Where to begin? Such a difficult decision. How about a hasty anecdote about pleasuring a bull? GO GO POWER RANGERS! I’m sure most other critics will begin here too. The brief epilogue is the [im]perfect introduction to the 2017 revamp of the beloved phenomenon that aired on our screens during the early nineties. Inspired by and based on the Japanese Super Sentai series, Power Rangers was a show that captured the hearts of young children everywhere. Myself included. During birthdays I’d be presented with cakes and toys and other MMPR branded merchandise. Now in my later years, I’ve collected all the episodes on DVD and permanently etched the Red Ranger’s helmet into my skin. Safe to say I have a certain affinity to the franchise. Knowing this, I went into the screening with trepidation. An educated assumption that I would be left feeling disappointed. But nothing could have prepared me for the sorry state that the film was left in.
I hesitantly mention the opening discourse again but feel it’s necessary to do so. It’s perfect for a critic because even from the early moments of the film it’s clear that the team tasked with making the franchise relevant again had no idea what they were doing. The original show entrusted it’s “teenagers with attitude” with teaching youngsters the value of friendship, teamwork, and being kind to one another. Admirably this film sticks with that ethos, heavily pushing the notion of camaraderie and friendship. It’s just a shame that the characters were too boring for me to care. Without patting myself on the back too much I will say that usually I am great to watch films with; I sit quietly, taking in the nuances of each scene, and only exclaiming when appropriate. But, on this occasion I couldn’t sit still. Committing cardinal sins like constantly shifting in my seat, talking through quiet scenes and sighing loudly. It’s not that I didn’t want to give it a chance, believe me I really did. But the film threw a curveball at me whenever it sensed I was warming to it.
The film is a confused mess. The responsibility of bringing in a new audience and appeasing the loyal fans was obviously a task too daunting for anyone. From the outset we’re presented with a subtle title; Power Rangers sneaking itself in on the lower right of the screen. Was this an attempt at distancing itself from the source material, or was the film trying to go with an indie aesthetic? The film quickly dives into Angel Grove and introduces the titular characters, a United Colors of Benneton ensemble of rebellious teens. The exposition attempts to create depth; Billy is autistic, Trini is the outcast, Jason is the popular kind in school but a disappointment to his father. All the necessary spiel for enabling us to relate to the characters is offered to us. But that’s where the film dies if you overlooked the bull wank fiasco. The generic exposition drags on for far too long. FAR too long. No noteworthy information or insight was added and nothing exciting was happening.
Unnecessary scenes are rampant throughout the film. With most involving discourse between characters but with subject matters that didn’t progress the narration, or just felt irritatingly repetitive. A key ideology of the film revolves around teamwork and harmony within the group. The Rangers have trouble displaying the required level of empathy and fellowship needed in order to morph into their suits. Rather than becoming an interesting conflict, we’re reminded too many times of their predicament without really explaining why they’re unavailing in their endeavour to harness the power.
Early on in the film I was left feeling bored. I knew what I needed to know about the characters, I understood why they were chosen. I understood their motivations for doing what they do. But it’s as if the writers didn’t. The script is terrible. Contributing nothing in the form of making the Rangers likeable or relatable. Instead prolonging the agony of having to sit through uninteresting dialogue and lazy direction. After half an hour my attention began to waver. This is director Dean Israelite’s sophomoric feature, not counting his short Acholiland. Nothing popped, nothing kept my eyes looking out for more. He brings his artificial steady cam zoom effect over from Project Almanac, a technique that I’m not a fan of. Anything artificial in terms of camera movements needs an interesting subject, an event that causes surprise or awe, or possibly something in an otherwise messy scene (like a battle) that needs to be pointed out to the audience, but whenever this technique was employed it was needless and felt like a failed attempt at interesting directing. At other places it felt too much like a standard affair, slow motion shots looked cool but there were too many odd angles and a lack of shot diversity. The brief action scenes and their choreography were boring and out of place in a film that featured so much downtime.
The cast is not to be ridiculed. They can only do so much with a forgettable script. Bryan Cranston does well, portraying a confusingly angrier version of Zordon, the original Red Ranger. Confined to a downed ancient alien vessel and with only Alpha 5, an alien, robotic, android hybrid for company. It’s his job to guide the teenagers into becoming Rangers and carrying on his attempt to rid the world of the evil Rita Repulsa. Who, after being trapped for ten thousand years was finally free and was on a mission to destroy the earth and discover the delights of Krispy Kreme doughnuts along the way. With too many disappointments to list I will bring one to light and say that I wish they’d revealed Alpha 5 the same way he was originally introduced in the show.
When you think Power Rangers you think about the suits, the Zords, the plethora of unique monsters, and the fights. None of these were to be seen until the last quarter of the film, and when they did finally appear the reveals were rushed, again, as if the writers were so worried about who to make the film for that they overlooked the most important aspects. The reveal of the Zords should have been a spectacle; the Tyrannosaurus smashing its way out of the ground, the Sabertooth Tiger trampling down trees as it stampedes through the forest. In place of this method, the Zords are just… there. As are the suits. No explanation of the significance of each suit and the connection to their wearers. There is a very fleeting moment of redemption when the theme music from the original movie plays, this made me smile, but also made me just want to watch the show.
To not risk droning on like the film, I’ll stop here. There are too few notable scenes, in a film that is also boring on a technical level. Nothing much else can be said apart from that this isn’t the Power Rangers we deserve. The film should have gone all out. I should have marvelled at the Zords, thought how cool the suits looked, and have been impressed by the fight scenes. But I wasn’t. If you want to watch a good introduction to the Rangers universe just watch the first episode of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers TV show. Angel Grove is doomed.
No No Power Rangers. A film so muddled and scared, it alienates its audience. A slow trudge through mediocre at best ideas and execution. Better expressed as an upsetting experience rather than a terrible one. Unfortunately, that doesn’t change the fact that Power Rangers failed miserably.