Power Rangers is an action-adventure about a group of high school students who discover that they have special powers, which are key to saving the world from an alien threat. It’s based on a mid-90s TV show which is still running and currently being filmed in NZ (holla!), so it’s the latest attempt at a film franchise based on nostalgia-for-an-old-TV-series (AKA, the latest major Hollywood studio attempt to appeal to 90s kids who now have disposable incomes, and actual kids with access to their parents’ income. One film. Two audiences. Score.)
One of the fun parts of being a first-generation immigrant in a Western country is having to backtrack on pop culture references your friends immediately get, but which you totally missed out on as a child. You’re aware of some things (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Barney and Friends) but others you missed out on completely, and it’s only when someone proclaims a sudden, seemingly disproportionate amount of excitement, that you realise you’ve hit the nostalgia button everyone that but you has. Power Rangers (“As in ‘Mighty Morphin’?!” asked a colleague. “Ah…maybe?” I replied) falls into the latter category for me, so I should probably disclose a lack of knowledge of the “mighty” and “morphin” part of their history. My knowledge of the Power Rangers world consists of what I saw in this movie, plus 5 minutes I spent on Wikipedia, so I shall be reviewing this film as a standalone piece of work.
Here’s where the movie worked for me: it took a diverse bunch of misfits, made them likeable and – at least for a Blockbuster – refreshingly flawed. Kim (Pink Ranger, played by Naomi Scott) is a strong young woman who is dealing with the consequences of a bad decision; there is an attempt at explaining why Zack (Black Ranger, Ludi Lin) spends so much time in the desert; the fact that all of the rangers have unhappy home lives is not ignored. Sure, the characters are underwritten, but that’s to be expected and they are nowhere near as basic as anyone in any Transformers movie ever. This is important because I suspect that the Transformers audience crosses over with the audience for this film, and if you have to pick between the two I would highly recommend you go with the latter. The focus may be on the spectacle, but it’s a credit to the film that the characters are aware of their flaws, and they actually acknowledge and deal with them.
The film absolutely delivers on spectacle, and is loads of fun to watch when it’s focusing on the Rangers’ discovery of their powers, the development of their friendship, and the obligatory training montage.
Where this movie failed for me was in the final act, where it turns into a smash-bang-destruct-a-thon which goes for about 10 minutes longer than it needs to. Although the town centre gets absolutely destroyed, I never really felt that anything was at stake.
All of the actors playing rangers do a really good job with their roles, despite the limited material they’re given to work with. I am convinced that Dacre Montgomery is the second coming of Zac Efron, and Elizabeth Banks is definitely having fun as Rita Repulsa. I have no idea what dark places she had to go to in order to conjure up some of the sounds and gestures she made, but I tip my hat off to her for creating a truly gross, weird, creepy, original villain.
I’m not sure if the film’s strengths are enough to distinguish it from the spate of Superhero franchises already available, and as someone who isn’t familiar with the TV series, it didn’t make me want to look into the franchise any further. It delivers on spectacle, and if it took over Transformers as the go-to nostalgia-based franchise, that would be awesome for humanity.
Image: Roadshow Films