Though the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was a very popular children show of the 1990s while I myself was a kid of the 70s, so my heroes were Scooby Doo and the Super Friends, which means that I went into this big budget adaptation of Saban’s Power Rangers with no nostalgic bias at all, a completely open mind with no axe to grind, and no danger of this movie “raping” my childhood.
The original Power Rangers series was a campy show that used stock footage from Toei’s Super Sentai franchise and dealt with a group of teens who gained superhero costumes to battle various enemies with their martial arts and giant robots. Simply put if I’d had been a kid in the 90s I would have eaten this show up with a spoon, but as an adult the show only held a bit of kitschy novelty to me and nothing more, so seeing a summer blockbuster version of the Power Rangers had no instant appeal to me.
The movie opens with a prologue that takes place during the Cenozoic-era where we see alien warriors dying to protect some magic crystals from Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), our film’s chief villainous, and who is defeated when the last remaining Ranger (Bryan Cranston) orders a meteor strike that though it kills him it also sends Rita to the bottom of the ocean.
Going by this film and Transformers Extinction it would appear that pre-history was constantly being screwed over by alien invaders. It’s kind of surprising we even bothered to evolve and come out of the trees.
The movie then jumps forward to present day and we are introduced to Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery), star quarterback and town hero, who after a failed practical joke involving a cow earns him a knee brace for his damage leg, that he received during a car chase collision, and an ankle monitor from the cops for said car chase and prank. He is given permanent detention for his crimes and that is where he meets autistic student Billy Cranston (RJ Cyler) and former popular girl Kimberly Hart (Naomi Scott), who would be a possible love interest if this was a different movie. Later when Billy gets Jason to join him on a trip to the local gold mine they encounter Trini (Becky G), an outsider who is questioning her sexual orientation, and Zack (Ludi Lin) who lives in the nearby trailer park with his sick mom. These five teens are the ones who will discover the hidden Power Coins and become the Power Rangers, making this movie basically The Breakfast Club with super powers, but the problem here is that once they find the coins, and gain super strength that allows them to rip doors off their hinges, it takes bloody forever for them to become the actual Power Rangers we came to see.
The beginning stuff where we start to learn about our heroes is all well and good, the inclusion of an autistic kid and a gay member to the team is one of the best elements added here, but once they encounter the robot Alpha 5 (Bill Hader), and the big head in the wall that is Zordon (Cranston), who we later learn was the Ranger from the prologue, the film really starts to bog down. The movie has a two hour running time yet the group does not appear in costume until about the ninety minute mark and there is very little action in this movie let alone heroics to tide us over. We do get some training combat scenes and one lame encounter with Rita, where not having earned their armor yet they get their asses kicked, but that’s about it.
Most of the second half of the film is about the team not being able to “morph” and thus gain their Power Ranger armor, because they have to learn the true meaning of Christmas or some such nonsense, before they finally get their armor and take the fight to Rita. Unfortunately the plot to this film is about some lame MacGuffin called the Zeno Crystal, which Rita wants but is hidden somewhere under Angel Grove. She has been collecting gold so that she can construct a giant monster to dig up the crystal and use it to destroy the world, so that’s bad I guess.
Will our heroes pull their heads out of their collective asses in time to stop Rita? How about those mecha-animal Zords the gang will get once they are proven worthy? Can the group pull it together and form the giant Megazord and defeat Rita and her giant molten monster Goldar before the Earth is destroyed? Will this film reach insane levels of embarrassment with their Krispy Kreme product placement?
This is the third theatrical Power Rangers movie, the first two being much more in keeping with the television show, where here they are trying to reboot the franchise with more well-rounded characters and a more serious tone, but as much fun as Elizabeth Banks seems to be having as Rita Repulsa we never get a sense of their being a real danger here. Sure if she wins the world will be destroyed but the film never quite makes her into a credible threat. When we finally get to see the Power Rangers duking it out with Rita’s minions the putties, who look like leftover effects from Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, it’s too little too late. The big third act of the film is this big fight with a two hundred foot tall monster called Goldar, who is a tall molten gold giant and not all that interesting looking, but by this point we’ve mostly stopped caring.
Note: The original Goldar from the show was humanoid ape with red eyes, wings and golden armor, while this movie gives us a version that looks like someone’s unfinished grade four art project. Which version of Goldar do you prefer?
That the movie had us wait so long for this big showdown between the Power Rangers and Rita’s giant warrior and then for it to turn out to be about a five minutes of CGI fighting is unforgivable. Now the stuff with the Rangers in their Zords, and them finally combining into the Megazord, was nice but as their up against a monster that even Godzilla wouldn’t give the time a day to it kind of falls flat.
I will say that young actors playing the Power Rangers all do solid work here, and as we learn more about them we actually do care about them, but when the film’s final act does arrive, after an incredibly long wait, it feels like a different picture than the one we started with. The tonal shift is just terrible. I guess it’s hard to organically go from important real life problems such as bullying and sexual identity issues to Rita Repulsa snarling at the screen, but as it stands this Power Rangers movie wasn’t terrible it just seemed to make a few big missteps along the way.
• We get a cow masturbation joke at the three minute mark. That’s a bit of class.
• The group take to the idea of suddenly having superpowers rather easily.
• Apparently a lot of people in Angel Grove have gold teeth.
• Zack inexplicably is able joyride in one of the zords.
• When Rita drowns Billy none of the group thinks to try CPR.
• Rita Repulsa is a name that works in a children’s show but it’s a bit too goofy for the film they were trying to make here.