By Matthew McKibben | March 29, 2017
Director: Dean Israelite
Writer: John Gatins
Starring: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Ludi Lin, Becky G, Elizabeth Banks, Bryan Cranston, Bill Hader
In an entertainment spectrum that contains everything from the Star Wars franchise to the Marvel Cinematic Universe to the WB/DC pairing and everything in between, I’ve always found the Power Rangers phenomenon to be the most bewildering and perplexing. Every brand mentioned above has its flagship story/movie which are essentially that property’s Big Bang like singularity. Everything that comes after it is made up of elements of that material, to varying degrees of success. Think: the 1977 Star Wars spawning everything from the Star Wars Holiday Special to the Marvel comics to the much-reviled prequels to the current reboot.
But the Power Rangers don’t really have that singularity moment that caught the world on fire. I acknowledge that to audiences outside of Japan, the Super Sentai style series was unlike anything we’d really seen before and there was genuine and real excitement for this property, but the excitement for the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (and all of its countless and infinite offspring) was mostly limited to 13 year old kids procrastinating their homework as they waited for their parents to get home from work. Truly monumental properties transcend countless barriers and seep into the culture on various levels to the level that it’s impossible to deny. The best way to test a property’s cultural impact is to see if it passes the “my parents could have a conversation about this” test.
On top of that, the quality of the various Power Rangers series is, how do I say this delicately, pretty awful. Or maybe not “awful,” but if you’ve seen one Power Rangers episode, you’ve definitely seen them all. And yet, since that first Mighty Morphin Power Rangers season, the show has had 20 different themed series (spread out over 24 years), spawned two theatrical films (basically glorified episodes, present movie excluded), and has generated 6 billion (BILLION!!!!) dollars in revenue. So when I say the Power Rangers is a perplexing property, that’s what I’m talking about. The Power Rangers feel niche, yet that revenue is on Marvel’s and Star Wars’ level.
In both expected and unexpected ways, Dean Israelite’s 2017 Power Rangers is equally perplexing. If the Power Rangers series as a whole has two glaring problems, it’s that 95% of their 800+ episodes have the exact same plot and story beats and after so many episodes with so many disposable actors, it’s really hard as a viewer to care about the characters on the screen. It’s a perfect combination of a plot you know, performed by actors who usually aren’t up to the job. While this movie definitely has a plot you already know, Power Rangers does an excellent job at creating 3 dimensional characters that are easy to get invested in. These characters aren’t super complex, but there’s enough stuff going on in their heads to pull me in and make me care about what they’re up to.
The director and writers do such a good job at building these characters, in fact, that when they finally “morph” into their Power Ranger suits 3/4 of the way through the movie and the movie kind of becomes just a super expensive (and kind of dumb) episode of the show, I kind of wished I was just watching a movie where these kids were just sitting around a campfire talking about their high school problems. So kudos to the Power Rangers movie for bucking the trend and giving us characters we could relate to and actors who had the chops to make their characters interesting. And before I get to the plot, massive kudos to the creative team behind this for making this movie funny. This movie has some campy elements that would be funny by itself, but the movie is also intentionally funny. Very funny. In fact, this is probably more successful as a comedy than as a bad ass action movie.
Despite all of the good character work, the plot is pretty much just as dumb and standard as your typical Power Rangers episode: 5 troubled teenagers stumble upon a buried spaceship carrying 5 energy stones giving the kids the capabilities (if they can just bond as a team, damnit!) to become the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, a team of super bad ass ninja warriors tasked with protecting a lifeforce crystal thingy buried in the earth from Rita Repulsa, a fallen Ranger who has a thing for gold and destroying worlds. Pretty dumb and lacking in complexity. But hot damn if once that “Go Go Power Rangers” song comes on, I wasn’t getting a little pumped up by the Kaiju Monster vs Giant Power Rangers robot action stuff.
Power Rangers probably works best when viewed as a long, expensive Power Rangers episode. Simply by the fact that it’s well acted, well written, and well directed, it’s by default the best thing the Power Rangers franchise has ever done. I’m killing the movie with faint praise, but the movie is legitimately fun and funny. While the plot is really silly and while Elizabeth Banks is in this to chew a ton of scenery, I had a good time and would even go so far as to say I’m kind of looking forward to the inevitable sequel.