While I was only around for half of the decade, I do consider myself to be a ‘90’s kid’. And with that said, many ‘90’s kids’ will agree that one of the definitive shows of their childhoods was Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Developed by TV theme song composers Haim Saban and Shuki Levy, the series, which utilized stock footage from Toei’s Super Sentai franchise and repurposed it around an American cast, became a worldwide phenomenon when it debuted in 1993. Nearly 25 years later, the series is still going strong today with new themed iterations debuting every year, and while nowadays some feel that the original series has not aged well because of its cheesy nature, it’s still very much a landmark show of its era. I’ll admit, though, that I wasn’t really a Power Rangers fan growing up, mainly just because the original Mighty Morphin series was already over before I was even a year old. However, because it’s so directly tied to my generation, I was at least interested in seeing the new film reboot of this legendary franchise. And thus, here we are with Power Rangers, the third Power Rangers film released to date after 1995’s Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie and 1997’s Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie. As stated earlier, it serves as a reboot of the original Mighty Morphin series, with a new cast taking on the roles of the original Ranger team. It’s also easily the biggest Power Rangers film to date in terms of its budget and scale. But, of course, this now leads to one big question; will this succeed in appealing to fans of the franchise while also serving as an effective introduction for the uninitiated? Well, for the most part, director Dean Israelite (Project Almanac) does succeed in redefining this franchise for a new generation.
In the town of Angel Grove, suspended high school quarterback Jason Lee Scott (Dacre Montgomery), autistic nerd Billy Cranston (RJ Cyler), and ousted cheerleader Kimberly Hart (Naomi Scott) begin to bond while being forced to spend time in detention for various incidents that they were involved in at school. One night, the three end up at the local mines where they, along with truant Zack Taylor (Ludi Lin) and new student Trini Kwan (Becky G), come across five mysterious coin-like artifacts trapped within the rocks. After taking them, the five begin to find themselves imbued with new powers, namely superhuman strength. When they return to where they found the coins, they end up in an ancient spaceship buried deep underground. There, they come across Zordon (Bryan Cranston), an ancient being whose consciousness was uploaded into the ship’s matrix by his android assistant Alpha 5 (Bill Hader). Zordon tells them that they have been chosen by the Power Coins that they’ve found to become the Power Rangers, a group of warriors who protect the Earth from those who seek the Zeo Crystal, the source of their power. And, sure enough, one of those threats, former Green Ranger Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), awakens from her long slumber and plans on rebuilding her monster, Goldar, to find the Zeo Crystal, which Zordon (the former Red Ranger) had buried deep underground millions of years ago when she betrayed their team. With little time to spare before she unleashes her army of monsters upon Angel Grove, the five teens find themselves tasked with trying to band together to become the Rangers and use all their abilities to save their home and their world.
Overall, this new Power Rangers film does away with many of the campier elements of the original series. Now, for the record, there are still some silly moments here and there (e.g. brace yourself for one ludicrous bit of product placement that literally ends up becoming a major part of the plot) but, overall, the plot is taken more seriously than previous iterations of the franchise. And while this may result in some tonal inconsistencies here and there, like whenever Rita attacks someone in a rather intense manner, the film still manages to capture the feel of the franchise without going completely campy. Plus, with the addition of various nods to the series for eagle-eyed fans to point out, some of which I’m sure I didn’t notice the first time being only a casual fan of the franchise, I think longtime fans will enjoy this new film quite fine. Based on what I’ve seen from the original series, it doesn’t seem like it pulls any major deviations from the source material, aside from new characterizations for the protagonists, that would betray what made the franchise popular in the first place. The big question, though, is how it appeals to newcomers of the franchise. It does so by way of an ‘origin story’. And, yes, I know that this phrase has sort of become a ‘bad word’ amongst filmgoers but here, it is done quite well because it’s about the five teens learning to become the Rangers instead of just being instantly able to do so like in the show. Thus, it ends up sharing a similar aspect with 1997’s Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie in that the teens don’t fully morph into the Rangers until the finale. But in this case, it does work because of their journey beforehand to become the Rangers, instead of just sidelining them in their own film like Turbo did. And once they do get into the suits, the action, which, obviously, is primarily CG-based this time around with an undeniably Transformers vibe to it, is solid.
As fans of the show know, one of its trademark lines was ‘Teenagers with Attitude’, a phrase uttered by Zordon in the opening credits (though not the show itself) to describe the team. However, in the show, the Rangers were always portrayed as good students and, thus, more like role models and not really ‘teenagers with attitude’. Here, though, they very much emphasize the ‘attitude’ part, showcasing a group of misfits who must come together to become the heroes they’re meant to be. And, like I said before, while the show had them capable of morphing into the Rangers right out the gate, I do like how, in this film, they must work to get to that level. Also, to the filmmakers’ credit, they did pick an excellent group of leads to take on these iconic roles. Granted, some get more attention than others (namely Jason, Kimberly, and Billy, who are the first to be introduced in the film; Zack and Trini don’t come in until they get the Power Coins) but they do have fantastic chemistry with each other. Not bad for a group that’s mostly made up of general newcomers; just goes to show that perhaps Dean Israelite’s greatest strength as a director is working with younger actors/actresses. As for their supporting cast, Bryan Cranston (who notably provided villain voices for the original series and was even the inspiration for the Blue Ranger’s name, Billy Cranston) brings the proper dignified nature to the role of Zordon while Bill Hader provides some enjoyable comic relief in the role of Alpha 5 (“Ai yi yi!”). Finally, there’s Elizabeth Banks as main villain Rita Repulsa; she’s quite over-the-top here, keeping very much in line with the Rita of the original series. It’ll either work for you or it won’t. Personally, it didn’t bother me but maybe that’s because she’s not really in the film that much, as the focus is primarily on the Rangers, which is a good thing.
So, as I stated before, I didn’t grow up with Power Rangers. I did watch some episodes of the show before watching this film (as well as the previous films) and, like I said last time, I probably would’ve loved the show had I watched it as a kid. But, overall, going into this I was a newcomer to the franchise that had gradually become a casual fan once I finally watched some episodes of it. And overall, as a ‘casual fan’ of Power Rangers, I rather enjoyed this new film. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it’s groundbreaking or anything but as a new iteration of a popular franchise, it manages to appeal to both longtime fans and those like me who come into it generally new to the series. In the case of the former, it does this through solid but respectful homages to the franchise while the latter will find a surprisingly engrossing origin story with solid characters portrayed by an excellent group of leads. Now, with that said, admittedly if you weren’t already big on the series to begin with, you probably won’t get much out of this. Despite the change in tone, it’s still the same generally silly premise of teens fighting aliens in giant robots. But, if you are a fan of the show, it is a nice new addition to the franchise. It’s basically the original Mighty Morphin series but with the budget and scale that it just didn’t have back when it was on. Thus, I think longtime fans will enjoy this just fine; I can tell that just from my own theater experience. When the Power Rangers theme came on, there was applause. Thus, I think it’s safe to say that Power Rangers will be a definite crowd-pleaser for fans young and old.