SABAN'S POWER RANGERS
By Nathan Evans
Another big budget studio release and yet another attempt by Hollywood to launch a gritty reboot of a dormant franchise, director Dean Israelite’s ‘Power Rangers’ is a dopey, brain dead blockbuster in the vein of Michael Bay’s ‘Transformers’ series; only somehow dumber. The film, about a group of teenagers who stumble upon alien relics that imbue them with superpowers and special armor (just in time to combat an ancient evil tied to the relics), attempts to capitalize on the nostalgia of the audiences that grew up watching the television show as children while at the same time reigning in a whole new generation of kids the film’s parent company can sell toys to. Rather than providing an experience that can satisfy all parties, the film ends up alienating both, creating a product that’s too crude for young children, yet too immature for everyone else; all the while banking on the aforementioned nostalgia to make up for its lack of a coherent plot.
Dacre Montgomery portrays Jason, a former star high school quarterback who finds himself kicked off the team following a prank gone wrong in which he attempted to smuggle a cow into a rival school’s locker room; after his accomplice jerked it off of course (the first of many tone deaf jokes that pepper the film). Attempting to get away, he then led the small town of Angel Grove’s police force on a short and destructive police chase that resulted in the destruction of his father’s pickup truck. The result: house arrest, a full year of detention, and the loss of his put upon father’s respect.
It’s in detention that Jason meets Billy Cranston (R.J. Cyler), an autistic genius/ target for bullies obsessed with exploring a local gold mine. Billy’s fascination with the mine is never really made clear (something to do with his father I think. I’m gonna be honest— I kind of checked out), but he’s intent on checking it out and he needs Jason’s driver’s license to do it. In exchange for Billy disabling his ankle tether, Jason agrees and the pair set off.
Once at the mine, Billy sets explosive charges (you know, as you do) while Jason stumbles upon a nearby lake where one of his fellow detention goers, Kimberly Hart (Naomi Scott), just happens to be taking a late night dip. Some light sexual tension ensues before Billy blows the charges and draws not only Jason and Kimberly back, but two other troubled teenagers, Zack Taylor and Trini Kwan (Ludi Lin and Becky G. respectively). Together they discover the target of Billy’s fascination: five brightly colored power coins that supply them with the aforementioned superpowers.
After a couple of scenes reminiscent of Sam Raimi’s original ‘Spider-Man’, the teens come to grip with their newfound powers before discovering an ancient spaceship beneath the mine and its inhabitants: a wisecracking robot named Alpha 5 (voiced by Bill Hader) and Zordon (‘Breaking Bad’s’ Bryan Cranston): a giant head in the spaceship’s wall that informs our heroes of their role as a modern reincarnation of an ancient team that protected the Earth in prehistoric times: The Power Rangers. What they protected the Earth from isn’t exactly clear, but at some point in the past, the team’s Green Ranger, appropriately named Rita Repulsa, went bad and has now conveniently been resurrected; just in time for our eclectic group of stunningly good looking teen outcasts to combat her.
‘Pitch Perfect’s’ Elizabeth Banks portrays Rita, and she’s easily the best part of the movie. While it never feels like Bryan Cranston is doing anything but slumming it for a paycheck with his appearance in the film, Banks is clearly having fun. Wielding a gaudy gold staff and clad in revealing green armor, she chews the scenery in every seen she appears in with an Eartha Kitt-esque drawl.
Unfortunately the film doesn’t spend too much time with her, rather focusing on our group of heroes as they train to combat her rising threat. While none of the performers that make up the core cast are bad, the characters they portray are bland as hell. They’re all saddled with your typical YA teen problems: sick family members, romantic entanglements, overbearing parents, etc., but rather than exploring these issues the film just pays lip service to them. The result are characters that are really just vague emotions rather than fully fleshed out people. I will give the filmmakers credit for making the cast as diverse as possible, even including an autistic character as well as a homosexual one, but those aspects fare no better than any other. Billy’s autism is played for lame laughs for the most part, and Trini’s sexuality is shoehorned in for the sake of earning brownie points.
Considering this is a reboot of a franchise aimed squarely at young children, most of this could have been forgiven if the film at least provided some decent action. One of the selling points for the original series were the martial arts scenes that preceded the inevitable giant monster fight that closed out each episode of the show. Instead we only really get one scene of the actual Rangers doing anything, and instead of fight choreography, we just get an overload of admittedly impressive CGI. While it certainly looks expensive, it’s not very exciting. Which leads me to the films gravest sin: it’s just flat out boring. With no one to root for and no real action spectacle until the end, the film drags at a runtime of only two hours. Yet another way the movie disappoints both demographics it intends to capture.
The film doesn’t just split its focus between demographics either, it also attempts to have it both ways when it comes to tone. With a bland greenish-grey filter reminiscent of Zack Snyder’s most recent cinematic abominations and our cast of troubled characters (as opposed to the clean cut role models of the original series), the film shoots for gritty, but with its plot full of holes (a van crash that’s never mentioned after it happens), ridiculous moments (moments that include a character getting bitch smacked into space), and truly awful dialogue (“We can kill you!”) it reaches and falls short of the campy tone of the original show (which was awful in its own right anyway).
‘Saban’s Power Rangers’ really could’ve been a cool movie. When you think about it, the property isn’t all that different from any other super hero franchise. If the filmmakers had actually leaned into aging up the material, we could’ve wound up with a genre film on par with 1989's surprisingly dark 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles'. Instead we got an expensive Syfy Channel Original on the big screen, and easily the worst film of the year so far. That’s saying something too: I saw ‘xXx: The Return of Xander Cage’.
RATING: 0.25 OUT OF 5