Reviews and entertainment articles by Dave Simpson
If you’ve ever wondered what a truly realistic take on Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers would look like, then you’re not going to get much closer than this fan film from producer Adi Shankar. Violent, abrasive and shockingly engrossing, it certainly is not one for the kids. Rather, the Joseph Khan directed short is for those of us who watched the original show when it first aired and are now all grown up.
The plot takes place an undisclosed number of years after Earth has been conquered by an evil force, heavily implied to be the Machine Empire first introduced during Zeo. Ranger turned traitor Rocky DeSantos has captured former teammate Kimberly Hart and is subjecting her to a brutal interrogation in an effort to discover the whereabouts of the renegade Tommy Oliver.
One of the most fascinating things about this movie is that it delves deeply into the psychological effects of being recruited to combat a malevolent extraterrestrial force while still in adolescence. The campy fight sequences and squeaky clean personalities of the TV show are nowhere to be found here. Instead, we are presented with battle hardened adults struggling to deal with the mental scars of having been thrust into a bloody conflict as school kids.
It allows for some absorbing character development, examining how the consequences of post-traumatic stress can manifest themselves in different individuals. These Power Rangers are not happy-go-lucky, spandex clad superheroes; they are soldiers who have suffered through the anguish and losses of war and are now having to deal with the fallout.
Sci-fi legend Katee Sackhoff steals the show as Kimberly. There is not the slightest hint of the outgoing, kind-hearted young woman played by Amy Jo Johnson. Whether this incarnation of the Pink Ranger was ever that way remains a mystery, but Sackhoff’s version is a foul-mouthed, no-nonsense tough girl who is completely believable as a veteran of war. She leaves no doubt as to the character’s mental and physical ability to deal with Rocky and his interrogation techniques. There’s something quite thrilling about seeing a Ranger portrayed this way.
It seems appropriate that Tommy should function as the de facto hero of the piece. It’s poetic that a Ranger who began as a villain is being hunted by a villain who began as a Ranger. I have to wonder though if it would have been more hard hitting were it Jason rather than Rocky who was the betrayer. It certainly would have lent more of an emotional punch to an otherwise exhilarating climactic confrontation. That being said, there is also a point to be made by portraying Jason as the unquestioning proponent of Zordon as opposed to the more cynical perspective of his successor.
James Van Der Beek gives an intense performance as Rocky, immediately distancing him from the mild mannered and polite replacement Red Ranger that we remember from our childhoods. It appears that as something of an outsider to the original group, he had a less virtuous stance on the whole situation. He is apparently of the opinion that Zordon victimised the Rangers by placing the burden of war upon the shoulders of mere teenagers and has become embittered as a result. It’s a very interesting and not altogether disagreeable way of looking at the show’s concept.
The story also takes several other familiar characters in intriguing new directions that feel natural to a more gritty take on established mythology. For some reason, it doesn’t seem like a stretch to imagine Bulk and Skull as opportunistic, drug-addicted deviants within the context of this world. It’s equally easy to picture Billy as growing up to be an entrepreneur and tech mogul, given his apparent status as a child prodigy.
Arguably though, it’s Zack that gets some of the best screen-time. Introduced as a cocaine sniffing lady’s man who became disillusioned with a life of overt heroism, the references to hip-hop-kido are a nice nod to the source material and represent the only truly lighthearted moments of the film. It’s the exciting action pieces in which he partakes that really shock and awe though. These superbly choreographed sequences are unapologetically graphic, featuring blood and profanity aplenty and playing like something out of The Raid or any number of R-rated action movies.
When it comes to the set pieces and special effects, the production values are impressively high. Despite clocking in at a little under fifteen minutes, Power/Rangers is loaded with stunning visuals and adrenaline-fuelled altercations. Whether you approve of this take on the mythology or not, there’s no denying that this is a good looking sci-fi movie. From the Megazord clash to the flawlessly executed fights to the various environments throughout, it all has the sheen of a big budget Hollywood blockbuster.
It’s obvious that the writers of this short did their homework beforehand, making a concerted effort to honour and pay homage to established continuity while re-imagining it to suit their own needs. Certain details of this world’s history might be left ambiguous, but there is enough exposition and allusions to fill in the blanks and allow for a satisfying stand-alone story. While I don’t necessarily think that the upcoming big screen reboot of the franchise should be anywhere near as severe as this, Power/Rangers is a well conceived and thoroughly enjoyable piece of fan fiction for adults who grew up with the original series.
For my thoughts on how Lionsgate’s actual Mighty Morphin’ reboot should go, click here.
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