Any given point in the new Power Rangers movie, you’re about five minutes out from one of the central teenagers turning to his or her teammates and proudly declaring some variation of, “Guys, we’re Power Rangers!” It may seem redundant on paper, but it actually serves as a helpful reminder to the audience, who really don’t get to see a whole lot of Power Ranger-ing take place onscreen. Truth be told, the movie is a good deal less interested in these kids’ discovery of their newfound abilities, heavily armored suits, and questionably sentient mechanical animal vehicles than it is in their discovery of each other. And that, for the most part, is why it works.
Over these past few years, we’ve seen studio cinema milk the ol’ motley crew gambit for all it’s worth, turning out Suicide Squad, The Magnificent Seven, and Rogue One in the last eight months alone. Though each one of these films may claim a technical superiority to Power Rangers, where the mighty morphin’ film adaptation has its company beat is in the manufacturing of what feels most sincerely like a group of people actually getting to know one another.
No individual within the new helping of Power Rangers is an especially intriguing character; we spend the most amount of time with Jason Scott ( Dacre Montgomery), a high school football star and devout man of the people who is named the Rangers’ team leader for no discernible reason beyond his being a hunky white fella. His comrades are similarly one-dimensional, particularly caustic outsider Trini ( Becky G.) and rough-‘n’-tumble rebel Zach ( Ludi Lin), who each get the bare minimum of exploration to further make room for the somewhat muddled Kimberly ( Naomi Scott), an expat of the popular circuit, and Billy ( RJ Walker), an overeager lovable nerd whom the film professes to be on the spectrum. (I’ll let you judge Power Rangers’ depiction and understanding of autism for yourself.)
Power Rangers’ faction of screenwriters will be happy to hear it if this mismatched collective reminds you at all of The Breakfast Club, as bonfire powwows and parables about the valor of unity serve as the film’s lifeblood from beginning to end. Interspersed throughout are sequences devoted to the teens’ exploration of their newly acquired abilities—oh, they find a few weird crystals and then get hit by a train and, well, you’re kind of just supposed to figure, “Yeah, that’ll do it”—and training sessions against a legion of computer simulated rock monsters, though even these action-oriented ordeals play in greater service to the notions of friendship and teamwork.
It’s somewhat stunning, considering how downright dumb the mythology and science fiction logic of the Power Rangers movie is, how effective the camaraderie through line is. Perhaps my bar has been lowered beyond reason by how hastily the aforementioned team-up pictures (and, yes, Guardians of the Galaxy—don’t kill me) rush their characters from their standings as complete strangers to the best of pals, but Power Rangers, luxuriating in a two-hours-and-change runtime, seems bent on making this transition as believable as possible.
From time to time, the film does brave footing into its accepted superhero genre, inducting the pixelated likeness of Bryan Cranston as Zordon to prattle off lectures about the history of the Power Rangers and to say things like, “Step through the morph grid,” and, “There can be only one.” By his side is a zealous Alpha 5, who is pretty much a vehicle for voice actor Bill Hader to do intermittent shtick.
On the other side of the equation is world domination-bent Rita Repulsa, who—newly awakened from an eons-long slumber (ostensibly a complete coincidence that this happens immediately after the kids unearth the secret Power Ranger merch)—goes trudging through town on a quest to collect enough gold to build herself a titanic monster friend. Seasoned comedian Elizabeth Banks approaches the part with a disproportionate amount of wackiness, playing to a significantly different creative ideology than that which seems to motivate her younger costars. Temporal dissonance besides the point, Banks’ over-the-top, non sequitur-belting supervillain supplies Power Rangers with some of its most delightful instances, including a line of dialogue so brilliant in its simplicity that it demands consideration for the AFI’s top 10.
Banks’ performance may indeed be the only thing in the film kooky enough to evoke the original Power Rangers series’ classic camp character. Rest assured, even those of you coming to the feature as diehard fans of the ’90s show, that such grandiose silliness is sidelined actually does work in the film’s favor. There’d be no way to replicate the Power Rangers vibe today without the distracting stench of irony, so that the film goes another route entirely—sincerity—makes it work as what it is. These new Power Rangers may not be the team of superhero friends you remember, but they’ll for sure feel like a team, and like friends. And occasionally like superheroes—when they get around to it.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5:
Michael Arbeiter is the East Coast Editor for Nerdist. Find Michael on Twitter @micarbeiter.
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