“It’s Morphin’ Time”
Directed by Dean Israelite
Starring Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Becky G, Ludi Lin, Bill Hader, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Banks
After astronauts on the Moon open a space dumpster and release the space witch Rita Repulsa, space wizard Zordon and his irritating robot sidekick recruit five ‘teenagers with attitude’ to become the Power Rangers and battle Rita, launching a multi-series franchise which worked by revamping many largely unconnected Japanese super sentai series through a mix of voice dubbing and new footage for the Western market.
On primeval Earth, a team of armoured, alien warriors led by Zordon (Cranston) are killed battling an enemy named Rita (Banks), but drop a rock on her before she can seize the crystal she was pursuing. Millennia after, the town of Angel Grove has grown up over the site. High school football star Jason Scott (Montgomery) wrecks his future by sneaking a cow into a rival school’s locker room then crashing his car while fleeing police. He winds up in long-term detention with disgraced cheerleader Kimberley Hart (Scott) and autistic tinkerer Billy Cranston (Cyler), and the three of them end up at the town’s gold mine at the same time as the rebellious Trini (G) and reckless Zack (Lin) when Billy unearths a wall of volcanic glass from which they remove five medallions which quickly prove to have mysterious powers.
Drawn back to the site to learn the meaning of the medallions and the powers that they imbue, the five discover a spaceship crewed by Alpha-5 (Hader) and meet Zordon, who has been consigned to the ship’s ‘matrix’ and exists as a face in the wall. Explaining that the team are the new Power Rangers, charged with defending all life from the likes of Rita – who, apparently by chance, is fished out of the sea by Jason’s dad at this exact moment and starts murdering people for their gold, which is apparently a key resource for her magic – who will create a monster called Goldar to dig up and claim the Zeo Crystal which gives life to the planet.
As the new team train and fail to either bond or ‘morph’ into their armour, Zordon grows impatient, and dismisses them after Zack takes one of their zord fighting machines for a joyride. Jason learns that Zordon intends to use the energy released by their first morph to be reborn, and the team at last begin to share their true selves, including Trini’s struggle with her parents’ expectations, Jason’s with his own golden boy image, and Zack’s fears for his sick mother. Billy is killed when they try to take on Rita, but their grieving finally unites them as a team and instead of being reborn, Zordon is able to bring Billy back to life. The team morph and take the zords to battle Goldar, a giant made of molten gold, as he stomps through Angel Grove to unearth the crystal from beneath the Krispy Kreme.
What’s wrong with it?
After the Alien Rangers in the intro, we go for very nearly an hour into this Power Rangers movie without seeing one damn Power Ranger, and most of the film before we get to see armour and zords in action. The actors aren’t half bad, but damn that’s a lot of teenage angst (and, this being a movie, teenage angst from obvious twenty-somethings) in my action movie. We lost a kid and his mum from the audience about twenty minutes in and they never came back.
The ability of the zords to combine into a megazord is apparently a total surprise to everyone, and how this ability was unlocked is never explored in any kind of detail. My assumption based on the rest of the movie is that Friendship is Magic and the Rangers are all ponies in another reality (and if you think I’m alone in this, welcome to the internet.)
Just how much money did Krispy Kreme sink into their product placement deal on this one?
The film wobbles as it walks a tightrope between being its own thing and fanservice, with Alpha-5’s exhortation to ‘go, go Power Rangers’ or Rita’s gravelly command to ‘make my monster grow’ running somewhat against the grittier theme of the movie.
It’s mostly the minority Rangers who share their secrets with the group, while the straight, white Rangers reserve their confidence for one another.
What’s right with it?
Since their translation from the original super sentai, the Power Rangers have been a self-consciously diverse team, and the movie sticks to that, not only featuring black, Latina and Asian-American (well, Chinese-Canadian) Rangers, but gay and autistic team members as well. I also applaud the decision to make the Rangers well-meaning screw-ups rather than straight-A, extra credit paragons.
