‘Power Rangers’ Review: A Surprisingly Fun Superhero Reboot
The joy of the Power Rangers TV series was the camp factor. It was pure fun to watch teenagers jump around in spandex suits, fly giant robots, and fight ridiculous monsters (one was called Mr. Ticklesneezer, another was, I kid you not, Chunky Chicken). To make a modern Power Rangers movie you can either embrace that wacky spirit, scrap it for a gritty reboot, or try to do both with middling results. Saban’s Power Rangers takes the latter route, updating the ’90s series as an edgier, darker origin story with shards of silliness. The problem is Power Rangers is never quite sure if it wants to embrace its source material or toss it aside.
The Power Rangers never had much of an origin story, but the new movie, directed by Dean Israelite (Project Almanac), attempts to flesh out those color-coded heroes with backstories and personalities. The Red Ranger, a.k.a., Jason (Dacre Montgomery), gets the most screen time as a former high school jock turned delinquent. When a senior prank involving a bull (and masturbation!) goes wrong, Jason’s stuck with an ankle bracelet and sent to Saturday detention. And thus begins The Power Rangers Breakfast Club.
The new movie is essentially a millennial update of the John Hughes classic meets a teen superhero movie. A trio of angsty outcasts and unlikely friends eventually realize they have something in common, only this time with superpowers. Jason meets Billy the Blue Ranger (RJ Skylar) at detention, along with cheerleader-turned-outcast (and eventual Pink Ranger) Kimberly. Eventually all three wind up at a nearby gold mine where they meet Zack, the soon-to-be Black Ranger (Ludi Lin), and Trini (Becky G) the Yellow Ranger. (For the record, Trini has been described as an openly queer Power Ranger, but in the movie when asked if she has “girlfriend problems,” she responds with awkward silence. That’s hardly a declaration of Hollywood’s first gay superhero.) After the teens discover five colorful glowing stones hidden in the mountain, they wake up the next day with super strength and speed.
One refreshing thing about the Power Rangers movie is how it actually spends time showing a gang of superheroes become a team. Instead of suiting up and saving their town right away, roughly half the movie shows them getting to know each other, testing out their powers, and training. We also don’t see them morph until the third act, which is a blessing because the new metallic, boob-armored suits are godawful. That slow and steady pacing works well for the story’s setup, but the second half suffers by racing past major plot points and jamming in too many action set-pieces.
There is a joy in the Power Rangers movie, though, and it’s all thanks to Elizabeth Banks, who Commits to villain Rita Repulsa with a capital “C.” Banks looks like she’s having the time of her life gleefully snatching a homeless man’s gold teeth to create her monster and saying lines like, “Let’s kill everyone!” and “Make my monsters grow!” while cackling with laughter. In one scene, she slowly eats a pink donut at Krispy Kreme. Oh, did I not mention that Krispy Kreme plays a major role in the plot of the Power Rangers movie? The finale revolves around the donut shop, and at one point Bryan Craston gives a fantastic line reading of Zordon shouting, “Rita hasn’t found the Krispy Kreme yet!”
The movie works best when it embraces the silliness of all of this stuff. That happens again when the Rangers finally have a goofy martial arts fight against Rita’s monsters, then hop into their Zords to recreate the TV show’s opening sequence – and yes, I am pleased to report the “Go Go Power Rangers” theme song returns. It’s the best part of the movie, but it only lasts for a few short minutes before the film veers back into self-serious territory. It also doesn’t help that Israelite’s overly stylized direction is incredibly distracting and ugly.
All that said, Power Rangers is fun when it leans into the original series’ campy sensibility. I had more fun watching this movie than I expected. If the film gets a sequel, as the mid-credits tag teases, Lionsgate just needs to hire a better director, give these kids more fleshed-out personalities, and go full Chunky Chicken.