The arrival of a Power Rangers reboot in the present era of superhero overload was so inevitable that the most surprising facet of its 2017 debut is the fact that it’s taken quite so long to morph from the ether. Those able to remember the 1990s Mighty Morphin TV series may have in the intervening years forgotten just how joyfully awful it was, a prime example as it is of the ability of campy nonsense to transcend its own awfulness and achieve a nostalgic status of adoration. There is something admittedly iconic about badass Teletubbies in onesies vocally karate kicking there way through innumerable bad guys.
Astutely aware that such lunacy could never fly in the twenty-first century multiplex, this new Power Rangers, under the stewardship of director Dean Israelite, eschews its more flamboyant (Lycra) origins in favour of a more tech-savvy affair; foremost among the updates being the ninja suits themselves, remodelled seemingly on Marvel’s Iron Man. Unfortunately, however, instead of mastering a contemporary feel, the film stumbles somewhere around the early noughties as a rather dated call back to ‘classics’ (feel the sarcasm burn) like 2004’s Thunderbirds or the Spy Kids series. Whilst it feels a somewhat redundant requirement to critique a film which is a reboot of a TV series that was itself a patchwork of appropriated shots from a Japanese original, as lacking in originality, Israelite’s Power Rangers has the word formula running through its centre like a stick of Blackpool rock. If you’ve seen [Insert Film Here] before – specifically one that involve troubled team of outsiders coming together, under the guidance of an older male mentor, against all odds to face a rising foe – you can pretty much call the shots here.
Dacre Montgomery plays Jason Scott (/Mr Fantastic/Captain Kirk/Percy Jackson/etc.) the unsuspecting leader of the unprepared group and so it’s he who surrogates us into the story. Jason is a golden boy gone to rot; he’s a former college sports champion who’s turned to the dark side, as it were, which here involves daft cow-based exploits apparently? His father (the US The Office’s David Denman) has all but given up on him: ‘Just when I think you’ve found the dumbest thing that you can possibly do,’ he says, ‘you do something dumber’ – a line, ironically, which does rather haunt the film in its progressively overlong runtime.
The other rejects (interchangeably characterised, but likeably performed by Naomi Scott, R J Cyler, Becky G and Ludi Lin) have various issues to deal with themselves, including Cyler’s Billy who’s autistic – which here means: the comedy black guy – and G’s Trini who flies the LGBT flag/gets repeatedly referred to as ‘strange girl’. Through a handy spot of contrivance, these dysfunctional adolescents happen to all be in the right quarry at the right time to each discover a power coin that will go on to imbue them with generic jumpy/punchy superpowers. About 30ft beneath them, meanwhile, is a spaceship inhabited by wall-etched, floating pin art head of Bryan Cranston’s poor-man’s Patrick Stewart, Zordon, and his quirky robot assistant Alpha 5 (Bill Hader). In the film’s prologue we are shown Zordon, the original Red Ranger, as having planted these very power coins that are heroes unearth a few dozen millennia later in a half-arsed bid to defeat the evil Green-Ranger-gone-rogue Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), who coincidentally happens to be returning too about twenty minutes into the film. After sixty-five million years, Rita’s still intent on stealing the Zeo Crytal, source of the Power Rangers’ power, and, to make matters worse, she’s also formed a monster made entirely of gold, called, wait for it…Goldar.
As Rita goes about restoring her strength and ripping the teeth out of homeless people, back in da ghetto the crew have bigger fish to fry, for real tho. Interpersonally vacuous, they can’t yet seem to ‘morph’ and thus cannot be ‘Mighty Morphin Power Rangers’ – not even after an intensive requisite training montage. Indeed it is not until after they bicker a little bit, fall apart and then have a love-in around a campfire that they are able to come together as a team, finding both their inner selves and outer Rangers alike. Let’s hope it’s not too late for them to save the day…
In spite of its chronically uninspired script, peppered with gems in the vein of ‘The coins have chosen you’ and ‘You are the leader, you are the Red Ranger’, Power Rangers isn’t actually that bad; indeed, it’s main weakness is that it’s not that good either. Positive intentions behind the venture are discernible, the clear aim being to humanise characters usually defined by the colour of their suit, but attempts at depth never quite seem to bear fruit. For one thing, Montgomery doesn’t make for a likely misunderstood youth and is burdened with an ultimately shallow arc that sees him accept the ‘reluctant leader’ mantle with relatively restricted refute. Likewise, if you’re looking for a progressive and meaningful exploration of what it is to be ‘different’ then the pre-release promise of diverse Rangers will only disappoint.
Of course, the reason Power Rangers isn’t a total flop is because who on Earth is looking for a ‘progressive and meaningful exploration of what it is to be ‘different’’ in a Power Rangers film? The cast do their best, Banks having a blast as Suicide Squad’s Enchantress on a donut induced sugar rush (the product placement across the latter half of the film is utterly heinous), and the script manages to land some recycled lame, but still satisfying gags along the way, one early on being particularly crass. Israelite’s direction and aesthetics meanwhile are polka dot bright and passively watchable, whilst the film’s creative cherry-picking of other, better films will likely entertain fresher cinematic eyes. Whether such eyes will be quite so forgiving if the franchise stretches to the promised six film run however will ultimately be its undoing.
The Rangers themselves might be vibrantly red, blue, yellow, black and pink, it’s just a shame that their origins story is predominantly beige.