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‘Saban’s Power Rangers (review)

Produced by Haim Saban, Brian Casentini,
Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey

Screenplay by John Gatins
Story by Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless,
Michele Mulroney, Kieran Mulroney

Based on Power Rangers by Haim Saban
and Super Sentai by Toei Company
Directed by Dean Israelite
Starring Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott,
RJ Cyler, Becky G, Ludi Lin, Bill Hader,
Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Banks

 

“Go Go Power Rangerrrrss—“

The audience erupted into cheers as the theme song played over the planetary defenders rushing into battle. But the song is abruptly cutoff, leaving everyone to wonder why we only received this one line teaser of the bright and enjoyable series we loved.

Unfortunately that feeling plagues the entire film. Lionsgate has already planned a six movie story arc for the franchise, and this first offering is more dramatic setup than energized storytelling.

The Power Rangers are a group of teens chosen by Zordon (Bryan Cranston) to protect the crystal that powers Earth’s life force, buried under their hometown of preppy Angel Grove. It is being pursued by the evil Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), who wishes to destroy the world. Through teamwork, combat training, and prehistoric mechanical beasts the Power Rangers try to overcome personal obstacles and focus on each other to save the day.

In this version, no one really knows each other before they unite as Power Rangers. This leads to an overabundance of character development that made the awkward pacing drag even more. They are also untrained as fighters so there are training montages that make you excited for a battle that never appears in its fullest. All hand-to-hand battling in the movie is far too short to feel like actual fight sequences, which is incredibly disheartening for an adaptation of an action based series. Instead of the one-liners and martial arts that drove the plots forward we get melancholy backstory to push through. With nearly three-quarters of the movie devoted to following the cast as normal “troubled” teenagers (Parent problems! Moodiness! Mean girl sexting scandals!) I found myself wishing someone would please just hit anything.

Hard.

Power Rangers suffers from wanting to be taken far too seriously for its subject matter. Even the abrupt campfire bonding scene (yes, really) is heavier than necessary. If not for the fact that the actors are so earnest and winsome with the little they have been given, viewers would be in a coin flip on whether to root for the Rangers saving Angel Grove or for Elizabeth Banks’ gleeful take on Rita Repulsa as she destroys downtown.

Where the film lacks in good story or directing, it shines in the relatively new-to-the-scene teen actors that will be carrying the franchise. Dacre Montgomery (Jason/Red Ranger) is stepping in as this generation’s Zac Efron with the same team-leading general likability and classic good looks. Becky G (Trini/Yelow Ranger) shows that she can handle the jump from YouTube to big screen with ease. It will be interesting to see if her natural singing talent is folded into upcoming movies. Naomi Scott takes Pink Ranger Kim to an edgier place, but you can see that it is stretching her abilities. Moments where she drops the snark and plays as genuine show promise for her future roles.

The two most energetic and affable Rangers are definitely Ludi Lin’s Zack (Black Ranger) and RJ Cyler’s Billy (Blue Ranger). Lin is hilariously manic and explodes off the screen in all of his shots. I’d love to see him in more comedy-action movies going forward because he was the most comfortable onscreen. Cyler brings such heart and sincerity to quick-talking Billy that you immediately empathize with him as the loveable center of the team. The early on admission of Billy being on the autism spectrum is well-handled, and explanations of some behavioral tendencies (fixation, difficulty with social cues, etc.) are unforced but noteworthy. The same goes for the quiet reveal of a major character as LGBT.

Lionsgate clearly wants to capitalize on this franchise, still going strong (albeit not as visibly) for over 2 decades. But the campy camaraderie and fight scenes that made the low budget original so enjoyable are missing in the big screen adaptation. There are calls back to it, but this movie is never really as fun as it should be for nostalgic adults or teens who are newer to the franchise. Hopefully, these are simply awkward growing pains and we’ll see a more fleshed out sequel in the future.

 

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