Reviews and entertainment articles by Dave Simpson
Stronger than before, go Zeo! Powered up for more, go Zeo! Rangers at the core, Zeo Power Rangers…yeah, I know those lyrics aren’t related to the iteration of the franchise upon which this film is based, but for some reason I just haven’t been able to get that damned theme out of my head all week! Which is weird because I never even got as far as Zeo when I was a kid.
I have a very vivid recollection of turning to my sister after watching the episode of Alien Rangers in which – spoiler alert! – the command centre is destroyed and telling her I couldn’t wait to see what happened next, but never actually tuning in to find out. An abrupt end to a four year love affair with Power Rangers that can probably be attributed to the fact that I first discovered Star Wars around the same time as the onset of Zeo and got distracted by the goings on in a galaxy far, far away for the subsequent seventeen years or so.
Then came the news that Haim Saban would be rebooting the franchise for the big screen and suddenly I found myself drawn towards the morphin’ grid again. Despite being a full grown adult, I resolved to revisit the Mighty Morphin’ seasons on Netflix in 2014 and if I’m being honest, I enjoyed re-watching them so much that I decided to pass my original stopping point and continue through to the conclusion of In Space and the end of the so-called “Zordon era”.
But enough about my nostalgic Netflix binging. The long-awaited cinematic reboot is finally upon us and even though it’s not quite in line with what I said I wanted to see in an unapologetically self-indulgent blog post three years ago, I’m delighted to declare that director Dean Israelite has delivered a Power Rangers movie that excels on every level.
The story starts with a stunning action sequence set in the Cenozoic Era before transitioning to the present day and introducing us to all-star quarter back Jason Lee Scott as he’s explaining to his friend the difference between milking a cow and, well, let’s just say working the wrong udder. It’s a surprisingly hilarious scene which, combined with the preceding prologue, makes it clear that this movie is going to be a much more mature take on the mythology than the campy original series and left me feeling that I was in for a hundred and twenty four minutes of unabashed fun.
A loose yet fairly fateful adaptation of “Day of the Dumpster” follows from here as Jason and fellow high school students Kimberly, Trini, Billy and Zack are recruited by an enigmatic alien named Zordon to save the world from certain doom at the hands of the evil enchantress Rita Repulsa and her gleaming golem, Goldar.
However, unlike the decidedly silly Mighty Morphin’ pilot, this reboot boasts some of the best character development I’ve ever seen in an ensemble story. Rather than rushing to the point where the Rangers are ready to roll into combat, it takes its time exploring what makes its protagonists tick and building up the bonds between them.
The first two acts are packed full of fantastically affecting character moments and thrilling training montages as the Rangers attempt to get to grips with both their newfound powers and who they are as individuals. This endows the movie with an extraordinary amount of depth and emotion and makes the moment when the five core characters morph for the first time feel all the more meaningful.
If you were to ask me who my favourite Rangers were in the original series, I’d answer Tommy and Kimberly without having to think about it. Maybe it was because the former’s first costume was my favourite colour and the latter was cute and charming, but for whatever reason, they were the two who resonated the most with me as a kid. However, each member of the titular team comes across as so estimable here that I genuinely don’t know which one I liked best. While this is in no small part due to adept direction and skilled screenwriting, it’s the terrific talent of the lead actors that really makes these characters so compelling.
Dacre Montgomery demonstrates a tremendous amount of fortitude as football star turned juvenile delinquent Jason Lee Scott. The character’s transition from well-intentioned but troubled teen into capable and commanding team leader is exceptionally well-executed and Montgomery does an impeccable job of conveying the pressure that Jason feels to live up to the expectations of those around him and ensure the safety of his hometown by earning the right to adopt the mantle of the Red Ranger.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl star RJ Cyler is also irreproachable as resident whiz-kid Billy Cranston. The sense of innocuousness and sincerity with which he imbues the role makes it impossible not to be bewitched by the brainy Blue Ranger, while the fact that this rendition of Billy is autistic adds an intriguing new dimension to his personality without feeling contrived or becoming his defining character trait.
Similarly, the topic of Trini’s homosexuality is incorporated very naturally into the plot and to say that Becky G’s performance is outstanding when she confesses that it’s causing tension with her parents to the other Rangers around a campfire would be a colossal understatement. This may be the young actress’s first major movie role, but you’d never know it by how adeptly she expresses the vulnerabilities hidden beneath Trini’s endearingly edgy exterior. The result is a remarkably well-rounded and captivating character whose arc is extremely moving.
Fellow female Ranger Kimberly Ann Hart is considerably less clean cut than her nineties counterpart, but that’s by no means meant as a denunciation. Rather, Naomi Scott’s flawed but fetching take on Kimberly feels a lot more real due to the fact that she’s haunted by a mistake that she made in the past and despite believing herself to be a bad person, her desire to seek redemption shows that she’s just as righteous as the rest of her teammates.
Ludi Lin rounds out the core cast as the alluringly laid-back Zack Taylor. Exuding charm and charisma by the bucket load, the Chinese actor undoubtedly portrays the most playful member of the eponymous team, but like the other Rangers, Zack is also struggling with issues of his own. Lin’s ability to bring the laughs while simultaneously showcasing the character’s difficulty in dealing with having to care for his ailing mother by himself makes for a magnificently multifaceted Black Ranger who’s entrancing to watch whenever he’s onscreen.
The Ranger actors aren’t the only ones who shine though. Elizabeth Banks is absolutely astounding as chief antagonist Rita Repulsa. From a superbly unsettling assault in a jewellery store to several truly chilling run-ins with the Rangers, Banks’s awesomely eerie depiction of the maniacal malefactor is akin to something you’d see in a horror film.
Bryan Cranston deserves some serious praise for managing to make Zordon seem like much more than a talking head on the wall. This version of the Rangers’ disembodied mentor is actually kind of a jerk due to the guilt he feels for failing to defeat Rita sixty five million years ago and Cranston’s embittered portrayal of the prehistoric sage is exemplary.
Bill Hader also impresses as the voice of Alpha 5. Serving as an enticingly sardonic intermediary between Zordon and the Rangers, Hader even succeeds in reciting the robot’s iconic catchphrase in a way that’s neither irksome nor absurd.
By fleshing out all of the above characters so effectively, the film ensures the stakes seem high for the electrifying climactic confrontation with Rita and Goldar. It’s refreshing to watch a special effects laden blockbuster that actually makes you care about what happens to its protagonists during its CGI-heavy set-pieces and if you’re a fan of the original series, you’re sure to go gaga with glee when the Mighty Morphin’ theme tune rings out as the Rangers charge into battle in the third act.
There really isn’t a bad thing I can say about this movie. Its narrative is well-written, its characters are compelling, its action is exhilarating and it packs a much more powerful emotional punch than most movies of its genre. And as if all that isn’t enough, it successfully reinvents a cherished TV show from my childhood for the modern age while managing to maintain the essence of what I loved so much about the franchise in the first place. But you definitely don’t need to be an established fan to enjoy what’s on offer here. Power Rangers is a true treat for moviegoers of all ages and I highly recommend that everyone go see it.
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