By Jack Dignan
If you finished watching The Breakfast Club and thought to yourself “I sure would love a sequel to that in which all the characters gain superhuman abilities, colour coordinated costumes and team up to save the world,” then this new Power Rangers movie is going to be for you. Or at least, the filmmakers tried to make this new movie for you. Famed 90s children’s show, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, is, at long last (?), getting the big budgeted Hollywood reboot all 80s and 90s properties seem to inevitably get. While the show doesn’t hold a lot of nostalgia for me, only having seen the 1995 movie and several episodes of the show when I was younger (there was a dinosaur themed Power Rangers show, right? I didn’t just make that up in some childhood fantasy?), this new reboot had the potential to deliver… and fails miserably.
After an admittedly cool flashback sequence opens up this dark and gritty reboot, we get our first introductions to the discount 2017 styled version of The Breakfast Club. Jason (Dacre Montgomery) is the captain of the football team, currently on house arrest and therefore no longer part of the team, causing uproar amongst his fellow students. Kimberly (Naomi Scott) is, uh, friendless, I guess, and the same goes for new student Trini (Becky G.). Billy (RJ Cyler) is the school outsider, going from class to class with very few friends. Then there’s Zack (Ludi Lin), who apparently goes to their school too, instead choosing to spend his days at home. They’re a bunch of misfits and social outcasts, brought together through unexpected circumstances.
These circumstances, most of which involve them all being at the same place at the same time, lead them to the discovery of ancient glowing crystals buried in the outskirts of their town. Their discovery grants them superhuman abilities, now faster and stronger than they could ever imagine. Wanting to know the origins of their newfound powers, they return to the site of the crystals, and here, they discover their destiny. With the guidance of a robot named Alpha 5 (Bill Hader) and a talking face wall thing named Zordon (Bryan Cranston), these five strangers are to become Power Rangers, guarding the universe and fending it off from evil foes, including recently resurfaced ancient villain Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks).
Power Rangers is a perfect example of a film that has absolutely no idea what it’s trying to be. It’s too dark and self-serious to appeal to a younger audience, yet too goofy and in your face to appeal to older audiences, either. The film lacks tonal focus, beginning with a mature audience in mind yet slowly raveling away into a ridiculous, over the top mess. Our first introduction to the character of Jason is a gag in which one of his friends accidentally admits to masturbating a cow, followed by a close up shot of said cow’s genitals. Parents hoping to take their kids to what it typically a kid-friendly brand will be immediately shocked, their disgust furthered by the dark and violent nature of what follows.
Now, I don’t have a problem with dark reboots, per say. If a film benefits from a darker, more adult tone, then that’s fine by me. Power Rangers, a film in which teenagers get trained by a sarcastic robot to take on a faceless army of rock monsters, doesn’t need to take itself seriously. Yet it does. Older audiences aren’t looking for some gritty, realistic take on the property, full of innuendos and pedophile jokes, but instead a fun, respectful and nostalgia-filled throwback to their childhoods. This new Power Rangers is not going to be the film they’re looking for. Often, the movie finds itself caught up in its own seriousness, attempting to up the drama while doing nothing more than slowing down the pace.
Once you’re able to get past the initial character introductions, this movie’s first act is surprisingly decent. Subtly may be nowhere to be found, Kimberly’s friends literally cutting her out of a photo right in front of her, but it’s fun. Characters come and go as the plot pleases, all of the Rangers conveniently showing up together at the exact same spot without any sort of a logical explanation, but it’s idiosyncrasies like that which add to the joy of the first act. It’s imperfect, but I had fun with it… until it never ended. It’s not until over 90 minutes into the film that the second act begins, ending just five minutes later and going straight into the big third act finale.
There’s an overreliance on a subplot in which the Rangers might not actually be worthy of morphing, dragged out repetitively for over an hour, despite every single audience member knowing they most definitely are. It would’ve been okay to have this subplot last only during their training, but to have it last half of the film’s runtime, and consequently restricting the amount of time we’re able to see these characters in action, is a terrible decision on the writer’s behalf. When they do finally morph, and I mean technically that could be considered a spoiler due to how late in the film it actually happens, the story goes from 0 to 100 real quick. In the span of five minutes, a never-ending explosion of mediocre CGI fighting begins, and despite it being the thing I was most anticipating watching this movie, I couldn’t wait for it to end.
One perk that should’ve come from having Power Rangers be a slow burner is character development, yet there’s none to be found. Bill Hader steals the show as Alpha 5, but merely because there’s nobody to really steal the spotlight from. There’s an attempt to give Jason and Billy a backstory, and it kind of works for what this film is going for, but they’re about the only ones who get any sort of depth. About two third into the movie, there comes a point where the filmmakers realised they forgot to explain who any of these characters are and therefore sit them down in a prolonged sequence that’s nothing more than uninteresting, mostly forgettable exposition. Their arcs (or lack of) don’t play into the plot at hand, nor do they do a proficient job at creating empathy for any of the characters.
It should be mentioned that the cast do the best with what they’ve got, each of them clearly pleased to be a Power Ranger, but their performances are undermined by the mediocrity of the plot hole ridden film they’re in. Elizabeth Banks seems to be having fun playing a psychotic villain, a role she’s definitely suited for, but the character she portrays is about as generic as they come. Her motives are unexplained, her powers limitless, and she comes across as essentially immortal, seemingly dying several times throughout and coming back as if nothing ever happened. Visually, she looks cool, even if her initial design to sure to traumatize kids, and Banks nails the role, but she feels more like an afterthought, never really coming into play until it was too late to care.
Product placement is something that’s been a part of cinema for a very long time. After having been subdued to so much of it over the years, it rarely bothers me anymore. I get it, I notice it, and most of the time, I don’t care. Power Rangers, however, is unforgiveable. Without delving into spoilers as to why, although to be frank, there’s not much you can spoil when it comes to this movie, the entirety of the film is one big ad for Krispy Kreme. Once a certain discovery is made, the remainder of the plot revolves around the company, often cited as being delicious and amazing. As much as I wish this were a joke, there’s a scene in which Elizabeth Banks, in the middle of a fight scene, decides to walk into the store, sit down with the company logo clearly placed to the left of frame, and takes her time in eating a plate of donuts. That’s when I gave up on this movie.
I’m not sure why I’m surprised that this film is bad. The original shows, and all subsequent spin offs, are all quite terrible. Yet they’re beloved. With enough earnestness and respect for the source material, something really good could’ve come from this new reboot, but instead we’re left with a misguided and unfocussed movie without a clear target audience. When a film’s not even worth watching to see Elizabeth Banks eating donuts in a Krispy Kreme, you know it’s bad.
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