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Thursday, April 13, 2017

REVIEW: Power Rangers (2017)



            If you were a child who grew up in the 90’s, odds are you watched one of two things after school:  Batman: The Animated Series or Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.  As a kid, I was a pretty big fan of the series and jumped onto the bandwagon pretty quickly.  So, when I heard that they were going to be making a modern day remake of the original series, I was equal parts interested and scared at the same time.  I mean, let’s face it.  We’ve all seen our fair share of horrible reboots/remakes:  Fant4Stic, RoboCop, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The A-Team, and the list goes on.  So, where does 2017’s Power Rangers fall?  I’m happy to say that the film delivers a fun experience for fans old and new by honoring the legacy of the original series while also adding in new reinventions that help strengthen the story and characters.



Story

            The foundation of the film is built upon the blue print of the original series:  Five teenagers are chosen to harness super powered battle armor and massive machines called Zords to act as defenders of the planet earth.  Straightforward enough, but we’ve seen Hollywood prove themselves capable of messing up even simpler stories than that.  I’m happy to report that this movie does not fall victim to that.  The movie follows the 5 Rangers from the original series:  Jason Lee Scott, Kimberly Hart, Billy Cranston, Zack Taylor, and Trini Kwan.  After discovering 5 multi-colored Power Coins, the teens embark on a journey that leads them to learning of the extraterrestrial origins of the coins through their guide and mentor Zordon, an extradimensional alien who’s been on earth for millions of years.  Alongside him is his faithful android Alpha 5.  From here, the teenagers learn that they’ve been chosen to harness the power gifted to them by the coins to become the most elite fighting force known throughout the galaxy as the Power Rangers.  Screenwriter John Gatins masterfully blends the mythology of the original television series and updates it with the structure and character beats of Breakfast Club meets Chronicle meets summer superhero blockbuster.  By doing this, audiences are given the time and emotional character beats to identify and bond with the characters beyond the surface level of what they can do once they’ve morphed into their suits.  You form a genuine connection to the characters and truly care if they succeed or fail.

            The strongest aspect of the story for me was the prologue and how they introduced and presented the legacy and history of the Power Rangers.  By opening on Earth 65 million years ago and seeing the honor and responsibility tied of the Rangers, you feel a sense of just how grand and epic it is to be a Ranger.  This is something I never felt with the original series and added weight to the backstory of what the movie looks to achieve:  This isn’t just a movie about the 5 teenagers we’re currently watching and the threat they’re trying to stop.  They are becoming the next age of Rangers in a very long line of honorable Rangers who came before them and will be setting an example for future generations of Rangers to come.  This not only gives weight to the backstory of the film, but it also drives the narrative as the team has to work to hault the assault of Rita Repulsa to prevent her from finding the Zeo Gem and destroying the world, which was the last mission of Zordon and his team of Rangers when they landed on Earth.  Thankfully, there are NO sky beams to be found in this movie.



Cast:

            As I said before, I was a big fan of the original television series, so I walked into this movie fully expecting to walk out disappointed by the cast chosen to embody these roles.  As a kid, my favorite characters were Jason/Red Ranger and Tommy/Green Ranger, so my expectations were set high when it came to this new cast.  I’m happy to say that I walked away pleased with where this franchise is going.  Director Dean Israelite made a wise choice, whether on purpose or for budgetary reasons, by selecting a cast of unknowns as it gives the audience a greater believability in who these actors are portraying.  In this film, Dacre Montgomery plays Jason Lee Scott and he’s not the martial arts practitioner we knew from the original series.  Instead he’s the star quarterback for Angel Grove High and has a rebellious streak which causes friction between him and his father.  Kimberly Hart, as played by Naomi Scott, is no longer the master gymnast we knew and is now the former popular girl who has been disowned by her friends after she betrayed one of them by sharing a nude picture of one of them.  RJ Cyler plays Billy Cranston and takes the character in a very progressive direction by playing the character as a teenager on the spectrum of autism.  Ludi Lin plays a very different Zack Taylor than we’re all familiar with as his character is more of a source of internal conflict for the team.  I was probably the least pleased with this character, not due to Lin’s performance, but because the script marginalized the character to such a small and clich├ęd role.  Lastly, we have Becky G portraying Trini Kwan and, like RJ Cyler, takes her character in a very progressive direction by making this version of Trini the first lesbian superhero to ever be shown on the big screen.  This proves to be a compelling character arc that doesn’t feel the least bit forced as we see her character default into a non-verbal, defensive persona as she struggles to trust her new friends or family with her inner conflict.  All of these actors bring great new depth to these characters that we all knew and loved from the original series.  While honoring the characters as they came before, we get to see something deeper and more developed in this reboot than we ever got in the original series.  This is, for me, the greatest strength of the film because you not only believe these actors as the characters they’re portraying, but you also fundamentally care about them and whether they succeed or fail.  You also believe their friendship as it develops over the course of the film.



