Everything comes back. If you’re Spider-Man, it’s every few years. If you’re Power Rangers, you secretly never went away, constantly airing in the background, but never reaching the fever pitch of your 1994 mania. But now, we want a gritty, 2010s style, teens with ‘tude, big screen version, jam-packed with questionable musical choices, a lot of seriousness, and a tiny bit of camp. Power Rangers is here, although it’s not entirely clear who the audience is. When you see the camp, grasp it tight: it’s worth its weight in Goldar.
Five misfit teens meet at a mining site and stumble upon five coloured coins that give them super strength. In a subterranean space ship they meet robot Alpha 5 (Bill Hader, Sausage Party), who introduces them to his boss, floating head Zordon (Bryan Cranston, TV’s Sneaky Pete). They are charged with “morphing” into the Power Rangers, so that they will be strong enough to defeat Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp) before she can destroy the Earth.
Power Rangers takes a long time to get to its point. It takes forever to even discover the coins, and if you’re hungry for the suits (robbed of their iconography through a bland modern makeover), they show up only at the end. Much of the character building is good, and the ensemble, ostensibly lead by Australian Dacre Montgomery (A Few Less Men) are more than competent; one even gets the impression that they’d be game to try more difficult comedic material than their fireside bonding, but by the time action comes, the film feels as if it has been starved of it.
Cranston almost literally phones it in as a face on the wall, but it’s easy to see why Banks signed up. When she’s allowed to let loose, she dominates each scene she appears in. Her sparkling golden visage is enough to warm the heart of any bored viewer, and her dialogue is nothing if not direct: “let’s kill everyone.” If the film had a different structure — for example, if Repulsa had tested the Power Rangers with escalating challenges threaded throughout the movie, instead of being a background serial killer — she could have been used much more effectively.
Director Dean Israelite (Project Almanac) has a bizarre flair for the horrific, making entire segments of the film seem more like horror than the teen action-comedy the studio was presumably aiming for. When the real action scenes kick in towards the end, Israelite reveals the actual deliberately corny sensibility that should have been on display the entire time — because at that point, Power Rangers looks and feels precisely as it should. Israelite and writer John Gatins (Flight) understand some of what makes a movie like this tick, but they should have had more faith in peoples’ ability to appreciate big and goofy moments.
Power Rangers is a movie that is better than it probably should have been, but one that waits until it’s almost entirely too late to strike the tone that it’s most comfortable with. Lighthearted giant robot capers are what get audiences of all ages amped up, and if there were more of them people would have an easier time with Power Rangers. If there’s enough interest to spin this out into the franchise they’re hoping for — and with a $105m budget, they clearly need a return on investment — one can only hope that the future entries are more fun and colourful, and less dour.
Power Rangers opened in Australian cinemas on March 23, 2017.
Directed by: Dean Israelite.
Starring: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Becky G, Ludi Lin, Bill Hader, Bryan Cranston and Elizabeth Banks.