By Mark Saldana
Rating: 2.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Considering that I was twenty years-old when the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers series first aired on television, it’s not all that surprising that I had little to no interest in that franchise as it continued through the nineties with two feature-length films and other spin-off series. Even though I still enjoyed some cartoons, programs and films targeted at younger audiences, this particular knock-off of Japanese shows and films just looked plain ridiculous to me. Well, here I am in my forties, and a new Power Rangers reboot movie is now in theaters. Since I do like superhero movies and stories based off of comic books, I figured that I should give this new movie a chance. I have to say that even though the filmmakers messily handle the tone and seem unsure of their chief demographic, I found the entire, sometimes silly, experience somewhat entertaining and not a total waste of time.
In the small town of Angel Grove, California, a group of teenagers come upon some mysterious colored gems that give them increased strength, agility and speed. Ex-football star Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery), the highly intelligent and autistic Billy Cranston (RJ Cyler), former cheerleader Kimberly Hart (Naomi Scott), the mysterious rebel Trini (Becky G), and loner Zack (Ludi Lin) investigate further and discovered a hidden spaceship underground. The ship houses the droid Alpha 5 (Bill Hader) and Zordon (Brian Cranston), a once living extraterrestrial whose essence remains within the ship’s computer. Zordon was once the leader of a group of warriors named Power Rangers who crashed on earth many years ago in order to protect the planet from the evil and power hungry Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) whose dormant body remains hidden somewhere on the planet. Once she awakens, the former teenage outcasts must work together to become the new Power Rangers to protect the planet from her quest for power.
Based on Haim Saban’s Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, writers John Gatins, Matt Sazama, Burke Sharpless, Michele and Kieran Mahoney, and directed by Dean Israelite, the new Power Rangers movie offers highly likable characters, well written and executed humor and decent action. The development of the main protagonists is typical superhero material with few surprises and everything plays out more or less as expected. As I mentioned above, the tone come across rather messily as it swings like a pendulum between edge and camp. Unlike Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, this movie doesn’t find a comfortable middle between both and gets a bit confusing as it swings back and forth. I really found it difficult to pinpoint who the target demographic is. The silly cartoonish moments feel appropriate for audiences younger than ten, but the darker, edgier stuff feels geared toward young teens and is actually inappropriate for anyone younger.
The development of the Rita Repulsa character is pretty much nonexistent as she is portrayed as a ridiculous caricature that I could not take seriously at all. This pretty much robs the film of any true stakes and the victory of the heroes is never doubtful. I must state that I really am not all that impressed with Elizabeth Banks in this role. Though she has her entertaining moments, I never once found her seriously villainous or frightening. As talented an actress as she is, I feel that the writing and direction are mostly to blame for the villain’s onscreen shortcomings.
As for the main cast, the actors portraying the teens-turned-Power Rangers deliver mostly solid work with some performances stronger than others. The main standouts from the team are Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, and RJ Cyler. I was especially impressed with Cyler who does an exceptional job portraying a very charming character in Billy with superb comic timing. Bill Hader offers some damn fine voicework as the also comical Alpha 5 and extraordinary talent Brian Cranston offers awesome voice work as the very fatherly Zordon.
Now, regardless of this movies weaknesses, I am quite certain that the movie will do well at the box office. It is a franchise that defined the childhoods of many people who grew up watching the shows and movies in the 1990s. The film is entertaining enough to make new fans as well. My main hope that, with the next movie, the producers hire better writers to add more dimension to the character development of Rita Repulsa and a director who can get a stronger, less cartoonish performance from Elizabeth Banks. The foundations for a great franchise is there, but lets hope the desire to make money doesn’t cloud the opportunity to do this.