            Supporting the Rangers are Bryan Cranston as Zordon, Bill Hader as Alpha 5, and Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa.  Bryan Cranston is a Power Rangers alum as he used to voice many of the creatures Rita created to fight the Rangers in the original series.  Here, Cranston delivers a great performance as Zordon, even though 90% of his performance is as a head stuck in a massive pin wall.  What gives the character weight is in the opening as we get to see Zordon arrive on earth as the Red Ranger battling Rita with his team of Rangers and how he sets the events in motion which lead to the plot of the film.  This performance could have very easily been phoned in and simply been used as dull, bland exposition to explain certain plot elements of the movie, but Cranston brings a weight and conviction behind what he’s doing so that Zordon conveys genuine emotions while also delivering valued information.  Bill Hader does a good job as Alpha 5.  Personally, I was never really a fan of this character in the series as I always found him kind of annoying, but I think that he delivers a performance that is loyal to the original character and brings the comedic levity and one liners that the film needed to have sprinkled throughout the film.  Lastly, Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa was actually one of the best castings in the film.  I could feel this way because my expectations of her ability to play this character were very low, but she really digs in and goes for broke with the character.  You can clearly see how much fun she is having by playing this villain.  She brings an equal balance of creepiness and campy fun which makes her performance fun for adults while also still being fairly suitable for kids.  Some people may feel that she goes a bit over the top, but I think that if you watched the original series, you will know that the character is precisely that:  over the top.  Banks brings a level of true villainy, threat, and purpose behind the character so she doesn’t come off as this one-dimensional “evil for the sake of being evil” character.  The best way I can describe her character is that she’s very much like Sinestro from the Green Lantern comics.



            All things considered, I feel that these actors were very well cast.  Everyone delivers a solid performance that works as a chain to keep the film as strong as it is.  I don’t believe there is any one actor or character that you could point to and call the weakest link because everyone serves a purpose within the context of the narrative.  I think this is a very strong cast that has established itself well enough to gain a fanbase excited to see them again in  potential sequels.

Music:

            To be honest, the music of this film was a little underwhelming for me.  While there are a handful of good music tracks from independent artists, the composed score for the film was quite unimpressive and forgettable.  This could very well change when I have an opportunity to rewatch the movie, but at the time of writing this review, I honesty cannot think of one piece of original music that can come to mind and that’s unfortunate when dealing with big, fun blockbusters that are meant to be getting kids excited.  I will say, one of the best moments for me was when the original Power Rangers theme kicked in.  I won’t say when it happens as I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone, but if you were ever a fan of the original series, your blood will start pumping when that song kicks in.



Action:

            I’m a self-professed proponent of movies that rely too heavily on action and fight scenes to wow me into saying how amazing of a movie it is.  For me, a superhero movie is most impressive when I walk away in awe of where they took the character emotionally and how they changed the character.  I firmly believe that your story should dictate the action, and not the other way around because then you risk being a mindless smash ‘em up movie that gets most of it’s scenes skipped through on a blu ray just so the fans can get to “the good parts”.  But Power Rangers sort of makes me tilt to the other side of this argument because I left the theater actually wanting more on this front.  While I got all of the deep character building moments and compelling backstory that I wanted from the film, I can’t help but feel like I got gipped on Power Rangers action.  A good amount of the film is spent with the teenagers as they learn about their newfound powers and how to use them in combat, so we see them training and honing their abilities to prepare themselves for Rita and her monster Goldar.  But once the Rangers finally moph and get their armor, we only get to see them in hand-to-hand combat scenes for maybe 5 minutes.  Part of the appeal for me as a kid with the original tv series and the 1995 Power Rangers Movie was watching the impressive martial arts sequences and seeing them as superheroes.  More of this film is shown of them inside the Zords, which is all well shot and entertaining, but I would’ve liked to have seen more martial arts action and more of them in their suits, especially since the suits looked so good.  I was fully anticipating the CGI suits to look horrific, but I was extremely pleased with how they looked!  The costumes were both loyal to the original source material while also looking badass and believable.




            As I mentioned, a good deal of the climax involves the Zords.  The special effects and designs for the Zords are well done and impressive.   You don’t feel this overwhelming prescence of CGI like we have in other films which is good.  Obviously, you know that what you’re watching isn’t really happening, but you’re able to suspend your disbelief and enjoy what you’re watching as the film culminates in a massive gold monster fighting a massive humanoid robot.  If you’re looking for something better when THAT is central conflict of the story, then I don’t think the Power Rangers are for you.



Final Thoughts:


            I think a lot of people’s enjoyment of this film is going to be dependent upon nostalgia.  I don’t think anyone will leave the theater upset with what they’ve seen or that they’ve wasted their money, but I will definitely admit that if you were a fan of the show growing up as a kid, then you will get more enjoyment out of the movie than someone who wasn’t.  I think the movie delivers on all the levels that it needed to of being a loyal adaptation of a beloved franchise that injects enough new elements into the characters and backstory to create something new for longtime fans that gives them something new to see while also remaining faithful to the original thing they loved.  If you haven’t seen Power Rangers already, I would highly recommend it as it’s pure fun that I think will have you leaving the theater as a fan and interested to see where they take the franchise in future films.


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