A solid, character-driven, crowd-pleasing blockbuster.
Power Rangers, the latest adaptation of the campy television show/film/toy brand, is a solid, character-driven, crowd-pleasing blockbuster. Helmed by South African director Dean Israelite, the film subverts expectations by taking its time to get to the action, focusing instead on the personalities of its team of five heroes: rebellious former football star Jason (Australian newcomer Dacre Montgomery), ostracized cheerleader Kimberly (Naomi Scott of TV’s “Terra Nova”), bullied-but-brilliant Billy (RJ Cyler of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl), surly loner Zack (Chinese-Canadian newcomer Ludi Lin) and the sexuality-questioning, misunderstood Trini (singer Becky G). The combination of John Gatins’ fresh script and believable, amiable performances makes the hefty amount of time devoted to character development pass in entertaining and buoyant fashion.
By the time Power Rangers gets to its action-packed final act, it feels as if the characters are truly bonded to one another and that they’ve each been on a genuine journey to get there. The main five are supported by talking head Zordan (a thundersome Bryan Cranston, who did some of his earliest work as a voice artist on the original TV show) and cute robot Alpha 5 (voiced by Bill Hader in full C-3PO mode). They are all facing off against Elizabeth Banks’ villainous Rita Repulsa, who is out to steal the Earth’s Zeo crystal. Banks bites into the role with absolute relish. Though the ludicrous, high-ponied black wig, skin-tight green costume and obsession with jewellery makes her look like something out of Kardashian Khaos, Banks’ commitment to the role and regal physicality makes for a convincing supervillain.
You might well wonder how a new film could balance the campy ‘90s feel of the original series while justifying the franchise’s place in 21st century culture.
The TV series’ fight scenes with giant robots and monsters were lifted directly from the Japanese source “Super Sentai,” but the entertainment industry has become increasingly globalized since the ‘90s, and just having giant creatures slap each other around isn’t good enough anymore.
Luckily, the new Power Rangers includes just enough call-backs to the set-up of the original (giant monster vehicles, rock monsters, the peppy “Go Go Power Rangers!” theme song) while presenting its own take on blockbuster action, which includes a morphing effect that combines the Transformers mechanical whirl with the spiky shape shifting of X-Men’s Mystique.
Though the brand may have been out of sight for the older millennials and Gen- Xers who watched it as children, their interest may have been recaptured with Adi Shankar’s brilliant viral homage https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vw5vcUPyL90 , from 2015. It’s hard not to wish that a feature length version of that short film had made, as the adult grittiness fit surprisingly well into the mythology. However, there is still a serious side to this new, shiny, teen Power Rangers, in which sexuality, poverty, terminal illness, anxiety, cyber bullying and autism are not only directly addressed but deftly handled.
Israelite’s previous film was 2015’s Project Almanac, so this is another example of a young, inexperienced male director with only micro-budgeted feature films to his name being handed the keys to a billion-dollar franchise. Such rookie directors are being chosen over established female directors like Mimi Leder, Michelle MacLaren and Power Rangers’ own Elizabeth Banks, to name a few, who have to fight to even get a meeting with producers and are only considered for female-centric films like Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel and the forthcoming Charlie’s Angels remake. Israelite deserves his fair shot like anyone else, but it is disappointing that this inequitable trend continues.
While Hollywood’s testosterone litmus test remains intact, Power Rangers defies expectations in so many other ways. Its teen characters are richly rendered, its nostalgia charming, its action surprising and its villain memorable. It feels self-contained yet still appropriate for the start of a new franchise. Though the stakes are higher now than when the rangers debuted in 1993, this new Power Rangers is more than up for the task.