IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 124 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
A group of warriors on prehistoric Earth, the Power Rangers, are entrusted with protecting life on Earth and the Zeo Crystal. However, the Green Ranger, Rita Repulsa, betrays them. The Red Ranger, Zordon, takes the Rangers’ power source, the Power Coins, and hides them while ordering his assistant Alpha 5 to perform a meteor strike which kills Zordon, sends Rita to the bottom of the sea, and destroys the dinosaurs. In modern Angel Grove, five teenage misfits find the Power Coins in a mine, and wake up after a car crash with superhuman abilities. Elsewhere, Rita’s body is found, she rises, and goes on a rampage, taking every piece of gold that she can find in order to raise her minion Goldar to find the Zeo Crystal….
It initially seemed that last Friday saw yet two more exercises in nostalgia appear on our cinema screens, though it actually appears that CHIPS has been turned into a raunchy comedy and sounds like it won’t much please those of us [I plead guilty] who used to enjoy the TV series as a kid. I’m still not sure if I want to see it. But Power Rangers I was keen on seeing because I always felt that the TV series, which as any fan will tell you actually derived most of its action scenes from several instalments of the Japanese Super Sentai TV franchise, could make a decent fun romp for the cinema, despite 1995’s Power Rangers: The Movie being very lame indeed. Well, I should now change that to “I always felt until Now that the TV series could make a decent fun romp for the cinema”, because this new movie seems very ‘off’, the filmmakers obviously torn between looking back and trying to be ‘of the now’, but not helping themselves with a film that is tonally all over the place and doesn’t really seem to be trying very hard to get lots of today’s kids to like the Mighty Morphin’ teenagers, though they’re so drenched with superheroes at the moment anyway that this movie probably doesn’t appeal nearly as much as the next adventure featuring Iron Man, Thor and company. In fact much of the film tries to be dark and gritty, but surely the majority of older folk who loved the TV series when they were younger would prefer something light and goofy? And they certainly wouldn’t want to wait until four fifths of the film is over before our heroes morph and begin to kick butt. It’s all a little odd.
An opening sequence set in prehistoric times is intended to set the background, though it’s so rushed that I reckon many wouldn’t really pick up what’s actually happening except for those fans who would instantly pick up that the basic storyline is taken from the first series. We’re then thrown into the present, and a brief bestiality joke [why?] as constantly-in-trouble teen Jason Scott and a mate are on their latest misadventure and end up pursued by a cop car amidst lots of shaky camerawork which most certainly doesn’t feel old school. But then, for quite a while, the film improves and is actually quite good. Three of our five outcast teenagers meet during detention, and quite a bit of the teenage stuff in this film is clearly intended to remind us of The Breakfast Club. The characters are modelled on their TV counterparts but with a few up to date and politically correct alterations. Aside from natural leader Jason, there’s also Kimberley Hart, who’s lusted after by Jason and has been banished from her circle of friends by sending a very wrong [we can guess] photograph to someone, African/American Zach Taylor who’s a victim of bullying, Asian/American Billy Cranston who’s autistic, and Trini Kwan who is ‘coming out’ [don’t worry parents, this element is subtly handled, though other aspects of the movie make it unsuitable for many young kids]. Played rather well by all five lead performers [with Dacre Montgomery and R.G.Tyler being especially good] I was surprised how real these characters felt, how much I sympathised with them, and how much I enjoyed spending time with them.
These outsiders increasingly bond as they find themselves being prepared for superhero-dom. They mysteriously survive a car crash and wake to find that the coins they’ve found have given them special powers. The following few scenes are completely unoriginal but fun anyway. It’s especially nice to see Zach overcome a bully by actually doing virtually nothing. Then they return to the mine, discover an ancient spaceship, and meet the robot Alpha 5 and Zordon’s consciousness. They inform the teenagers about the original Rangers and about Rita, warning them that they have eleven days until Rita has her full power and finds the Zeo Crystal and uses it to destroy all life on Earth. The five teens leave the ship with no intention of returning until Zordon pleads with Jason to convince the team to prepare for Rita’s oncoming attack. At the same time, Rita has been found and wakes up to go around killing and consuming lots of gold in scenes which have a really sinister edge to them – too sinister really for Power Rangers. Elizabeth Banks is quite unsettling in the role, and has one scene where she attacks Trini in her bedroom which is both frightening and has obvious lesbian overtones. I know that many of today’s kids are made of far stronger stuff than their forbearers, but this kind of thing feels rather at odds with the basic material. On the other hand there are also moments of extreme melodrama and deliberate cheesiness. It just doesn’t hang together.
Around half way through the film seems to begin to mark time, bringing in a subplot concerning Zordon which could have been almost entirely removed with no harm to the storyline and would have much sped up the pace, and taking forever to get to the action, much like both the 2005 and 2015 Fantastic Four movies, except that this one’s just over two hours long. And then, when our heroes finally all morph, it takes place in near darkness and is cut away from. Surely, in a film which as expected is crammed with CGI because that’s all a lot of today’s filmmakers can think of [we really do live in hard times], it would be reasonable to expect the director and the visual effects crew to really go to town on the morphin’? The final act is full of the computer generated mayhem we’ve come to expect, with rock creatures [Putties], a giant winged demon made of liquid gold [Goldar] and the Rangers in big dinosaur-like vehicles [Zords]. The visual effects are neither especially good nor especially bad, but I’m really starting to feel a sense of diminishing returns with stuff like this these days, and there’s little that really impresses anymore. And it doesn’t help that the actual fighting is very limited [it was better in the TV series] and usually edited to smithereens.
I seem to be one of the few who enjoyed director Dean Isrealite’s Project Almanac– while it certainly had its plot holes [but then what time travel story doesn’t?] I thought it was a solid time travel flick with some neat ideas and using the much derided ‘found footage’ format quite well. But he doesn’t handle this picture very well and constantly falls into the trap that so many of today’s directors do of not using enough wide shots to give a sense of scale and geography, and sometimes still obviously thinks he’s shooting ‘found footage’ with passages of vomit-cam. But then again the far superior Chronicle seems as much an influence on this film as Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. As with many films that boast five writers, the script seems poorly constructed and is full of convenient coincidences, like at the exact moment the five obtain their new powers, Rita’s body is accidentally caught in a fishing net, the captain of that boat just happening to be the father of one of the rangers. Jason appears to pull a sword from nowhere, then later on returns it to the spaceship. And talk about product placement – Krispy Creme becomes a major part of the plot, and one character is even seen lovingly eating a Krispy doughnut. Similarly, there’s a tiny gag which takes a shot at the Transformers franchise. I imagine most movie goers would have been able to pick up on the reference, but it was decided that a line of dialogue was required to make it blatantly obvious.
In the end, Power Rangers is a film that’s generally better in its quiet moments than in its loud ones, seemingly more comfortable with teenagers being teenagers than superheroes saving the world. Despite its familiar characters and storyline, it doesn’t really seem to make much of an attempt to appeal to fans, Isrealite and company almost showing a disdain for the source material in places, like when they play just a few seconds of the iconic theme song before switching back to Brian Tyler’s score which as bland a Remote Control-style score as one can imagine from a composer who can actually do much better [though one can understand him not being much inspired here]. At least the pop songs heard every now and again aren’t bad as these things go. Overall, while parts of the first half are quite good [I almost wished that our teenagers had never even become Power Rangers] it seems like they didn’t really know what to do with this movie, ending up with something that is extremely patchy and probably won’t satisfy either fans or newcomers to the Power Rangers.