The new Power Rangers movie is pretty damn great. Surprise! Who would’ve seen that coming? We live in a world where reboots rise eternal, and are mostly awful cash-grabs with no heart or substance. This film bucks that trend, embracing the campy chaos of its past with effective fan service and giant robot action, while also developing a real depth and soul along the way.
I know. I’m as shocked as you.
So, the Power Rangers. Let’s discuss. The original series Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers debuted on Fox’s afternoon block in 1993. It starred five teenagers with attitude, recruited by a magic glowing alien in a tube and his gay robot best friend. They used gymnastics, dancing, and the power of karate and friendship for everyone to fight and protect their hometown of Angel Grove from an evil alien menace named Rita Repulsa and a rotating stable of her goons in rubber suits. The show was an American re-imagining of a Japanese show called Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger, which was ACTUALLY the 16th season of Toei’s Super Sentai series (which has been around since 1975). Later seasons of Mighty Morphin’ took footage from Gosei Sentai Dairanger and Ninja Sentai Kakuranger, which are all fun names for a tv show, but tough to spell for a movie reviewer. Anyway, these are the shows the U.S. version borrowed footage from for the back half of every Power Rangers episode, when the kids put on their colored suits and fought a giant monster.
Whew, still with me? Alright, good.The story of how an American-Israeli producer named Haim Saban discovered Super Sentai on a business trip to Japan, and spent years trying to bring a version of to America, is a fascinating one. A half-decade of persistence and belief in his vision finally brought the show to audiences in ‘93, and it quickly found a place in the hearts of kids everywhere. Amazingly, it’s 2017, and a version of the show is still airing on both Japanese and U.S. television today.
There are actually two previous Power Rangers movies out there, both from the 90’s, neither of which has held up very well to the passage of time. The first one’s still fun, but… skip the second one, trust me. Since then the rights of the show have changed hands from Saban Entertainment to Disney and back again, resulting in a return to the original creators and their initial vision, and a chance to reboot the franchise on-screen for a younger generation.
Which brings us to the new movie, cheekily titled Saban’s Power Rangers, in case you forget who owns the rights now. Getting in on the recent trend of going gritty, dark and serious with a childhood franchise, it manages to be funny and endearing at the same time, which is a hard trick to pull off. The film stars a fresh-faced cast of young actors (Dacre Montgomery, Ludi Lin, R.J. Cyler, Naomi Scott, and Becky G.) playing the original Ranger team from the much-beloved first season of the show (Jason, Zack, Billy, Kimberly, and Trini, respectively.) Joining them are Bryan Cranston as team mentor and talking wall Zordon, and Bill Hader as his android buddy and comic relief Alpha 5. Together they all must find a way to stop the evil Rita Repulsa, played to hilarious effect by a scene-stealing Elizabeth Banks, who is clearly having a great time in the villain’s role.
In this incarnation of the story, Zordon was the original Red Ranger, and he and his team of color-coordinated aliens died on Earth millions of years ago during a battle to stop Rita (the original Green Ranger gone bad) from tearing out a hidden crystal in the planet and thereby destroying all life. You see, all planets where sentient life can form carry a Zeo crystal deep in their hearts, and each of those planets has a Ranger team to protect it. Zordon failed, but in failing, he put Rita in stasis and buried his ship deep underground, while also protecting the 5 colored coins that give the Rangers their powers. When Rita returns and the Rangers are needed again, the coins will find new hosts capable of utilizing their powers for good, and for the protection of all life on Earth.
Also, our Zeo crystal is buried under a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop in California. Seriously.
Those last few sentences accurately describe the tone of the movie, and why it’s such a joy to watch. Everyone involved here is having major fun, and the film works hard to make sure it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s a refreshing change, after years of enduring superhero movies awash in angst and gravitas. There’s definitely a darker tone here than that of the original series, and these kids have problems, yes, but they’re also just normal kids who are superheroes now and they suddenly have power suits and giant robot dinosaurs and OMG HOW COOL IS ALL THAT. The movie knows its source material is ridiculous, but instead of running from that knowledge, it embraces it, and is all the better for doing so.
Without Bryan Cranston’s superb job portraying Zordon, the on-screen results would’ve been quite different. His super-straight take as a dead man kept alive in a computer, trying his damndest to right past wrongs and save the world, sells the seriousness of Rita’s threat to the planet. Fun fact; Cranston was a voice actor in the 90’s and lent his tones to Saban several times on the original show, portraying various monsters the Rangers had to overcome. Saban was so grateful of his work he named the original Blue Ranger Billy Cranston, after Bryan himself. Clearly it’s a relationship they’ve maintained over the years, which led to Cranston’s appearance here, and the movie is so much better for it. The man is an award-winning actor for a reason, folks, and his talents keep the plot and the team’s motivations from sinking to eye-rolling levels.
The kids are the ones who have to deal with Rita in present-day, and they all do a good job with what they’re given. It was important to the actors and the creative team that these teenagers seem like real kids with real problems, and damned if they aren’t (mostly) relatable. There are a few missteps here, but overall their issues and backstories are done well and given adequate time to develop. Of course, this is still a Hollywood superhero movie, so some well-worn tropes are in full effect, but for the most part you care about the characters and their motivations, and they’re all given the chance to grow and change as the movie goes on.R.J. Cyler is the standout amongst the young actors. Billy the Blue Ranger is the heart of the team, and his portrayal is fresh, funny, and filled with joy and excitement over each new discovery. In this movie he’s a kid on the spectrum (whether it’s autism, Asperger's, or something else is never explained) and he has to learn to relate to his new friends while processing this amazing and harrowing experience at the same time. It’s a tough job and he does it well. Cyler has all the best jokes and most of the good lines, and it’s easy to see why. This kid has a big future on screen, and his work here feels like watching the growth of a major talent.
And oh, does this movie have jokes, people. It’s truly, surprisingly funny. Of course, their are some jokes that fall flat, but for the most part the humor here’s a winner. Combine that with moments of excellent fan service, better wire work in the action scenes than any X-Men movie has done in 20 years, and a commitment to practical effects and polished CGI, and the finished result is a film I think any fan of movies in general will enjoy. There’s a stand up and cheer moment at the climax of the film (you’ll know it,) and people in my screening actually stood up and cheered. This is a tale well worth your time, my friends.
Complaints? It’s too long in the middle, some of the Rangers need more backstory, and Krispy Kreme clearly paid for half the movie’s budget to star as a supporting character. But, you know, who cares? This is a self-aware film about magical space kids and their robot adventures punching monsters in the face, and it’s a laugh-out-loud good time with a lot of heart. If you’re an old-school fan of the franchise it gives you everything you want (stay for the credits,) while doing enough to entertain and include new fans at the same time. Run to the theater and see Saban’s Power Rangers, and enjoy the best coming-of-age superhero movie to hit theaters in a long time.
Or should I say, GO GO?
4 out of 5 stars