Reel Talk

Power Rangers and the “Mature” Reboot

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As someone who’s obsessed with movies, and who tries to see a movie every weekend in the theater, it’s pretty clear that they’re not all going to be winners. Going to the theater to watch movies is basically the closest thing I have to going to church every Sunday, and sometimes the sermon is going to be better than others. When I saw that they were making a film reboot of the Power Rangers in the hopes of starting a big franchise and leech off the money from the superhero craze, I was worried. Because whatever’s wrong with my brain was going to ensure I was going to see it. And as the movie continued to be developed, and information came out about the movie, I got more and more concerned. But then when it actually was released I started seeing some surprising responses. There was some praise that the film features the first lesbian “superhero,” and also the first “superhero” on the spectrum. I also kept hearing that people’s general reaction was that it was incredibly stupid, but surprisingly fun. And “incredibly stupid but surprisingly fun” is kind of my wheelhouse. I have a certain amount of nostalgia for the Power Rangers, so that combined with some slightly better than tepid responses made me assume that I was maybe not in for a rough time this week. I was wrong.

The movie attempts to retell the background of the Power Rangers, and show their first adventure together. Which obviously means that we start in the Cenozoic Era as a group of aliens do battle on the Earth, ending when the leader of the aliens, Zordon, causes a meteor to crash into the planet, killing the enemies and the dinosaurs. We then cut to present day and meet our rag-tag team off teenagers with attitude. The movie basically starts like the Breakfast Club, with a bunch of kids going into detention on a weekend and meeting each other. We have Jason the jock who ruined his knee and his future, Kimberly the popular girl who has lost her status, Billy a nerd on the autism spectrum, Trini a loner “new girl” to the school, and Zach the goofy idiot. Their lives are all brought together one night when they all happen to be at the gold mine outside their town when Billy blows up some of the cliff-side. They all run over to see what happened, and find that Billy has uncovered a strange wall of glass with five glowing coins held within. Zach breaks through the glass and gets the coins, one for each of them. All of the coins glow different colors, and the five kids think it’s pretty neat. Then the mine security shows up, and they have to have a high-speed chase with Billy’s mom’s van, which ends with them getting hit by a train. However, they all then wake up in their homes a few hours later, fine, and now possessing superpowers. They all have heightened strength, agility, and reflexes, and decide that they need to go back to that gold mine to figure out what happened to them. So they meet up at the mine and find a hidden chasm with a lake at the bottom. They swim around in the lake, and eventually find an alien spaceship that’s been hidden under their city since the Cenozoic Era. The ship opens up for them, seemingly because of their glowing coins, and things get nuts. They meet an annoying robot caretaker of the ship named Alpha 5, who tells them that the fact they found the coins means they’re meant for something grand. He then introduces them to Zordon, that alien from the beginning, whose soul is not trapped in the ship’s computer. Zordon explains that because they have the coins they’re going to be Power Rangers, a group of superpowered peace keepers who are tasked with protecting something called the Zeo Crystal. Apparently every planet where there’s intelligent life has a Zeo Crystal, and an evil ex-Ranger named Rita Repulsa is trying to steal Earth’s destroying the planet. And these five teenagers are the only hope to stop them.

The team is a little surprising and unwilling to accept the fact that they’re now defenders of the Earth, but they pretty quickly decide to give Zordon a shot and become Power Rangers. But that’s going to require them to hang out in the spaceship’s basement with Alpha 5 and learn how to fight, because something seems wrong with the system and they aren’t able to access their special suits of armor. And while the Rangers are hanging out and bonding/training we see that Rita has arrived in town, looking for that crystal, and is killing people and stealing their gold so she can bring a giant golden monster to life to help her. So hopefully the Rangers get their shit together! But that doesn’t seem likely. They hang out for a bit, trying to see if the reason their armor isn’t working is because they don’t know each other, and we then get treated to their depressing back stories. Zach’s mom is dying and he doesn’t know what to do, Billy’s dad died and he’s lonely, Trini I suppose is questioning her sexuality, Kimberly lost all of her friends for sharing a nude photo of one of them, and Jason misses playing football. One of these things is not like the others. But this little team-building exercise, along with Jason giving them an impassioned speech about how they’re all screw-ups, gives them the confidence to go beat up Rita! And they promptly get their asses kicked, she learns the location of the crystal, and she drowns Billy. Whoops. Anyway, they carry Billy’s body back to the spaceship, Zordon brings him back to life, and they’re able to finally access their suits. Which is right when Rita goes to the gold mine and gets enough gold to create her giant monster and head to the location of the crystal, a Krispy Kreme is town. So the Power Rangers get in their giant mechs, here called Zords, and head into town to fight Rita and her giant Goldar monster, helping them destroy their town. Rita’s able to find the crystal and beat up the Rangers, causing them to hook all of their Zords together to form the Megazord. They then kill Goldar and smack Rita into orbit, saving the day. They then go hang out with Zordon and promise to be back in a sequel which almost certainly won’t happen.

