Reboots, remakes, sequels and movies based on existing TV shows are inevitable. While recent years have made it seem like nothing is original, this has been happening for a while. Back in 1993 when the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers TV show was premiering in the U.S., Addams Family Values, the SECOND film based on the Addams Family TV show was being released. In 1995 when the original Power Rangers movie was opening in wide release, so was The Brady Bunch Movie with a cheeky take on the TV series. Side note: The Brady Bunch movies are hilarious gems and the world needs a Brady Brides movie starring Jennifer Elise Cox as Jan and Christine Taylor as Marcia. I digress. Instead of fighting these movies altogether, we should simply demand more from them. That doesn’t mean I want to see original movies vanish from our multiplexes. I don’t. But we are going to get movies based on existing properties regardless, so we might as well make good ones.
Movie Review: Saban's Power Rangers
By Danny Pellegrino
March 28, 2017
All that is to say I think Saban’s Power Rangers succeeds in spades. It delivers a fantastic movie in spite of the source material. I was a HUGE fan of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers as a kid. I was eight-years-old watching teenagers save the world from evil monsters every day after school. Looking back on the series, it wasn’t exactly high art or great dialogue. What it did offer was a diverse team of superheroes, colorful costumes and some memorable villains. In my opinion, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers has a stronger rogue gallery than Marvel. Don’t @ me. There are so many great ideas in the show, but it’s executed with a tiny budget and lots of camp. With its cheesy tone geared-toward-children sensibilities, making a four-quadrant movie from this source material was surely a tough thing to do. Fortunately, the movie took the things that are great about the show and found a skilled writer, director, actors and producers to bring it to life while maintaining just enough camp to satisfy fans that want a faithful adaptation.
At its core, Saban’s Power Rangers is a superhero team origin story. Five teenagers must come together to save the world from evil. The most recent team-up movie that comes to mind is Suicide Squad. Both movies are about a group of people coming together for a common goal. Where Suicide Squad failed, Saban’s Power Rangers succeeds. The five teenagers that are destined to come together don’t do so in Power Rangers with little or no explanation. They muddle through the process of becoming a team and the movie is better for it. We don’t just have the group gathering together with a quick line of dialogue setting up their companionship. In Power Rangers, the group figures out how to work together and they take the time to learn about each other, knowing that they need to put in work to fulfill the destiny that is laid out in front of them.
Saban’s Power Rangers isn’t afraid to get deep. There’s a scene mid-movie set to a cover of “Stand By Me” that left many people in theater in tears. It’s a powerful moment you wouldn’t expect in a superhero movie, let alone one based on this property. For me, that was the second time I cried.
The first time was an earlier scene set around a campfire. Much has been made in the press about Trini, the Yellow Ranger played by Becky G, being the first queer superhero on screen. I’ve read some reports that suggest the filmmakers didn’t do enough since the character only has one line of dialogue where she alludes to her sexuality. As a gay man, I can say that the character is explicitly gay throughout and it’s a beautiful thing to see in a big budget picture. They only need that one line of dialogue to show this because it’s clear to anyone that has struggled with sexuality in their teen years. Little boys and girls who experience puberty differently than the majority of their peers will see themselves in Trini each time she appears on screen. That little line of dialogue that spells it out a little clearer comes during the campfire scene, but it’s always there in the subtext of the character. I couldn’t help but wonder if my struggle would’ve been a little easier if I had seen that scene when I was 10 and sitting in the theater to see the first Power Rangers movie in 1995. For those counting at home, I’m a grown man that cried twice during a Power Rangers movie.
Trini may be the first queer superhero in a film this size, but there’s another first that is equally as important. Billy, the Blue Ranger, plays a pivotal role throughout the movie. He arguably steals the movie from the others, as he is the beating heart of the team. Played beautifully by RJ Cyler, Billy is on the spectrum. It’s not just implied, the character says this. And he’s a main character. A superhero. A black superhero on the spectrum. For young boys and girls on the spectrum, this is a game changer.
