“Power Rangers” fits the bill of nonsensical popcorn entertainment, complete with appealing heroes and an outlandish villain whose exaggerated performance warrants the ticket price in itself.
Not much occurs in the small town of Angel Grove, that is, until five teenagers [Naomi Scott, Dacre Montgomery, RJ Cyler, Becky G. and Ludi Lin] stumble upon an alien spacecraft that endows them with exceptional abilities. Zordon [Bryan Cranston], a massive talking head, informs the group that the malicious Rita Repulsa [Elizabeth Banks] has been abruptly awakened from her slumber with the intent of conquering the planet. In order to defeat Rita and her sentient superweapon, Goldar, the “teenagers with attitude” must learn how to work as a team and cement their destiny as the Power Rangers.
“Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” is best viewed as a mystifying time capsule of the 90s in which, week after week, five everyday teenagers would dress in multi-colored costumes and fight an absurd monster design of the week via repurposed footage from their Japanese precursor, “Super Sentai.” I never latched on to the property as most children did, even though I hovered around the right age upon its premiere. I have no personal ties to the series, but for reasons that I’ll do my best to explain, I quite enjoyed the rampant absurdity of “Saban’s Power Rangers.”
Children have been gifted with a plethora of on-screen superheroes that they can choose from. “Power Rangers” is the rare scenario (minus a friendly neighborhood web slinger) in which adolescents can relate to their colorful heroes.
Jason (The Red Ranger) is the town pride gone wrong, a kind-hearted jock who fell from grace after pulling an irresponsible prank. Billy (The Blue Ranger) is a technically-minded genius who happens to be on the spectrum. Kimberly (The Pink Ranger) is the recently alienated popular girl who finds guilt within committing a careless mistake. Zack (The Black Ranger) can be a reckless individual, but at the end of the day, he’ll put others before himself, especially when it comes to caring for his sick mother. Trini (The Yellow Ranger) tends to keep to herself, weary of facing judgement for her lifestyle choices.
It could have been easy for director Dean Israelite to simply label the five leads as discernable stereotypes but, in a welcome development from the television show, he puts the focus on a wide variety of representation. “Power Rangers” marks the progressive debut of two superheroes from the vastly underrepresented autistic and LGBT communities, neither of which come off as a gimmick to garner insincere sympathy. By shifting the effects bonanza towards the third act, the teens are granted plenty of opportunities to understand one another, occasionally taking a moment or two to touch on timely issues, train with Alpha 5 [Voiced by Bill Hader], a hyperactive android, and come to understand one another.
“Power Rangers” is the equivalent of “The Avengers” had they first met through Saturday detention via “The Breakfast Club.” A greater emphasis is placed on building character rather solely focusing on the sugar-coated monster battles that gave the show its identity. In switching up the formula, “Power Rangers” proves to be one of very few franchises willing to adapt from its source material. But let’s be honest, what would this property be without a general aura of preposterousness?
Over the past decade or so, extravagant movie villains seem to have dissipated in favor of underwhelming baddies, that is, except for one: Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa. “Power Rangers” is very much a character driven origin story, but I’ll be damned if Banks doesn’t steal the show from every one of the Rangers. I’m genuinely shocked at how much of the set is left standing after Banks seems to have chewed through all of the scenery with a deranged smile and a kick in her step. She’s the perfect starter for the Rangers, a maniacal antagonist who revels in every horrible (and shockingly violent) act she commits; Banks’ performance is clearly from another dimension, but her overblown bravado gives “Power Rangers” a shot of adrenaline.
“Power Rangers” reserves most of its robo mayhem towards the tail end of the film, a refreshing decision that may alienate well-versed aficionados from casual admirers. While infrequently subverting prevalent action movie cliches, the climax is what one would naturally expect. At times, the camera has a difficult time staying still which can make for a somewhat discombobulated experience when trying to keep up with where everyone is.
While Banks entertains through her wacky antics, the biggest laugh-out-loud moments came from an unapologetically contrived ad campaign for Krispy Kreme. Product placement in your average tentpole blockbuster is nothing new, but I can never recall one that blatantly weaved itself into the story as integral to the plot…until today. With my friend in tow, I keeled over in hysterics, nearly on the verge of tears, as the Rangers would utter such dialogue as: “Rita hasn’t reached the Krispy Kreme yet.” Only during the climax of a “Power Rangers” movie will one hear more Krispy Kreme references than the names of the Rangers themselves. Oh, how I wish I was making this up. Now, if you’ll excuse me, all this talk of “Power Rangers” has created an insatiable hunger for the rich, fluffy texture of a Krispy Kreme-glazed doughnut.
Matt Bilodeau can be cotacted at firstname.lastname@example.org