Even with a few stumbles, this is an ultimately fun return of a classic franchise.
Remaking a story like that of Power Rangers requires a great deal of care on two fronts. On the one hand, preserving the world, the characters, and the essential plotlines, is important in order to make the new film appeal in the first place (brand new characters, names, etc., simply wouldn’t fly), but also requires being modernized to fit the sheen and shine of big-budget motion pictures. However, there’s also the concern of keeping a lot of the original charm — which isn’t without its strong sense of extreme camp and over-the-top flashiness — and not having that clash strongly with a modern sense of acting and drama. Thankfully, Lionsgate’s new attempt at rebooting the Power Rangers franchise is ultimately a very fun effort, despite its occasional awkward moments that stumble slightly before the big, explosive finishes arrive.
The biggest hurdle Power Rangers has to overcome is the sheer number of characters it needs to introduce, accurately recall, AND askthe audience to become emotionally invested in. Unfortunately, through no fault of the movie itself, there’s simply not enough time to accomplish all these goals; thankfully, though, the narrative doesn’t feel like the grimdark origin stories of recent superhero blockbusters. Although Dacre Montgomery (Jason Scott/Red Ranger) seems to get the longest bit of exposition here, there’s enough plot to go around for Naomi Scott (Kimberly/Pink), Becky G. (Trini/Yellow), Ludi Lin (Zack/Black), and of course RJ Cyler (Billy/Blue), who gives easily the best performance of the group. Watching Billy in his own movie would probably be plenty fun, as his own self-chatter and mannerisms are wonderfully entertaining; he and Zack are marvelously animated next to the serious stoicism of Jason, Kimberly and even Trini.
There are a few confusing attempts at cohesion in moving from the discovery of Zordon (Bryan Cranston) and Alpha 5 (voiced hilariously well by Bill Hader), through training montages, and to end up as the fully-fledged Ranger team. The explanation for this — the teens insisting that they’re unable to morph without really knowing each other, leading to a fireside heart-to-heart after one training session — feels hastily added, and shakes up the lightheartedness that runs through most other scenes. That being said, the characters are put together with an elegant ease, so much so that it’s simple enough to catch on and be curious to see where they’re going next. When big moments like the slo-mo suited-up march happen, there’s more appreciation for the changes they’ve made together.
Those criticisms aside, the film absolutely knows that it’s going to have hardcore fans going to see it — fans who, admittedly, are likely to go into this film with a cynical view, as Hollywood scrambles to resurrect franchise after franchise, often losing quality work along the way — and it hits on many great points. The theme song is present, in an extremely apropos moment; classic lines like “it’s Morphin time” and “make my monsters grow” fit into the dialogue seamlessly. Even the “ay-yay-YAY” exclamations from Alpha 5 invoke a delightful whiff of nostalgia.
The modern approach, however, comes with an extra layer of personality added where its ancestors failed to go. Zordon, rather than the benevolent director, carries the air of a defeated commander of troops, who warms to the Herculean efforts put in by his new recruits as the film goes on. Elizabeth Banks wears the insanity of Rita Repulsa like a badge of honor, alternating from confident, lawful evil to the manic wildness that seems to ooze out of her character from every rapidly-stuttering camera angle. The added opening story of Zordon and Rita’s first conflict is a clear nod to lovers of the original shows, and portrays enough of how they’ve been updated in this film to emphasize how much more vitality has been put into the cast — and that’s a great start, to be honest!
For fans young and old of Power Rangers, this new film might have its stumbles, but it’s ultimately a fun treat, and an exciting glimpse at a new generation of actors ready to take on these and other roles. If you’re excited to see the classic story retold with a modern sense of cinema — and are looking for a healthy dose of giant-robots-with-explosions escapism — this is definitely the film for you.
Power Rangers opens today.