The Nostalgia boom in Hollywood has been a dominating force for years now, but the 1990s have been left relatively untouched. The time has come for a new decade to gift its pop culture icons to the mighty reboot, with the classic television series Power Rangers hitting the cinema over the weekend. The awkward love child of a Japanese action series Super Sentai and careful reshooting to appeal to a western audience, The Power Rangers series was a fun and ridiculous show which sits pretty in the hand of those who grow up in the 90s. But can this series survive a gritty modern day adaptation?
The story of the 2017 Power Rangers movie is your typical cut and paste superhero origin story that we’ve now seen a million times. The group of protagonists are brought together and forced to get along despite their differences, overcome their personal obstacles and defeat a terror threatening to destroy everything they know. There’s nothing particularly new being brought to the table, and in that respect it feels like a very safe movie designed to do respectable numbers and justify making some sequels.
That might paint a pretty bleak picture of the movie, but the truth is Power Rangers is far better than it has any right to be. You’ve seen it all done before, but the execution across the board makes it worth retreading some familiar ground. Bryan Cranston and Elizabeth Banks might be known actors, but the main five from which this movie is relying on are all more or less unknowns. But they all do a solid job in their roles, helping to carry the typical teen stereotypes that form the basis of their characters into likeable heroes that you can’t help but root for.
RJ Tyler, who plays Billy Cranston aka Blue Ranger is by the stand out of the five, both in execution and characterisation. There had been a bit of talk about the decision to include both an autistic and a LGBT character, and in the case of the former RJ Tyler makes it a memorable but respectful performance – some of the writing is a little blunt and exposition filled at times, but Tyler is charming enough that it endears you to Billy. As for the LGBT role, it’s a small detail that barely plays into the story at all, used to help round out a character rather than deliver any kind of moral message – which is exactly how it should be handled. Each Ranger gets one or two keys traits to their character and history that help to shape who they are, and each gets to grow a little as a person through their inclusion to the team. They all shine brightest when their group chemistry allows for them to bounce off one another, which makes seeing the five together as the Rangers that much more fulfilling.
Bryan Cranston serves his role well as Zordon, acting as a collective father figure/drill sergeant to the Rangers, and his robot helper Alpha Five (Bill Hader) provides some fun comic relief and stops the movie from being too serious. Really the only questionable performance in the whole movie belongs to Elizabeth Banks as the antagonist Rita Repulsa. She ends up playing a very cheesy villain – which makes sense for a Power Rangers movie – but it ends up being at odds with the rest of the film’s direction. It’s not necessarily her fault as an actress either, as every scene she’s in feels like it belongs to a different movie, and it’s clear they had some difficulty translating her character to the new tone and feel. Banks’ performance is more at home in the film’s climax as the tone of the movie finds some common ground between grounded and crazy, but for most of the movie these two styles are at odds with one another.
Like a lot of origin stories, we don’t get to see the heroes in their heroic state until the final act. That’s not to say there isn’t action interlaced through the movie, but they spend more time running, jumping and fighting in plain clothes than they do in their costumes. It serves as a major plot point where they all basically have to earn their armour, and the pay off is worth it. As the movie officially jumps into the Power Rangers 90s kids remember, it goes all out with the grandiose fun, and turns up the cheese on a more grounded take on the franchise. Whether that works for you or not will probably be a personal choice (potentially influenced on if you were a fan of the originals or not) but I didn’t mind the shift for the finale.
There was some mixed responses to the new armour for the Rangers, but they feel like they belong on the big screen, and definitely look far better than the vinyl costumes they used in the original movie back in the 90s. The action is heavily inspired by the originals, both in hand to hand fighting and once they enter their Zords, though with advancements in technology they’re afforded a lot more freedom in what they can do.
The special effects are for the most part fairly strong. The weaker CGI moments stand out like a sore thumb, but they rarely come into play once the action picks up, and never detracts from the fun. There is a great sense of speed and scale once the Zords enter the fray, and while it flirts with getting too close to the action and becoming incomprehensible it never goes full Transformers in that respect. You get to see plenty of wide shots that hit fans right where their nostalgia lives.
Power Rangers is by no means going to change the industry or set a new standard in the genre, but it does what it sets out to do, and that is produce a fun and entertaining movie that serves as both a good introduction to the series and a fun trip down nostalgia lane for old school fans. It respects the source material without being bound too tightly by it, and the young stars of the film do well to draw more out of their cliché characters than could have been expected from them. There are some missteps along the way (and one ridiculously heavy bit of product placement that is essentially an extra character), but Power Rangers delivers when it counts, providing you know what you’re getting into.