By Joe Hammerschmidt
Honesty time: I was never all that into the Power Rangers as a kid, my little brother had forced me into the franchise for a couple years due to his obsession with dinosaurs at the time; Dino Thunder had dropped by the time I was tired of the stamina he shared towards those descendants of birds. Fast forward roughly a decade later, some friends of mine hooked me into the far superior Super Sentai series from Japan, to which the PR series bears inspiration and borrowed footage from, as has been the case since the beginning. If there’s to be any good to have come out of director Dean Isrealite’s (Project Almanac) reboot of the franchise, it’s that I could appreciate the original Sentai franchise a bit more, for this new attempt only steps further away from both franchises as they were to the kids of generations past. At the screening I had attended, it was clear I was one of the few non-fans in the room. They found many reasons to cheer, most notably a cameo or two from a pair of PR vets; I was, and still usually am, harder to impress.
The concept starts out simply enough, that it was always about a group of powerful beings (five in total), called upon by the omniscient Zordon (Bryan Cranston) to protect a complex group of crystals, when placed in the wrong hands, notably those of one Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) would have unfair repercussions for the Earth as we know it. What follows is the opening scene for essentially a different movie, specifically an 80s teen comedy if that were also being rebooted: Jason, our Red Ranger (Dacre Montgomery) is a disgraced high school footballer whom after a start-of-year prank derails his entire career is forced to attend weekly Saturday detention with fellow Breakfast Club rejects Kimberly (Naomi Scott), the popular one/Pink Ranger; Trini (Becky G), the dishonest one/Yellow Ranger; Billy (RJ Cyler, who I personally adored in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl), the ASD nerd/Blue Ranger; and Zack (Ludi Lin), the anxious one in need of a “family”/Black Ranger. In combining their traits together, they somehow turn into that annoying group of friends who love being around each other, for good or worse; though no one else seems to like them for their freakish attitudes.
One random night when discovering the remains of an ancient mining site (if you experience any sort of Deja vu, you’re basically looking at the same sets in the woods of British Columbia used for that now-forgotten Monster Trucks feature), the five kids discover five very rare coins, vaguely affecting their DNA. Until they encounter the “Ranger Base” itself, it amounts only to time-padding jump stunts. And even in their training to eventually confront the conflict, there’s still not much one could like out of these characters. Frankly, Zordon is the only likeable one. There’s enough to enjoy from the presence of his robot sidekick, Alpha 5, expertly voiced by Bill Hader, until you realize he’s struggling not to make it a carbon copy of his role from Inside Out.
And yes, I didn’t think it’d be possible, but the action sequences do leave much to be desired; on one end, they’re fun to look at and the CGI is effective to the destruction; however, it’s obviously been done before, and in noticing that makes it more painful to watch. What Isrealite, and a team of five (no kidding, five!) writers to protect this ship from sinking, accomplish Is a messily strewn-together mish-mash of events that just exist for the sake of existing. I could appreciate the approach Israelite had chosen in blending a darker take on the franchise while still retaining the campiness of all it had come before it, if only the result was jarring to all degrees. The kids playing the Rangers were rather forgettable, with only Cyler showing promise in future work; the timing of the plot to wherein they had to shed their negative attitudes to morph was unnecessary; Banks had to have been the worst offender, in her turn as Repulsa. She’s pulled off menacing before in past roles, but for her first turn as a straightforward antagonist, she was clearly transplanted from a different film. A poorly costumed demon girl with no standout qualities, Repulsa is portrayed here with no deliberate motivation, only to move the plot along.
One-third legitimate PR adventure, one-third Chronicle parody, one-third insulting formula teen actioner, this new “Power Rangers” will age quite poorly and leave you wanting something with more substance. While the goal to darken the franchise, and give it more a Transformers-like edge was satisfied, evidence shows you’ll demand a more original film to absorb any bad aftertaste the moment you walk out of the theater. True hard-core ranger fans will get the best kick in seeing their precious baby rejuvenated anew; recent arrivals who only just started with their more excited youngsters will roll their eyes; any non-fans who view for the curiosity value, best be warned. You’re stepping into very uncharted waters.
PS: For those so inclined, plan on staying a couple extra minutes after the credits begin to roll to witness a desperate justification for why there should be more of these films soon. Spoiler: not a chance. (D+)
“Power Rangers” opens Friday at most area theaters; rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, language, and for some crude humor; 124 minutes