March 27, 2017

CINEMA | 'Power Rangers' Morphs into Teen Drama

"Are we Power Rangers or are we friends?"
Dacre Montgomery Naomi Scott Becky G Ludi Lin Dean Israelite | Saban's Power Rangers

Filmed in Steveston, the latest Power Rangers movie is a Breakfast Club meets Chronicle re-imagining of the initial run from the durable Fox Kids (later Disney and Nickelodeon) television franchise—itself a cheaply repackaged, imported version of the Super Sentai Japanese superhero show created by the Toei Company in 1975—from Project Almanac director Dean Israelite. Ironically, this is first ever entirely American production and execution in the franchise's twenty-four year history.

These new teenagers with attitudes are diverse bunch of young actors recasting the original Mighty Morphin team lineup. Dacre Montgomery as Jason (Red Ranger) is serviceable yet almost purposely bland as the disgraced jock leader archetype. Naomi Scott as Kimberly (Pink Ranger) gives an earnest and emotional performance grounding her teen drama in a bad girl gone good role. However, RJ Cyler as Billy (Blue Ranger), the comedic geek type "on the spectrum", is easily the film's most dynamic and charismatic performance full of energy. The three meet in Saturday detention before a series of contrivances bring them together to release an ancient magical entity in the woods.

Sadly, Becky G as Trini (Yellow Ranger), who may or may not be queer, and Ludi Lin as Zack (Black Ranger) get much less to do being introduced later on outside the detention setting in a haphazardly coincidental fashion. Becky is able to flesh out a deeper turn after an awkward lone wolf introduction (think Spinelli from Recess). However, Lin isn't given very much depth, apart from a dying mother, while his laughably stilted performance and awful line delivery never allow him to believably inhabit the role in any capacity.

If anything, screenwriter John Gatins' treatment of the MMPR story is too glossy and self-serious in the way a nighttime teen soap on The CW is. The endless string of television shows the property produced were largely goofy fun and combining so many different elements together makes for some wild inconsistencies in tone and momentum leading to the usual CGI-filled final battle where giant robots fight a monster in a crowded city.

Dean Israelite | Saban's Power Rangers

Enter a welcome presence in Bryan Cranston, once a voice actor on the original series, who plays Zordon, the team's disembodied alien mentor elevating the material and brings some gravitas to some ridiculous dialogue. Bill Hader voicing Alpha 5, the neurotic robotic sidekick comic relief, in a fun and energetic role adds to the overall sense of strange fun and pleasing CGI nonsense.

It's really Elizabeth Banks absolutely going for it in an all-out, over the top performance as the big baddie villain in a broad, hammy role that stands out where she relishes yelling and doing crazy things at every turn like killing homeless people for gold. Banks is delightfully bonkers and does her best but any 65-million-year-old character called "Rita Repulsa" drags the film out of the fairly grounded teen movie the first half mostly is. Her admirable turn doesn't entirely fit the rest of the by-the-numbers and overly manufactured blockbuster origin story.

Cranston, Hader, and Banks do much of the heavy lifting as old-hand veteran presences elevating the angsty material while cementing the ridiculously convoluted situations forward. Multiple issues surrounding magical power coins, summoned morphing suits, a revenge porn/sexting scandal, high school pranks, masturbation jokes, and pivotal information regarding the location of—I kid you not—Krispy Kreme doughnuts prevent Power Rangers from fully being the hokey fun it fully should be. This is not altogether surprising, after all, the prolific series existed solely to sell toys to kids.

Power Rangers is an acceptable enough contemporary reboot of the beloved but cheesy Mighty Morphin franchise. It just doesn't embrace enough of the offbeat weirdness the original Saban property overflowed with in its beefy 124-minute runtime. Israelite never quite remixes all the fantastical sci-fi superhero elements with the moody teen drama it largely is.


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