“Are we Rangers, or are we friends?”
That question, asked about an hour into Power Rangers, just about sums up what makes this version of the story from the 1990s hit kids superhero show.
In Power Rangers, the five titular characters — brave but angry Jason (Dacre Montgomery), haunted but loyal Zack (Ludi Lin), rebellious Trini (Becky G), nerdy Billy (RJ Cyler) and complicated Kimberly (Naomi Scott) – are written like actual teenagers, with teenage dreams, problems and desires, and the kind of innocence that masks itself in attempts at adulthood. Gone are the silly hang-outs at Angel Grove’s local juice bar and karate club; instead, the five meet up in a quarry outside of their Pacific Northwest hamlet. Each of them is running away from something, and fortunately for us they discover new powers on their way to friendship.
Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, the source material for this franchise reboot, is undeniably crappy television, the kind of stuff one feels sort of guilty for having ever loved. At the same time, the visuals, corniness and simplicity make it fundamentally memorable and easy to wax nostalgic about. It was a toy commercial, and a damn effective one.
Power Rangers didn’t have to do much besides introduce the monster Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), have said monster grow and have the Power Rangers build a MegaZord to fight it. Of course, this reboot does has all of that, in a quick 30-minute third act that feels more like a sequence built by a computer to be the perfect “MMPR” fan film. It also has visuals designed for toys and apparel, in an age where what you like is who you are.
But surprisingly, it’s the angst and teen adventure element of Power Rangers that works, that sets it above other similar franchise reboots. Each of the kids is likable in his or her own way, tortured but not selfish. They’re about as close to classic Peter Parker as we’ve seen on screen, and when they become Rangers the key is letting go of their self-centeredness. It plays well; the script never lags for the sake of attempted depth but it is never frustratingly shallow, either.
Perhaps the oddest thing about Power Rangers isn’t just that it’s a positive movie that is eminently watchable, but that its flaws are relatively minor and kind of laughable. The product placement (for Krispy Kreme) is extraordinarily blatant; the humor is surprisingly foul; the action, although impact-less like the show, sometimes lapses into shocking violence. One car chase, in particular, ends with a horrific crash.
March 2017 has been an above-average month for franchise movies; Logan, Kong: Skull Island and Beauty and the Beast are all winners (and still in theaters). Against all expectation – and by no means the equal of any of those movies – Power Rangers is far from a waste of your time, and another entry in a good movie month.