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Power Rangers Manages to Surprise


          I missed the boat on Mighty Morphing Power Rangers by a few years as a kid. Subsequent series were on during my childhood and I certainly knew other kids who liked them, but it never caught my interest. Maybe because it looked silly and cheap, having the effects budget of a classic era Doctor Who episode. So I had no investment before this movie and little knowledge of anything about the Power Rangers series.
          Luckily, Power Rangers directed by Dean Israelite, accommodates that. Set in the town of Angel Grove it follows five troubled teenagers: Jason (Dacre Montgomery), Kimberley (Naomi Scott), Billy (RJ Cyler), Trini (Becky G), and Zach (Ludi Lin) who find in an abandoned mine, five alien coins. After discovering they seem to now have superpowers, they excavate further until they reach an alien ship where the consciousness of an ancient warrior called Zordon (Bryan Cranston) informs them they are destined to become the Power Rangers and save their town from the machinations of an evil former ranger called Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks).
          Expecting the corniness of the original show to be stuck to, I was pleasantly surprised that not only did this movie take itself seriously, but it actually was able to pull it off. The corniness is still there of course; even with a much bigger budget this is still a movie called Power Rangers, that title alone is pretty goofy. There are campy action scenes, some dialogue, montages, they forecast their Ranger colours constantly and at one point they even play the “Go Go Power Rangers” song. But this is also a movie made by people who love this series and show it through both their ability to make fun of themselves and find genuine drama. This is an origin story and it hits a lot of the typical beats such as the leaders’ struggle to pull everyone together, dissension between the group, and gruelling training. And while it still at times feels like a slog, for the most part the movie can overshadow this predictability through some startlingly good performances.
          This is a much more character-driven film than you might anticipate, but that’s where it shines the most. On the one hand these characters are tropes, pretty much the exact same ones as in The Breakfast Club. But like The Breakfast Club, they’re fleshed out a little more and the actors handle this very aptly. Jason is a football star trying to piece his life together after a car crash, Kimberley is insecure and trying to escape a past mistake, Billy is a tech-savy outcast on the autism spectrum, Trini is queer and has issues communicating with her family, and Zach is a reckless thrill-seeker with an ailing mother. Montgomery, Scott, and Cyler are the stand-outs for sure, but Lin and Becky G are also pretty good. While no one especially gets a lot of character development, you are interested in each one and where they come from, which I think is great credit to this cast. Also the diversity of these characters is wonderfully organic. Cranston does fine in a role that’s a nice nod to the fact he began his career voicing monsters on the original show (Billy’s last name is Cranston in homage to him). Bill Hader voices his assistant, a robot called Alpha Five. The only weak link in the cast is Elizabeth Banks who plays her character a little too over-the-top. Rita never once feels like a serious threat and though I admire Banks’ commitment to the campy tone of the series, it should have been played more subtly here.
          Also, apart from the often by-the-numbers plot, the writing is awkward in a number of places. Being a Power Rangers movie these characters aren’t going to sound like real teenagers, but there are more than a few cringing lines, particularly when they’re trying to get around a swear. There’s also the fact this movie has one of the biggest product placements in recent memory for Krispy Kreme. It’s not just a location in the background of a shot or a fragment of an ad; Krispy Kreme actually serves a ridiculously important plot device. And the criticism that’ll probably annoy Power Rangers fans most is that the Rangers themselves feature very little in this movie. It’s a long time before they morph into their armour. It didn’t bother a non-fan like me as much, but it is a big thing noticeably absent from most of the film. And when we do see them in action, I was disappointed there wasn’t as much hand-to-hand combat. What they do do in the climax will be thrilling for some, but wasn’t as exciting for me.
          Still, I was surprised that Power Rangers made for a decent movie. It’s not great by any means, but superhero film franchises have gotten off on a rougher start than this. Its’ problems can be very bothersome, but generally it’s quite entertaining, with really good performances, great characterization, and a love of the source material that shows through. 

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