Ranger Station: The 2017 ‘Power Rangers’ Movie
With 800 episodes over the course of 22 years, the Power Rangers television show is arguably the single most successful live-action superhero franchise of all time, and certainly one of the strangest. Adapted from Japan's long-running Super Sentai series, created by manga legend Shotaro Ishinomori, the Power Rangers combined the giant robots and monsters of their Japanese counterpart with a completely different set of secret identities and problems, and became a pop cultural phenomenon. That's why we're looking back with an in-depth guide to Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, including its source material from the Japanese Super Sentai franchise in ComicsAlliance's Ranger Station!
This week, we're taking on the brand-new Power Rangers movie relaunch, and hey... is anyone else suddenly really hungry for donuts?
There is a moment towards the end of the 2017 Power Rangers movie where Rita Repulsa is walking through Angel Grove desperately searching for a Krispy Kreme while a forty-foot monster made of molten gold smashes up the town around her, and "Power" by Kanye West starts playing as a bunch of dinosaur robots close in, when I honestly wondered if this movie was going to get so stupid that it finally looped back around into being awesome.
Sadly, it did not.
But here's the thing: Power Rangers isn't terrible --- or at least, it's not consistently terrible. I was honestly expecting to come out of the theater finally understanding what it was like for someone who had a lifelong love of the Transformers to see those movies, but Power Rangers never really committed to being as terrible as its worst parts, or as good as its best. Instead, it winds up committing the cardinal sin: For about 90% of its full two-hour run time, it's just monumentally boring.
Seriously, this is a movie --- spoiler warning in case you were worried that the bad guys were going to win --- that ends with the Megazord taking out Goldar with a German Suplex and then backhanding Rita Repulsa so hard that she lands on the moon. Writing that out, it sounds amazing, but the 110 minutes leading up to it are so tedious and perfunctory that it's really hard to care --- and for me to not care about the Power Rangers doing wrestling moves and then punching someone into space takes genuine effort. I care about that stuff with a fervor that most people would reserve for religion.
Part of the problem is that, for most of its runtime, the movie is going through the motions of an extremely basic origin story. If you've seen literally any superhero story, you have seen this movie, to the point of being able to predict almost everything that happens, from the big moments all the way down to the minutes when they drop the catchphrases.
And honestly, that's kind of a weird complaint to have about a Power Rangers story. That franchise was built on a formula, and it's that formula that has kept the show as a going concern for over 800 episodes. At the same time, the things that make the formula interesting are the changes that twist it into something surprising, and that's where Power Rangers completely drops the ball.
In addition to having what is without question some of the worst dialogue I've ever heard in a film --- and it's a testament to how good the cast actually is that they're able to wring any emotion at all out of the blunt declarations that they're asked to deliver --- most of the twists that deviate from the formula are pretty terrible. And what's really frustrating is that they're often presented side-by-side with some genuinely good ideas.
I know that other reviews have rather charitably described the movie as "uneven," and I don't think there's anything that captures that more than the first five minutes.
We start off in the distant past, and we see a previous team of Rangers defeated after being betrayed by Rita Repulsa. We see Zordon as the Red Ranger, and we find out that, on that original team, Rita was the Green Ranger. That gives a history that the original show only hints at, something that's far more compelling than just "Rita was evil, Zordon was good, they fought and he won but now she's back and he's in a tube." It seeds the Green Power Coin as something that is --- or at least was --- Rita's by right, laying the groundwork for Tommy to show up later, and also gives them a personal enmity that can change their motivation. They even throw an Aquitar alien in there as the Yellow Ranger to hint at the larger, cosmic scope of the series, giving us three distinct kinds of aliens in that original team. It adds to the mythology, and sets up compelling stuff.
Then the scene shifts to the present, where Jason is pulling a prank with his friend who talks about jerking off a cow. Like, there's a bull, and he literally says it had one big udder and he had to use two hands. I'm not kidding. That's how this movie opens.
And the rest of the movie follows the same pattern, sort of meandering its way through an endless Hero's Journey setup while occasionally taking a side trip into complete nonsense weirdness.
You've probably already heard about the strange revenge porn plot point, but if you haven't, well, this is a movie about the Power Rangers with a strange revenge porn plot point, and I'm as sorry to have to say that as you are to read it. The short version is that Jason, Billy, and Kimberly all meet in Saturday Detention as part of the movie's halfhearted attempt at doing The Breakfast Club with Zords --- Zack and Trini aren't there because the movie sort of forgets to give them characters or motivation until about halfway through. We know why Jason's there (see above re: masturbating a cow to completion), and Billy's there because of a wacky science experiment, but we don't find out the whole story of Kimberly getting in trouble until it's time to get the third act going.
We know that it's bad enough that her former friends from the cheerleading squad literally print out a photograph of her --- because kids carry around a lot of physical photos these days, right? --- so that they can cut her out of it and then stab it into the wall of the girls' bathroom with a pair of scissors.
Eventually, after we find out that the Rangers can't morph because she's keeping secrets, she comes to Jason and confesses the whole story: She sent a nude photo of one of her friends to the guy she was dating in order to get him to dump her, and then when the guy told her she was the meanest person he'd ever met, she punched him in the face. It was only when she had to sit in the principal's office with the girl's father, looking at the photo she sent, that she realized she had done something terrible.
To her credit, Naomi Scott plays this really well in these scenes. Kimberly comes off as being deeply ashamed of what she did, and you get the sense that she hates the person that she used to be, something that's very relatable. But there's also the part where she opens up this explanation about being so ashamed of spreading this photo around by showing Jason the photo, which she still has on her phone, and then huffily telling him "you can't just delete it" when he tells her she should probably delete it.
