Director: Dean Israelite
Starring: Dacre Montgomery, Bryan Cranston & Elizabeth Banks
Review Author: Shaun
Whenever Hollywood attempts to reboot a beloved, pre-existing property on the big screen, it always feels more or less reconstructed in a way to be more accessible for all kinds of audiences, and less specific than the original incarnation may have ever been. The best thing that can be said about 2017’s Power Rangers, Saban and Lionsgate’s new attempt at bringing the iconic title back to life as a large scale blockbuster, is that it doesn’t ever feel like it betrays the core values of the Power Rangers franchise.
That may be a disappointing selling point of the film though for those who never quite connected to the original property who are going in expecting it to be a much different or darker outing than its previous incarnations. Make no mistake, this Power Rangers is still just as campy and cheesy as the original Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, but it just looks much better than that early ’90s version could ever be. To put it simply, this is very much a film for the fans out there who always wondered what Power Rangers might look like if the budget for the special effects and action sequences matched the ambition of them.
Taking place in the small town of Angel Grove, the film follows the same basic structure of the original ’90s incarnation, telling the story of what happens when five very different and seemingly unconnected high schoolers stumble upon an ancient spaceship buried underneath their town. Those kids are high school football star Jason Scott, the nerdy and antisocial Billy Cranston, former popular girl Kimberly Hart, the impulsive and seemingly crazy Zack Taylor, and quiet new girl Trini Kwan. Like most origin stories, the film opens up at specific turning points in all of their lives; Jason after a recent high school prank has left him under house arrest and banned from the football team, and Kimberly after a mean-spirited act has left her without any of her former friends. None of the characters feel particularly accepted or understood by anyone, until they all find themselves in the exact same place at the same time, and are given gifts most kids could only ever dream of receiving. Of course, those gifts do come with a certain responsibility, as they learn that they have been chosen to be Earth’s newest team of Power Rangers, an ancient order of super powered beings that have fought to protect the planet since the dawn of time.
While the film tries its best to give each of the Rangers their own specific problems and pasts, it’s clear which of the five interest the filmmakers the most. Montgomery, Cyler, and Scott all get the most to do throughout, with each bringing a large amount of likability and spirit to roles that might have otherwise been bland or boring if played by the wrong actors. Cyler, in particular, stands out as the most charismatic of the bunch, so much so that it’s not hard to see why Billy’s character ends up feeling like the heart of the film by the time it reaches the end of its second act.
Similarly, Elizabeth Banks is weirdly miscast as Rita Repulsa, one of the original and most beloved villains in Power Rangers lore. Already a cheesy character, Banks doesn’t just go over the top with her performance she actually goes a little too far. Unlike the rest of the characters and performances in the film, which each feel rooted in a very specific emotional place, Rita can’t quite help coming across like an oddly comedic foe rather than a sinister and fearsome one.
As a result, Power Rangers struggles to find the right tone at times, especially during the muddled and haphazardly-paced middle section when the team is training. Occasionally, the film manages to capture the sense of wonder and joy that audiences want from their superhero origin stories, but this also clashes noticeably with the much slower and leisurely-paced opening act. It’s only during the final 30 minutes or so that Power Rangers feels like it manages to perfectly nail its blend of campy fun and emotional stakes in a final battle that is as visually exciting as it is well-staged and executed.
On that same note, director Dean Israelite and screenwriter John Gatins are never afraid to have fun with this film, and that feels like it should be applauded. This is not by any means the “serious” version of Power Rangers like we’ve seen so many recent blockbuster reboots try to do with their properties, and as a whole, it succeeds because of the clear love and energy brought to it by everyone involved.
Coming off the mildly inventive sci-fi found-footage film Project Almanac, Israelite is the latest young filmmaker to be seemingly plucked from obscurity and given the opportunity to prove his worth through the means of large-scale, blockbuster filmmaking. The result isn’t a perfect blockbuster by any means, as the emotional aspects of Power Rangers do struggle to come through from time to time. But Israelite directs both the super-powered action scenes and mundane days of his characters’ lives in such an equally dynamic and spirited manner that he seems like the perfect person to bring Power Rangers to life for a whole new generation.
Overall Power Rangers likely won’t do much for those who never liked the property in the first place. But for those who grew up with it, or found it through the many different incarnations throughout the years, it provides the kind of passionate, loving reboot that we very rarely see from the studio system nowadays. One that goes deeper into its mythology without ever losing the camp element that made it so much fun in the first place.