Movie Review: Power Rangers
By Ben Gruchow
April 3, 2017
There has never been a greater gift to Power Rangers than the ability to assess a franchise film in the context of what’s come before it: this is ostensibly because the last two theatrical things to come before this movie were Mighty Morphin Power Rangers in 1995 and Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie in 1997, and they were varying degrees of recklessly brain-dead, poorly-made cash-in. Which isn’t to say that this Power Rangers isn’t also a cash-in, for there is almost no reason in the world for it to exist other than capitalizing on nostalgia for a brand that hasn’t been relevant for nearly two decades; it is to say, however, that this Rangers is superior in every imaginable way to those entries by such leaps and bounds of magnitude that past a certain point we might as well give up and extend it the legitimate credit it deserves for taking such a cut-and-paste hackjob of a TV series and making it into something cinematically literate. It is a low bar to clear, but clear it we do.
I roast the movie more than it deserves, frankly; even on its own problematic and middling terms, this achieves roughly the same win-loss ratio with regard to character and story and excitement as something like the 2000 X-Men kick-off, or Sam Raimi’s 2002 Spider-Man, or even Lionsgate’s own 2012 The Hunger Games. Like those starters, what we have here is a narrative that is not quite sure yet what it wants to be: the filmmaking is competent but timid and mostly anonymous, the writing stops shy of making much of a clear point for fear of alienating a new audience, and the cast has about 70 percent of their characters mapped out and occasionally steps on the frayed edges of that nonexistent 30 percent. Also like those films, though, there is chemistry and agency between its cast members and a sense that there is potential in the overall story to be told.
The Power Rangers, this iteration of the narrative makes clear to us, are a band of ancient warriors assigned to protect the universe. We see them in an apocalyptic prologue set at what I assume is the T half of the K-T extinction; as armored humanoid aliens doing battle with each other. Whether this makes the Rangers a race or merely a designation, I am not sure; maybe their armor adjusts to represent the form. The big purpose of the prologue is to set up a showdown between two Rangers, one good and one evil. The good one is the Red Ranger Zordon (Bryan Cranston); the bad one is the Green Ranger Rita (Elizabeth Banks). Rita is defeated and Zordon is put into hibernation by a meteor strike, and one assumes their extraterrestrial supervisors and the engineering department in charge of all their advanced weaponry filled out disciplinary notes for both and wrote everything off as R&D loss.
In the present, the movie shifts to a couple of high school kids in varying stages of social and academic function, with the spotlight initially trained on Jason (Dacre Montgomery) as a perpetrator of a school prank; Billy (RJ Cyler) as a kid initially bullied by his peers, and Kimberly (Naomi Scott) as a former cheerleader shut out for an unspoken act of cyberbullying and assault. Showing up somewhat later are Trini (Becky G), whose penchant for yoga and tai chi are augmented by her tendency to do so in dangerous settings, and Zack (Ludi Lin), whose function as a person appears to initially be figuring out who she is. The five of them end up in the same place at the same time in a restricted quarry for gold mining and encounter five mysterious coinlike little gems. These gems can enhance physical function and resilience, as they and we discover shortly in a race to outrun a train (a race with a rather startling outcome, given the expectations set; it's not necessarily a wild twist, but I can appreciate it when a movie sets up a familiar scenario and then undercuts it).