Then, in the big fight scene at the end of the movie, when Kimberly's flying around in a robot pterodactyl saving the world, she ends up accidentally dropping a chunk of a Putty Patroller on a car being driven by the girls who kicked her off the cheerleading squad, and smirks "that's what you get" before flying back into action.
That's what you get? For what? For what are honestly pretty mild social consequences of your actions? Kimberly's growth as a character is contingent on her character actually growing; the satisfying conclusion to this arc is Kimberly saving those characters even though they don't like her, without them knowing that it's actually her, which is what Jason gets to do to cap off his arc. This, on the other hand, makes Kimberly vindictive and smarmy. A superhero can't take revenge against a person they have wronged. That's not revenge, and that's not comeuppance. It's just being a dick.
The whole thing feels like an attempt to wedge in a sub-Degrassi level of Realistic Teen Drama, and you get that with Zack and Trini too, when the movie finally bothers to do something with them. Zack initially comes off as a greedy slacker, but it turns out that he's taking care of his mom, who's dying of an unspecified disease that we could probably just call Superheroparentitis, or possibly complications resulting from Tragic Origin Syndrome. Trini, on the other hand, has parents that are overly concerned with her, and ends up being sullen because... they move around a lot.
Again, Becky G. does a solid job with her performance, but the scene that was touted as giving the movie LGBTQ representation barely qualifies. It is The Year Of Lord Two Thousand And Seventeen, and this is the sum total of conversation that we get on the subject:
TRINI: I like moving around a lot. It keeps my relationships from getting complicated.
ZACK: You mean... boyfriend trouble?
TRINI: Yeah. "Boyfriend trouble."
ZACK: GIRLFRIEND trouble?
TRINI: My parents like labels. I don't.
I swear, that is as close to an exact quote as I can give you without the movie playing in front of me. It is the smallest amount of effort, which is both a shame and, given how up-front the movie is about Billy being on the autism spectrum (he literally says "I'm on the spectrum" shortly after he's introduced), it's really perplexing that they don't go even a tiny bit further for Trini than the basic acknowledgement that something other than heterosexuality may in fact exist.
Again, there's good stuff in here. I'm about 24 years into hating Alpha 5, but the movie's version is just over-the-top enough to be pretty fun, and the design looks a lot better on film than it did in the action figures leading up to it. The same goes for the suits, although in their case, "better than it looked at first" is still a pretty far cry from "good."
The one thing that's almost unassailably great is Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa.
I say "almost" because, after being established in the opening as a threat so massive that Zordon has to drop a meteor on her and create the Cretaceous-Paleogene Extinction Event (pretty awesome), she gets off to a rough start. She winds up laying on the bottom of the ocean for 65 million years and then returns to life for no real reason when the plot requires the Power Rangers to have an arch-nemesis, and then spends about 45 minutes being portrayed and shot as a slasher movie villain. There are even multiple instances of news reports about Angel Grove being stalked by a serial killer that play in the background.
Eventually, though, she becomes Rita Repulsa, Space Witch, slithering around with a scenery-chewing sneer to her voice, robbing jewelry stores so she can gather up enough wedding rings to make a forty-foot manticore made of molten gold.
It's probably worth noting that they say the words "Krispy Kreme" about thirty-five times in this movie, to the point where the whole thing feels like it might be the world's most expensive piece of donut-based viral marketing. That said, a) I do kind of love the idea that after 65 million years, someone would end up building a completely inconsequential business on what is probably the most cosmically important site on Earth, and b) Banks snarling her way through a high-pitched "Krrrrrispy Krrreme?" is absolutely delightful.
Also, I really, genuinely appreciate that Power Rangers doesn't do the self-deprecating thing that you get in so many "darker" reboots. There's never a moment when anyone says "'Power Rangers?' That sounds stupid," or tells Billy to never call their giant robot a "Megazord" again. Instead, all of the weird, silly things that come along with the Power Rangers franchise are presented just as they are: Power Rangers are called Power Rangers, Rita Repulsa's name is Rita Repulsa, the Morphin Grid is in there, and when Billy names the Megazord, everyone just goes with it. Everything is accepted for what it is, and the end result is that being a Power Ranger is presented as something that's cool and exciting. And that's actually my favorite thing about it.
Unfortunately, the actual movie doesn't really deliver on that whole "cool and exciting" promise. The fight scenes and effects are shockingly bad for a theatrical superhero movie. The show has spent the past forty years developing and perfecting a visual language that works within, and helps to make the most of, a limited budget, but the movie ends up looking cheap and dated when it's time for the action.
And honestly? There's way less action than you'd expect. The fights don't jump off until the last twenty minutes or so, and the rest of the time is given over to a very talented cast trying not to stumble over incredibly clunky dialogue, Zordon being Your Dad Who Doesn't Believe In You, and an endless underwater swimming sequence that will make you long for the zippy pace of Thunderball. Even when it does hit, the Megazord honestly looks pretty terrible.
Also, Billy dies at one point, but it doesn't stick and is actually pretty pointless.
So yeah: It's not rage-inducingly terrible, but is full of problems on virtually every level, and ultimately it's probably the third-best American Power Rangers movie. The nicest thing I can say about it is that it doesn't feel like it's made by people who hate Power Rangers, but it does feel like it's made by people who don't understand Power Rangers, or have any idea of what makes the show fun.
If they did understand, they would've realized that they should probably put Bulk and Skull in there, but they didn't. So basically it's trash.
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