Trini’s sexuality is hinted at, but not made a big thing of – which would no doubt please those who reacted to the news that one of the Rangers would be gay by crying ‘why do we have to make a big thing of this?’ if that was actually their complaint – and the romance between Jason and Kimberley shown in the trailers was actually cut in order to keep it from hijacking Kimberley’s more critical character beats. I wish it was less of a surprise to see a female characters essential arc prioritised over the romance, let alone two female characters not defined by relationships or sexuality, but it’s refreshing. As a side-effect, it means that the film doesn’t additionally foreground the white characters as the alpha couple.
In a similar vein, Zack is shown early on to have some interest in the ‘crazy girl’, but picks up on the hints of her sexuality and doesn’t display any disappointment or even rueful acceptance. All the usual tropes are let fall and it’s just ‘oh, that’s a thing then,’ and the overriding feeling of the scene is that the team are growing into having each other’s backs, in all senses, and accepting each other as they are.
There are some nice moments in the battle, in particular Kimberley picking up Billy’s Zord with her own and dropping him on Goldar, which nod to the frankly goofy combo moves of the original without going the whole hog.
How bad is it really?
The really interesting thing about Power Rangers is that it is arguably a better teen drama than it is a Power Rangers movie. The characters come across as well-realised, if not actually realistic, and have real problems and challenges in their lives, but we go through most of the two hour run time – after the opening, which is very obviously influenced by the gritty reboot parody Power/Rangers – without a significant martial arts fight and the armour is only on display in the final twenty minutes or so (the same is true of the zords, although honestly they get to do more than was usual in the show, where they tended to do little more than show up before combining into the megazord.)
Israelite would seem to have created an interesting, involving take on the Power Rangers mythos, but perhaps one which has less appeal to the original core audience of the franchise. Teenagers might dig the movie, but children are likely to find it heavy going.
Best bit (if such there is)?
The scene where the Rangers camp out and share secrets could have been monumentally corny, but ends up bringing a lot of the characters into proper focus for the first time while also avoiding being the pat solution to all of their problems.
What’s up with…?
- Trini’s brothers? At the end they’re all ‘the Yellow Ranger; he’s cool,’ and Trini is all ‘how do you know that’s a guy?’ Presumably it was the boob armour that gave him away. And speaking of…
- The boob armour? Ranger armour has previously been pretty low on such things, to the point that I believe some Rangers have been genderflipped in the translation process, but Kimberley and Trini are not only half the size of their male counterparts, they have contours sculpted into the hard shell of their armour.
- Angel Grove’s police response protocol? Summoned to a jewellery store heist, a single officer enters the building with a shotgun, and fires on a woman armed with a stick, then calls for backup when she isn’t dead.
- Taking a poke at the Transformers? The zords have a definite Bayishness about them, which makes it all the more odd when Jason throws a yellow and black Camaro at Goldar with a cry of ‘sorry, Bumblebee!’
- Jason’s sword? He sort of manifests it out of nowhere, then later returns it to the command centre like he’d taken it from there in the first place. I don’t know; maybe I missed something.
Production values – The film has a grittier aesthetic than is traditional for the franchise, and the zords in particular bear something of a resemblance to the design of the Transformers of the Michael Bay movies, but it’s all beautifully done. 8
Dialogue and performances – Decent performances and fair dialogue – in a weird twist of fortune, Hader’s Alpha-5 is a highlight instead of a low point – enliven the slower parts of the movie, although as often happens some of the more teenagey things in the script come off as overly childish from a cast who are mostly in their early 20s (apart from Lin, who is nearly 30.) 8
Plot and execution – For what it is, the film takes its sweet time getting around to the Ranging and the Powering, but I think that might actually be a plus. 6
Randomness – There are a number of developments of convenience – the ability for one Ranger to return from the Morphing Grid at the moment of connection, Jason’s dad fishing up Rita just as the Power Coins come to light, the unexpected megazording – but for the most part the film picks a path and sticks at it. 10
Waste of potential – I’ve seen Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie; I know how much worse this could have been. 5