Saban’s Power Rangers, unlike it’s litany of TV incarnations, is a reboot of the original series. It updates the story of how the original 5 rangers: Jason (Dacre Montgomery), Kimberly (Naomi Scott), Billy (RJ Cyler), Zack (Ludi Lin) and Trini (Becky G.); become the teenage super heroes that we all know.
The movie opens on ancient Earth. The Power Rangers have been defeated by the former Green Ranger, Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks). Rita wants the Zeo crystal, which will give her the power to control the universe. As his last act the leader and Red Ranger, Zordon (Bryan Cranston), seals away the power coins in the earth. The coins are the source of the Ranger’s power and their connection to the “Morphing Grid”. They also cause an explosion that knocks Rita into the sea, where she remains for centuries.
Fast forward to the modern day in the city of Angel Grove.
Jason, a troubled former football star is acting out and ends up suffering an injury that derails his career. His career also lands him on house arrest and an extended stay in weekend detention, where he meets Billy. Billy is a bright autistic boy who accidentally detonated a book bag on school grounds. Billy immediately befriends Jason and asks him for a ride in exchange for deactivating his tracking anklet. Jason agrees and ends up driving Billy to an abandoned quarry that he used to investigate with his dad. While at the quarry, Jason happens to see Kimberly. Kimberly is a former cheerleader and another detention lifer. They are soon joined by two more teenagers. The mysterious Trini, who frequents the quarry to (apparently) do Tai Chi or yoga on the hills and the truant Zack, who was watching Trini off in the distance. The teens all convene when Billy creates a blast in the quarry. The blast uncovers the buried power coins. Each of the teens takes one of the coins. Jason takes red, Kimberly pink, Trini yellow, Billy blue and Zack takes black.
When the authorities start to arrive, they flee the quarry. Jason takes the group on a high speed chase through the quarry in a mini-van that ends with them getting hit by a train. However, instead of being dead, they all wake up in their own beds with super strength and the coins by their sides. When they head back to the quarry to investigate, they stumble upon Zordon’s spaceship. They are welcomed by the robot/android/alien-thingy, Alpha 5 (Bill Hader), who informs them that they have been chosen as the new Power Rangers. He also wakes up Zordon, who’s consciousness he had uploaded into the ship before the blast that hit Rita destroyed his body.
Using some hallucinations, Zordon fills the kids in on what’s going on with Rita and the threat she poses. Everyone is reluctant to face the situation, but Zordon is able to convince Jason to lead the teens into training so that they can face Rita. As Power Rangers, they have access to armor and giant animal-shaped robots called “Zords” that will help them fight. Before they can use their full powers, they have to come together as a team to unlock their connection to the Mophing Grid and “morph” into Power Rangers. What Zordon doesn’t tell them is that unlocking their ability to morph will also allow him to return from the Morphing Grid into a real body. As they train to work together and fight Rita’s henchmen, Rita has resurfaced in the city and is scraping together gold so that she can build her minion, Goldar. The new Rangers are progressing slowly, and Zordon kicks them out of training after Zack and Jason almost get into a fight.
Rita also attacks Trini at her home, trying to get information about where the Zeo crystal is hidden. Even without their armor, the Rangers decide that it’s a good idea to try to take Rita out. They confront her at the docks, but they are easily beaten. After getting the information that the Zeo crystal is located at a Krispy Kreme of all places; Rita kills Billy. The Rangers take their fallen friend back to the ship in order to ask for Zordon’s help. Jason also takes this moment to let Zordon know that he knows about Zordon’s plan to free himself. The emotional outpouring unlocks their connection to the Morphing Grid and frees Zordon. However, Zordon chooses to use the chance to bring Billy back. Reunited and with their powers activated, the Rangers morph into their armor and head out to take on Rita and her giant gold monster.
The fight between Rita and the Rangers consumes downtown Angel Grove. The Rangers are able to hold their own for a while, but they are eventually pinned down by Goldar, who tries to push them into a fiery pit. Upon falling into the pit, the Rangers discover that their Zords can combine into one giant “Megazord”, with each of them controlling one part of the robot. With the entire city watching (including cameos from Amy Jo Johnson and Jason David Frank, the original Kimberly and Tommy), the Megazord is able to stop Goldar and, literally, slap Rita into space. With the city safe for the time being, the Rangers return to being normal students who go to detention every weekend. In the mid-credits scene, the teacher overseeing their detention calls roll and is looking for a new attendee who is missing: Tommy Oliver.
What did I think?
There are two things that really stuck out to me about this movie. The first is that it was clear that the movie was determined not to take itself too seriously (although, I’m not sure that they told all of the actors that). The second is that this was a movie that seemed almost desperate to represent as many different demographics as they could. The original power rangers seemed to be cast as a well balanced, “All-American” stereotype team. This group reminds me more of the Breakfast Club (and not just because they assemble in detention). The demographics of the group seem so carefully spread out that they could’ve been called the “Mighty Morphin Representation Rangers”.
