Early in March, I interviewed three of the five cast members set to bring Saban’s Power Rangers to the big screen. Their chemistry and enthusiasm indicated this crew might have the on-screen dynamic needed to successfully anchor this franchise. Afterwards, I was far more interested in seeing a reimagining of Angel Grove and its young misfits-turned-superheroes.
The film opens with a “flashback” to the Cenozoic age where Earth is utterly ravaged and the Rangers are facing defeat and destruction at the hands of a traitor. Zordon, the Red Ranger (Billy Cranston) refuses to yield to their enemy Rita Repulsa, (Elizabeth Banks) former team member and Green Ranger, choosing instead to bury the power coins and sacrifice everything in an effort to take Rita with him in death. As movie openers go, it’s loud, attention grabbing with just enough mystery to segue nicely into a 65-million-year time jump to modern Angel Grove.
From the outset, Israelite and the writing team’s influence is clear: they’re looking to invoke some John Hughes magic on behalf of their troupe. The visual and dialogue-driven references to The Breakfast Club are jam-packed and practically impossible to miss:
• The star quarterback Jason Lee Scott (Dacre Montgomery) gets himself into serious trouble that not only brings his athletic career to an end, it lands him in detention.
• Cheerleading queen bee, Kimberly Hart (Naomi Scott) commits an offense that causes the squad to ostracize her and ends in a stint in detention as well.
• As each fall from grace, they’re shut out of their typical place in the high school hierarchy into the grey area where nonconformists and outcasts suffer through high school.
• Awkward yet extremely brainy Billy Cranston (R.J. Cyler) resides in the grey area far down in the hierarchy but finds himself in detention as well.
• Completely invisible to her classmates, Trini Kwan (Becky G) goes her own way drifting through school marking time and
• Seeming reckless bad boy, Zack Taylor (Ludi Lin), skips more school than he attends and has little interest anything.
The upside: The various scenes weave together to present: “the athlete, the princess, the brain, the basket case, and the criminal” to the audience. The setup is successful and fitting to the overall story arc Israelite hopes to achieve.
The downside: Despite relying on this framework, this group’s character development is extremely inconsistent. The movie takes far too long to start revealing character depth and too much of the underlying temperament of each Ranger is disjointed. The audience is expected to infer meaning from dropped in references and various interactions with secondary characters rather than being presented with an overt actions or dialogue until well over half the movie.
You can’t invoke The Breakfast Club mythos if you’re not prepared to follow through. The opportunity to take these characters to the next level and take real risk in telling their story is lost.
This movie instead tip-toes around the edges of themes like, bullying, feeling lost or misunderstood, being on the autism spectrum, depression, and budding sexuality. Even keeping in mind this movie is directed towards a younger demographic, the script is light and each character should’ve been given more. Instead of facing these issues head on and using them to really reveal the personality of each Ranger, Israelite directs around them using implication and oblique references. After creating an overtly strong character in the Yellow Ranger to not have Trini own her own truth was a bit of a let-down. The choice undermines the connection to the characters – because the cast in place could’ve made you believe – and does a disservice to the movies’ intention to reimagine the team as comparable to the group that walked out of detention at the end of The Breakfast Club. If there are more movies, there’s some work to be done to live up to the daring of its predecessor.
As for the overall story arc, the movie is successful in dropping its anchor in the contemporary. The Rangers are matched not by their color but attitude and skill to their color. It’s a clear effort to avoid the previously perceived prejudices in casting and Ranger assignment. It succeeds with a feel aptly placed quips and lines from the android Alpha (voiced by Bill Hader). The fight scenes are convincing because the set up for how The Rangers become warriors works and further holds the movie together in a way that makes the insertion of iconic formations, battle scenes reminiscent of the original and dialogue just campy enough in nature to fondly recall the past without taking anything away from the present version. It’s also my opinion, the Pink Ranger and Yellow Ranger are the best fighters… no I’ll admit to no bias (there’s a scene between these two young women that does more to demonstrate the team’s developing cohesion than any other) in favor of a female Ranger.
Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa is match made in bad guy heaven. She fully embraces the character and brings a realness to the role that translate to making the more fantastical and dark elements blend and pop. Her timing and delivery help to preserve the over-the-top nature of the bad guy and flat out nonsensicality of the original while making it seem rational that his is happening in harbor town USA.
Choosing to make a character driven origin movie where 2/3rds of the movie passes before there’s even a glimpse of a Zord or a monster is a risky decision given the die-hard nature of Power Ranger fans. So, it’s good that Saban’s Power Rangers is truly about the Rangers coming into their own and earning their armor, their Zords and showing their worthiness to be a Ranger.
This movie is absolutely a kids’ property and driven to appeal to a younger audience meeting a big screen version of The Power Rangers for the first time. It’s got some problems and definitely uses up all the patience for the slow reveal the franchise has in the bank but it captures both the cheeky nature of the original, builds a solid foundation to dig deeper into each Ranger’s personality and leaves the door open for more action-packed sequels with bigger bad guys and less need to give space to character backstory in order to connect. It’s at turns funny, with touching moments of connection, and has a soundtrack that fills the blanks seamlessly.
After catching an advanced screening of the movie, I must say, Saban’s Power Rangers won’t please every old fan but it’s got this franchise off to a good start.
And be sure to stick around at the end…
Rating 3 out of 5
SABAN’S POWER RANGERS follows five ordinary teens who must become something extraordinary when they learn that their small town of Angel Grove — and the world — is on the verge of being obliterated by an alien threat. Chosen by destiny, our heroes quickly discover they are the only ones who can save the planet. But to do so, they will have to overcome their real-life issues and before it’s too late, band together as the Power Rangers.
Cast: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Becky G, Ludi Lin, featuring Bill Hader, with Bryan Cranston, and Elizabeth Banks
Directed by: Dean Israelite
Screenplay by: John Gatins
Story by: Matt Sazama & Burk Sharpless and Michele Mulroney & Kieran Mulroney