Given its source material, the new Power Rangers movie should not be any good.
I say this as a fan. I grew up with Saban's superhero TV show, buying a lot of toys, VHS tapes, costumes and video games along the way. But you can't go home again, and watching old episodes of the show I used to love is nothing short of painful. The dialogue is unnatural, the fight scenes look amateur and the level of cheesiness is off the charts.
So in a way, the fact that this 2017 movie reboot of Power Rangers is any good at all can be viewed as a miracle. It has no right to be.
Unfortunately, it clings just enough to some of its old tropes and flaws that it fails to reach its full potential.
Power Rangers is the story of five teenagers, each of them their own sort of lovable misfits (three of which meet in detention), who together discover an alien ship that has been buried under the earth for 65 million years. In that ship they meet the disembodied Zordon (voiced by Bryan Cranston) and the robot Alpha 5 (voiced by Bill Hader), who inform the teens that they are now Power Rangers and must protect the source of life itself from the evil former Ranger named Rita (Elizabeth Banks). Training montages ensue, and by the end of the movie these teens are basically superheroes. Superheroes with rad dinosaur robots to ride around in.
This setup is cliched and not especially deep, and it's packed with too many convenient coincidences and vague references to "the Morphing Grid" that make it sound like a supernatural deity pulling strings behind the scenes, but its far and away better than the original series' setup of Zordon saying specifically requesting "teenagers with attitude" with which to save the world. In fact, the teens' slow realization and acceptance of who they are is more reminiscent of Chronicle (though with less angst and violence) than a Saturday morning cartoon.
While the Rangers as characters aren't always perfect and some of their motivations fall flat, there is more depth to each of them than you would typically expect from an action movie presumably aimed at younger audiences. The plot and character developments never reach Marvel-levels of script writing, but they're above average for the B- or C-tier stuff you might expect from this movie.
Billy (RJ Cyler) is a particular standout. He tells another character unashamedly that he's on the autism spectrum, and while his behavior is sometimes used as comic relief (something that could be viewed as problematic), the character quickly becomes highly respected and the most-loved member of the team.
Trini (Becky G.) has a moment where she alludes to the fact that she might not be straight, and while the topic of sexuality is very quickly brushed over (perhaps in part because Lionsgate still hopes to reach kids with this PG-13 film), it adds dimension to the character that was never present in the original show.
But there are moments when the movie can't help but wink and nod a little too hard in the direction of the old fans (many of whom are likely, like me, in their late 20s at this point). A couple classic lines sneak by without any cringe, and some cameos crop up that are perfectly fitting, but the movie's third act has too much of that classic cheesiness that threatens to make the whole thing fall apart, and they bring it back from the brink just in time to save it. Banks hams it up too much in her villainous role and there's some product placement that's funny before it's exhausting, but thankfully the filmmakers showed just enough restraint in the end.
Seriously, though. I remember what the original theme song sounded like. I didn't need to hear it in this more-serious movie, where it feels terribly out of place.
It makes one wonder who Saban and Lionsgate are really targeting with the movie. Is it the original fans like me? If so, it could have gone much darker and more adult, like Adi Shankar's amazing, R-rated (and extremely unauthorized) Power/Rangers fan film, because we're old enough for that now. If the audience is young, new fans, then this new movie deserved more of a clean break from its source material, because too much nostalgia only holds the movie back.
Still, they tease a sequel that would go exactly where an original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers fan would want it to go, and I have to confess that I really want to see that happen. Just do it with a bit less cheese next time, please.
Power Rangers (B-)
PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, language, and for some crude humor). 124 minutes. In wide release.