The world seems to be full of film revivals of childhood favourites at the moment. Last week it was Beauty and the Beast, a pretty faithful re-adaptation of Disney’s 90’s classic. This week is review of a reboot for the ultimate 90’s cheesy superhero franchise, Saban’s Power Rangers. It’s morphin’ time!
Written by John Gatkins and directed by Dean Isrealite, the new Power Rangers film goes back to the beginning of the franchise’s timeline. It opens on prehistoric earth as the only remaining Ranger, an alien known as Zordon, battles with villain Rita Repulsa to protect the Zeo Crystal (the source of life on earth). Burying the coins of his fallen comrades, Zordon calls an asteroid to earth, sacrificing himself and disabling Rita. Flash forward to five unhappy teenagers in Angel Grove accidentally stumble upon the coins and discover that they now have super strength (among other talents). Further exploration of the mine where they found the coins leads them to the robot Alpha 5 and Zordon, who was preserved in an interactive wall. They begin training to become true Power Rangers and to defeat the newly risen Rita Repulsa but a lack of unity makes it impossible for them to morph into their armour, leading Zordon to abandon all hope in the group. When Rita Repulsa moves in to attack Angel Grove, searching once again for the Zeo Crystal, the five teens decide to take a stand against her anyway and protect earth.
I will admit that my memories of the Power Rangers TV series, on which this film is based, are hazy. A combination of how young I was when it was on, the passage of time, and the episodic nature of the show means that I don’t know how deeply the origin of the Power Rangers had been explored prior to this. What I do remember is cheesy goodness, the Pink Ranger being quite happy-go-lucky, and the villains generally being quite inept. This reboot does things a bit differently. It’s grungier and moodier and definitely an interesting take on the classic series. There was no proper origin story that I can remember in the original show (and Wikipedia doesn’t include any background) but this Power Rangers film hooks on to that gap to provide a proper introduction to the new team and the world they inhabit. As the first film in the rebooted series, Power Rangers creates a backstory that fits in with the memories of the original series.
Looks-wise, Power Rangers is a good watch. They have’t gone too the almost luminescent brightness of the 90’s series but they haven’t gone for the nearly unwatchable darkness of Suicide Squad. The added details to the Morph armour and Rita Repulsa’s costume fit well with the more grown up look their going for but I don’t think they’ve pushed it too far. And the updates to film technology has meant that the monster feel more real, a big change from the almost cartoonish villains of the previous series. They’re still very Power Rangers-y (if you know what I mean) but they actually seem like a threat in this film. It’s also a pretty great film for the ears too – it has one hell of a soundtrack!
As can be expected of a Power Rangers launch film, there are multiple characters to introduce and build up interest in. I originally started writing a bit about each of the five, how similar they are to their predecessors, and what role they fill, but to be honest it feels a bit premature. This film is definitely the start of a series. We don’t know the characters properly yet and I don’t think they are supposed to. Each of them, at the start of the film, are trapped in some way. By expectations, family situations, their own belief in themselves… That’s what seemed to be the biggest thing in this narrative – get the characters to the point where they feel like they can become what they want to be so that subsequent films can explore them properly later. Ordinarily I would be frustrated by the limited insight into each character but the action and the interplay between the group lets this tactic work. I do feel that it could have been a little more balanced because there was a hell of a lot of focus on three out of the five, with the fourth (Zack) only getting touched on a little and the fifth (Trini) getting even less, but it may have just been my perspective.
One of the best things about Saban’s Power Rangers is the fact that it is clearly trying to reflect teen issues. I would generally consider the grunginess, darker look to be an aesthetic choice but in this film it seems to be directly roped in to some of the topics they’re addressing. Alongside the generic hero-struggles-with-expectations-placed-upon-him, the subject of kids as carers comes up, and one character struggles with the consequences of sharing illicit photos of a former friend. Obviously the media got all excited about the LGBT and autistic characters but, while I agree that this diversity should be lauded, there is so much more being tackled in this one film. The five kids that make up the Power Rangers team are all struggling with something that teenagers genuinely may encounter and I appreciate that they haven’t tried to pretty it up. Although part of me does feel like they’ve been a little heavy handed in Power Rangers, I do think it’s important that they tried to reflect some real issues.
The new Power Ranger‘s film is a grungy take on the classic series but hasn’t lost some of the cheesy goodness that nostalgia requires. With the expansion of the history behind the Rangers and a diverse cast, it’s a solid beginning for what will probably be a series of films. Most importantly, it’s really enjoyable to watch and doesn’t destroy my love for the old show.