The latest Power Rangers movie starts strong with gritty teen drama, but falters when forcing campy action on the back end.
The film feels aimed squarely at teens and tweens with the obligatory nods to ‘90s kids that grew up on the show. There were many young kids in my theatre, and I wondered how they handled the more serious elements like car accidents and death. Kids used to watch much more mature content growing up (Bambi starts with his mother dying) so I’m happy to see a bit more reality here.
I’m no teen but the high school portion felt authentic. The troubles and social dynamics came off as real and modern, especially a girl falling out with friends over a texted nude photo. We can all relate.
The story centers mostly around Jason, the touted local hero, Kim, the popular girl with an edge, and Billy, a tasteful portrayal of a bullied student on the Autism spectrum. This part of his personality is handled with class although he slips out of character towards the end (character growth?).
Zach comes off a bit forced as the wild man foil to Jason’s stoic leadership, but grows more likable once his sub-plot is introduced. ‘Crazy girl’ Trini is the least written, remaining mysterious for far too long. A dinner scene with her parents offers some insight and a laugh, but she’s mostly relegated to the side.
The casting has noticeable PC changes from the television show as they wisely steered away from having the black and yellow rangers portrayed by an African-American and Asian actor. The cast of relative unknowns did very well and represented realistic diversity.
The structure of the movie was sound. The first thirty minutes introduced the characters to the audience and each other. I incorrectly assumed the next thirty would get them into the suits and we’d get the usual hour-long battle for the last half. Surprisingly, the transition section was elongated, for mixed but mostly positive results. Since the human’s were done far better than the super-heroes, this was for the best. The pacing felt the most sluggish when the goofy lore was explained.
Brian Cranston is Zordon, the fallen Red Ranger from millions of years ago, and now a magical talking head in a wall. The story branches slightly from the television series by giving Zordon his own agenda slightly at odds with the Ranger team. This was a welcomed addition and gave Cranston a bone to chew on.
Alpha 5 was voiced by the usually hilarious Bill Hader. Unfortunately, he couldn’t salvage the lame jokes and felt mostly unneeded. It was still a far better interpretation than the mind-numbingly annoying version of the original series.
Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa felt like a miscast. Her character’s introduction had great elements of horror that felt strong against the gritty, realistic first half. But Banks didn’t convey the weight of a powerful evil being. Instead she came off as a campy witch from Oz.
Repulsa’s creation Goldar and the rest of the CGI was bland and underwhelming. Gondar was too thin and stringy for a creature that threatened to destroy the Earth. The Zords were watered-down transformers, shiny but lacking personality. A missed opportunity considering how interesting robot dinosaurs should have been. The Rangers suits were covered in sparkly glitter and the top vents on their helmets looked like the Rangers were ready for a cross-country bicycle race.
The climactic battle had a confusing tone as it mixed campy sights with over-serious music and forced moments. A civilian character drives a truck straight into the battle just so the Rangers have someone to save.
The are a few interesting moments in the final showdown that play on teamwork and the group’s struggles, but overall it doesn’t come close to the strong opening.
Power Rangers’s teen drama is strong enough to ensure a fun viewing for younger viewers and parents, but its struggles to incorporate the fantastical elements could disappoint those hoping for martial arts and monster battles.