A Surprising Bit of Pre-Summer Movie Fun

Director: Dean Israelite

Starring: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, R.J Cyler, Ludi Li, Becky G., Elizabeth Banks, Bill Hader and Bryan Cranston

Rated: PG

Studio: Lionsgate Entertainment

Running Time: 2 Hrs, 4 Mins

I have a confession to make that may cost me some of my nerd credentials: I was never a fan of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers TV show. I had nothing against it (or the toys), but it just never entered my orbit. That it was wildly popular (despite a Wisconsin serving of cheese) and it outraged parental groups with its “levels of unacceptable violence” pretty much summed up my knowledge about everything Power Ranger (imagine those same outraged parental watchdogs watching an episode of Game of Thrones today? Ouch). So when I heard there was a movie adaptation of the now 24 year-old property on the way, well it wasn’t too difficult to manage my expectations. The jaded movie cynic in me was expecting very little.

But a funny thing happened while I was sitting in my seat. My usually dominant cynic and my inner geek met somewhere in the psychological middle and struck a truce. While there was nothing really outstanding about Power Rangers, it turned out to be a harmless little diversion I couldn’t help but find amusing in spite of myself.

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65 million years ago, a group of space faring heroes defeated a threat the entire Universe. The price the defenders (known as Power Rangers) paid for their victory was their lives. The Rangers spaceship, their secrets and their power coins (the source of their powers) remained buried beneath the sleepy fishing town of Angel Cove until five teenagers, outsiders and social exiles all, discover them. Now imbued with incredible powers of their own they are now bestowed with the responsibility of defending the Earth.

Because as the five erstwhile new heroes begin their path toward becoming the new Power Rangers, Rita Repulsa, a former Ranger turned world conqueror who betrayed her team mates, returns and wastes no time resuming her quest for power. The young Rangers are soon forced into battle with life on Earth hanging in the balance. But in order to stand against Rita and tap their true power, the former misfits have to overcome the doubts that plague them and truly unite as a team.

If you’re looking for a good story, I’ll stop you right there because you aren’t going to find one here. There isn’t enough paper to list all the questions the plot doesn’t even acknowledge, let alone ask. What has the civilization that created the Power Rangers been up to for the last 65 million years? How is it that Rita’s body, lost since the time of the dinosaurs, turns up at the exact same time some teenagers discover a 65 million year old spaceship? How did one of those very teenagers (minor spoiler alert) know something weird was hanging around at a local mine? Perhaps more importantly, how did the engineers who run that mine overlook an entire spaceship to begin with? And why on Earth would super intelligent power coins choose a bunch of kids from detention to be the guardians of life on the entire planet (does this mean they have to become vegans now?)?

All questions best left unasked because Power Rangers isn’t the kind of movie that has any kind of self-awareness. The script could easily pass for a Saturday morning cartoon, the action is decent but nothing we haven’t seen a thousand times before in the Age of Super Hero movies. Ditto for the special effects. In fact, it offers nothing new, fresh or different. So what’s the appeal?

Power Rangers deserves credit for creating a genuine sense of camaraderie among the five main characters and director Dean Israelite deserves a shout out for successfully immersing the audience into that relationship. The teens evolve from a collection of strangers to a reluctant team to a family completely committed to one another. There are some genuine moments of tender pathos skillfully inserted amidst all the noise and spectacle. Power Rangers succeeds for some of the same reasons that Stranger Things did.

Most importantly, you could tell that everyone, from the five young actors (who deserve healthy golf clap themselves) to the screen veterans to Israelite himself had fun creating the film. Bryan Cranston adds some important gravitas with just his voice (he did some voice work for the very first Power Rangers show all the way back in 1993), Elizabeth Banks has some deliciously villainous moments as Rita and you could tell Bill Hader (who voiced the Rangers robot supervisor Alpha) was probably a big fan of the original show himself.

As a result Power Rangers was an amusing little pre-summer adventure. It should satisfy long time fans and give them a nice little shot of childhood nostalgia. As for everyone else, if you can check your cynicism and expectations at the door you should be fine.

But while this movie gets a passing grade, it simply isn’t strong enough to justify the ambitious plans that Lionsgate and Saban have for the franchise. They don’t merely want to make a sequel and some new toys; rather they envision a sprawling new movie universe (Dan Israelite has said his saga will need six movies to complete). The simple truth is that Power Rangers doesn’t provide a strong enough springboard to launch that kind of ambitious vision. Make no mistake, Power Rangers was a good time, but it was no Iron Man. If Lionsgate and Saban are determined to follow their grand Power Ranger plans, they’ll really need to up their game for the sequel. Otherwise they could have another Divergent debacle on their hands.

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