From the previews, I already knew that the movie was taking steps to be more socially aware. After years of the ranger’s colors being the butt of jokes, they moved the rangers away from being assigned colors that were directly associated with their ethnicity. The yellow ranger is no longer the only Asian character. The only Black ranger is now the blue ranger, instead of the black ranger. Then, the movie started and I was surprised to discover that there was even more to this group of teens. These rangers have fleshed out back stories. They come from troubled homes and backgrounds. Each ranger has their own set of issues that they’re dealing with whether it’s overbearing parents, figuring out their own sexuality, or being autistic. It’s almost staggering just how diverse and thought out this group of characters is. I can’t remember a movie that’s tried so hard to cover all the diversity bases. The only downside to this is that it’s so diverse that I’m on the verge of feeling like the movie is pandering.
Given the tone of the movie, openly pandering wouldn’t really be out of character. The TV shows were unintentionally or unavoidably silly because of the way that they were made. This movie embraces that silliness and, in some ways, amps it up. Of course, the catch phrases from the show are used, albeit in situations that try to make them seem somehow organic. Jason tries to deliver the line, “It’s morphin’ time” seriously. Alpha5’s “aye, aye, aye” is more an exasperated sentiment based on dealing with teenagers, than a panicked response telling everyone that the world is on fire around him. The 90’s movie theme blares as the Rangers race off to battle in a way that’s tailor made to bring in the nostalgia. The key to controlling the universe is buried under a Krispy Kreme. Jason’s running around slapping bad guys all willy-nilly. The Megazord dances after defeating a villain for goodness sake. Just like with the diversity, the movie skates a fine line between the absurdity/camp being cringe-inspiring or just fun.
What makes the movie work is how the characters manage to fit into this ridiculous world while still feeling authentic (somehow). Elizabeth Banks’ is probably the best at delivering a combination of gravitas and Saturday morning schtick. At one moment, she’s ripping a guy’s teeth out, the next, she’s looking directly into the camera while delivering her “make my monster grow” catchphrase. Cranston and Hader split the drama/comedy load, which allows Zordon to be more serious and dire, while Alpha 5’s sarcasm lightens the mood.
It also helps that the visuals have been significantly updated for the movie. I liked the way that the entire movie was shot and composed. I liked the way that they visualized the Ranger’s abilities. I also didn’t find the design of their outfits distracting even though, in a vacuum, I don’t like the way they look. I though the way the Megazord moved was interesting even if I was a little offended that the Megazord was constructed more like Voltron than the traditional Megazord. Everything about the spaceship and that alien environment really worked for me too.
The five actors playing the rangers all deliver fitting performances. They do a great job at creating versions of the known characters that have some depth. The most impressive thing that they do is manage to play this fantastic world as if it’s authentic. Having them, as bombastic as they may be, treat the world like it’s not ridiculous actually makes the movie work. My only complaint (it feels like this is becoming a theme) is that they’re almost too serious. There’s a point in the movie where both Kimberly and Jason deliver back to back inspirational speeches. That was a moment where I started to think that the movie was getting too into itself. Fortunately, those moments are few and far between.
There are some other things in the movie that could be really problematic if you wanted to over-analyze them. One thing that I noticed was the fact that, despite being autistic and claiming to not know how to deal with emotions, Billy seemed to be most emotionally mature Ranger. It’s his emotions that end up unlocking their ability to morph. Really, after the opening scene I kind of thought the movie forgot that Billy was supposed to be autistic. Granted, they did only identify him as being “on the scale” of autism, which allowed them to avoid giving him any concrete symptoms. Another kind of strange moment is when the Power Rangers (who are all teenagers) just get together and decide that they’re gonna go murder a person like that’s a normal thing to do on a school night. For the kind of movie this is, I don’t think it’s worth over-analyzing but you could if you wanted to.
Mostly, this movie is just silly, campy fun. Almost ironically, underneath all that camp, there’s a movie that has some decent characters and is trying to be a modern-day-friendly super hero story. As long as you’re willing to go along with some of the more absurd elements of the movie, it’s a pretty fun ride. It might appeal more to kids than adults as far as re-watching goes, but it’s definitely good enough to warrant a 2nd movie and probably worth seeing on the big screen.
Power Rangers (2017)
- Strong performances from the entire cast make this ridiculous movie work
- The movie sets out to be over the top and simply fun, and it succeeds
- Hits all the required nostalgia notes to appease older fans
- The movie is so silly that it could be off putting to some
- Doesn't hold up to any kind of deep analysis