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Folks, this movie is real bad. Like, worse than I was anticipating, and I was going in expecting that it was going to be garbage. I mean, a big-budget remake of the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers was never going to be be quality cinema, but I didn’t think it was going to be this rough of a movie. Honestly the only thing that I think I can praise is how little of a shit Elizabeth Banks is giving as Rita, putting in a completely unhinged performance. It looks like she was having a blast being as campy and arch as possible. Otherwise? Yikes. None of the kids had any chemistry, it dragged on to more than two hours, they didn’t even have action set pieces until the last twenty minutes, and it was ugly as hell. I don’t know why people think costume design has to be so complicated now, but those were some ugly costumes. And the original designs are even that great, but at least they’re simple and fairly pleasant to look at. These costumes are so busy and poorly rendered that the final fight scenes are just bad to look at. But beyond visual problems, this movie’s story is just kind of a mess. The show had a fairly easy to follow formula, and instead this movie decided to devote two thirds of it’s run-time to having these unpleasant character talk to each other, bare their souls, and somehow not develop themselves. The characters just blatantly explain their character traits throughout the movie, even going to far as to have Zach multiple times say “I’m the crazy one!” We’re definitely supposed to relate to them once they sit around a fire and say everything wrong with them, but that scene just felt so weird. Zach, Billy, and Trini actually have issues, but then we find out that Kimberly ruined a girl’s life for fun and Jason just is sad he can’t be a jock. And then Jason says that they’re all “screw-ups!” Yeah, I guess your mom dying really makes you a screw-up. I know the movie was getting some praise for featuring a superhero character on the spectrum, and I do think that that’s applaudable, even though Billy’s performance is just kind a caricature. What I’m kind of struggling to get is how much praise the movie was getting for featuring a LGBTQ superhero. The closest this movie comes is having Zach ask Trini if she’s having girlfriend problems, and she doesn’t answer. That’s the bar Hollywood has to jump to get praise? If Trini was actually questioning her sexuality they should have gone for it and actually looked at what that could mean, instead of kind of mentioning it and then accepting accolades. It’s just kind of weird. But I guess they knew they had to cross off some diversity to make this movie even remotely interesting.

The thing about this movie is that it’s so emblematic of the trend where studios make big-budget remakes of things people liked as kids. There’s nothing wrong with the old Power Rangers show. It’s dumb, but it’s for kids and it has fun action and usually snuck in some sub-after school special level morals. But whatever, it was fine for what it was. But now it’s 2017, and the people who grew up watching Power Rangers have the clout to make a remake, and they obviously can’t make it for the same demographic they were when they watched it. No, instead you have to make it gritty. Take a show that was bright, colorful, and kid-friendly and put on the Zack Snyder grim color-correction and have the characters have “real world problems.” I’m kind of surprised they didn’t decide to have Kimberly be a rape survivor, since that’s usually what shitty Hollywood dudes come up to make female characters interesting since they can’t write a decent female character. I’m sure people will like this movie, and more power to them, but there’s just something about this movie, and movies like it, that don’t make sense to me. When I was a kid Power Rangers was something I really loved, and then I grew up. I don’t need to have Power Rangers try a relate to me anymore, let a younger generation enjoy them. But this movie doesn’t agree with that. Power Rangers used to be a property for children, but I can’t imagine anyone thinking they should bring their kids to this, unless they’re up for explaining bull hand-jobs and revenge porn to their kids. And that’s just a bummer. In my mind a person would want to make a Power Rangers movie that feels similar to the show, so that the people who grew up with it could take their kids to it and show them something from their childhood. Instead you create a movie that should be for kids, and make it for adults who probably have no interest in it anymore. But I guess these sorts of movies are financially successful, because we keep getting them. Now we just have to wait for an R-rated Darkwing Duck movie or something.

Power Rangers was written by John Gatnis, directed by Dean Isrealite, and released by Lionsgate, 2017.

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