None of the diversity in this movie would be as powerful if it was forced. It feels real. This is what a group of teenagers in America looks like in 2017. They are boys and girls, and white and black and Asian, and LGBTQI and on the spectrum. If you’re a straight white boy, you’ve had countless Batmen and Avengers to look up to. It’s important for young children to see that it’s also women and people with autism saving the world. Saban’s Power Rangers teaches them that.
So what else works and what does not work? The movie is long. It’s just a tad over two hours. That might be tough for young kids, especially because the main action and special effects don’t come into play until the last 20-30 minutes. That’s not to say it’s boring until then, it just earns the action and builds up to it. The filmmakers save the CGI spectacle for the end and the movie is better for it. The buildup makes the payoff that much more satisfying. Seeing the Zords (giant robots controlled by the five main characters) in action at the end felt like I was seeing one of my childhood fantasies realized with a giant budget. I was grinning ear to ear like a kid again.
Whereas movies like Batman v Superman or Pacific Rim filter these fight scenes through darkness and rain, Saban’s Power Rangers embraces the color. I always wondered why Warner Bros. would want to mute the beautiful red and blue of Superman’s costume. Here, we see the reds, blacks, blue, yellows and pinks of the ranger’s costumes. The big monster is named Goldar and he radiates gold. You aren’t looking at a sepia-toned monster at nighttime in the rain. It feels like the filmmakers are giving us permission to feel like a kid when these action scenes take place. In those other big-budget movies, I always feel like the filmmakers are hiding the action out of embarrassment. It’s as if they want to darken the colors to make it impossible to see that we’re watching grown people fight in costumes. Power Rangers lets us see the action.
We get to sit back in glee as we watch grown(ish) people fight in bright costumes. Instead of feeling embarrassed by what we’re watching, we are seeing what our imaginations saw when we were kids playing with action figures in our bedrooms. There’s a perfect musical cue toward the end that in other films would be played for laughs, but here it felt like the director’s way of saying, “It’s okay to enjoy this, that’s why we made it.”
The young actors playing the rangers are all fantastic. I already mentioned the Yellow and Blue Rangers. Dacre Montgomery in particular stood out to me among the others. He plays the Red Ranger, the leader of the group. He’s got charisma in spades and they gave him a couple shirtless scenes to cement his status as a future heartthrob. Bill Hader and Bryan Cranston both lend their voices to iconic characters in the mythology. Hader as Alpha 5 was wonderful. He took what could’ve been an annoying character and made him the comic relief instead of an eye-rolling detour. Cranston opens the movie in a thrilling scene that sets up the basics and lets you know you aren’t watching the Power Rangers of 1993. Elizabeth Banks camps it up as Rita Repulsa, the main villain of the film lending some star power. Her take on Rita is much different than the TV series, and it mostly works. There are a few moments that she plays for comedy that don’t quite land, but she’s having fun with the role and I had fun watching her play it.
Will you like this movie as much as I did? If you were a fan of the show, I think you will. You’ll get wonderful callbacks and cameos to hit all your nostalgia feels. For those of you outside my generation, I think you’ll appreciate the tenderness they approached this superhero origin story, getting a movie that’s just enough different from the other Marvel and DC movies that flood the marketplace. It may seem like I’m praising two different movies—a grounded teen drama and a flashy adult cartoon. This movie is both. It often shifts from campy to serious in the blink of an eye. As a fan of the show, this made total sense to me. It appeals to my eight-year-old sensibility while still giving me some grounding to reality. I thought it was the perfect balance, but I can understand how others would find it jarring. I recommend going in with some popcorn (if you can sneak a Krispy Kreme into the theater, do it and you’ll thank me later) and letting the mix of cheese and teenage dramatics whisk you away for a couple hours.
I hope this movie does well enough that we get sequels upon sequels with the same filmmakers. It delivers everything those other superhero movies haven been offering for years—good versus evil to save the world. Saban’s Power Rangers, however, goes the extra step in providing representation on screen for people that haven’t seen themselves via Marvel or DC. There’s so much mythology left to explore. Fans like me are salivating thinking of the potential of a Green Ranger movie, or seeing the White Ranger and Lord Zedd come to life. In the meantime, Saban’s Power Rangers shows little boys and girls that it isn’t just white men in colorful costumes saving the world. It’s colorful people in colorful costumes saving the world.