, Repulsa is more enjoyable when she’s big and ridiculous later on than when she’s scary and dark towards the beginning (a fairly apt metaphor for the whole film).
The other is RJ Cyler’s Blue Ranger, who the film essentially posits as the heart of this team. Cyler gives a great performance here, open-hearted and funny without ever making him the butt of the joke or an insensitive character. He’s genuinely memorable, and earns some legitimate pathos that you didn’t expect to get out of this movie.
The sort of pathos that if Israelite could slow down, he would earn more often. Power Rangers is weirdly strong in its biggest and its smallest moments. It’s a movie that has two giant robots punching in broad daylight, but can pull down in the middle of that battle and show a father driving into that battle to make sure his son is okay and letting its hero earn the respect of his father by stopping to save his life. Israelite has a few really phenomenal visual ideas (a particularly stunning zero-G fight taking place in water) that get suffocated under slap-dash and jittery editing and filming styles. A film that felt more confident in what it was could have been legitimately phenomenal.
Perhaps that’s what most holds back Power Rangers. The pitch here was clearly Breakfast Club/Degrassi+Chronicle+Power Rangers and in the moments that it can mostly deftly juggle those three tones, it succeeds. When it makes the audience care for a group of misfits, when it brings some legitimate awe, and when it has giant robot dinosaurs running across a field to the strains of its classic theme song, you get the appeal here, you find yourself surprised how much you like this movie.
It’s when it’s not those things, when Israelite and Gatins lose sight of their goal, that this movie becomes what it was feared. It’s never necessarily awful in those moments, though it is absolutely clunky. But when it overindulges in its mythology or move through more awkward beats (the film follows up an opening alien battle with a joke about jerking off a cow), Power Rangers simply makes you wonder who it was for. Who was the intended audience, given that it’s too goofy for an adult and teen audience and too mature for a child audience? Even for the nostalgic, this thing takes 90 minutes to actually get to the part with the Power Rangers and their Zords and all that.
Let me say though. It takes 90 minutes to get there but once they go in, they go ALL IN.
Look, no one was expecting brilliance, even I’ll admit that I had rock-bottom expectation for this movie. Power Rangers actually manages to overcome that and orient itself somewhere around the area of enjoyable. This is a decent enough blockbuster, a teen movie that feels like it’s about actual teenagers, and a movie with a surprising amount of sweetness and care. All of this adds up to something more than the sum of its actual parts, an affection that is earned on what the movie is as a whole and by the attitude that went into it.