'Power Rangers' Review: Dark and Gritty and Wonderfully Silly
By John Boone
You shouldn't judge a whatever by it's whatever, but the title chosen for the 2017 reboot of Power Rangers says quite a bit. It sheds the only slightly more dorky "Mighty Morphin'" of the TV series, positioning itself as another dark and gritty reimagining of something you loved when you were 11. Like that NSFW James Van Der Beek fan film meets The Breakfast Club. (Or if you loooove corporate entities, go with the full title: Saban's POWER RANGERS.)
The plot will still be familiar to any '90s kid worth their weight in Dunkaroos: Five teens with attitude stumble upon a set of candy-colored crystal coins buried in a rock quarry and are unwittingly imbued with super powers. (Know what's more unrealistic than a bunch of teen superheroes? Five teenagers just hanging out at a mine.) Shortly thereafter, they meet Zordon in an abandoned spaceship and are tasked with saving the galaxy from Rita Repulsa and her henchmonsters.
The leader of the Rangers is, as is customary, the Red Ranger: brooding golden boy Jason (Dacre Montgomery), who we know is a golden boy because there's literally a newspaper clipping calling him "Golden Boy." His rainbow of Rangers also includes Blue Ranger Billy (RJ Cyler), Pink Ranger Kimberly (Naomi Scott), Black Ranger Zack (Ludi Lin) and Yellow Ranger Trini (Becky G). Everyone plays their part well; they're just not given too much to play. He's a football player, but doesn't really want to be. She's a cheerleader, but doesn't really want to be. He's a nerd, but doesn't really want to be. She's straight(?), but doesn't really want to be(?). (That the Yellow Ranger may be LGBT is swell, but all the hype over finally having a landmark queer superhero is a bit blown out of proportion when you see what's actually in the movie. Which is...not much.)
Power Rangers doesn't waste much time on all that, instead moving on to the fun stuff fairly quickly: the training montages. The attempts at morphing (since morphing in this requires that Rangers become best fronds first). Bill Hader yucking it up as robo sidekick Alpha 5, who never once says "Ay-yi-yi-yi-yi!" but is still great. And unlike other remakes and reboots that mistake darkness and grittiness for substance, there's something exciting about taking Power Rangers -- the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers! -- so seriously, something funny and kind of amazing about watching Bryan Cranston commit his ass off to being painted blue and talking in a weird alien language.
And ultimately, director Dean Israelite (Project Almanac) is forced to accept that there is no such thing as a grounded, gritty Power Rangers. So, the movie loses a lot of its edges going into the third act and embraces the innate dorkiness of the Power Rangers -- which is when Power Rangers is at its best. After all, how could you take any of this too seriously when Elizabeth Banks is monologuing in an accent of fluctuating insanity as iconic alien witch b**ch Rita Repulsa? Rita may not be plotting the Rangers' demise from her Moon Palace (yet), but Banks is having more fun than perhaps anyone has ever had onscreen as she campily cackles, "Let's. Kill. Everyone."
In the end, Power Rangers doesn't have anything exceedingly interesting to say -- Be true to yourself! Don't judge a book by its cover! Friends are good! But it's good, dumb fun and it is cool! Zordon is cool! The Zords are cool! The suits are cool! Even when it all devolves into a city-leveling clusterf**k, as these movies are wont to do, the Rangers do battle in dinosaur trucks. What movie were you expecting?