Film Review: Power Rangers

Better than expected, worse than hoped for.
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Director Dean Israelite bounces back from his execrable first feature, 2015’s teen time-travel romp Project Almanac, with an adaptation of the popular ’90s kids’ show “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.” To say Power Rangers is better than Project Almanac is to damn the former film with faint praise. Not that Power Rangers deserves much better. Let’s say “moderate praise.” It’s not particularly well done, but unlike Project Almanac, it’s at least watchable.

Like Project Almanac, Power Rangers centers on a group of teens who stumble into some capital-A Adventures. Here, five misfits from the tiny town of Angel Grove, California come across mystical “coins” that give them the usual gamut of superpowers: super strength, super speed, etc. Lo and behold, the coins have chosen them to be the newest incarnations of the Power Rangers, who since time immemorial have been tasked with protecting the Earth from all manner of supernatural threats. The threat this time around is Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), who wants to get her hands on a MacGuffin crystal—sorry, a zeo crystal—that will allow her to destroy all life on Earth. How will she do that? Why? Eh. The movie doesn’t really go into it. “Bad guy wants to destroy Earth. Good guys want to stop her. Training montages” is about as complex as the plot ever gets.

In terms of sheer directing ability, it’s clear that Israelite still has a lot of work to do. Power Rangers shares Project Almanac’s jarring use of shaky-cam and a “The audience doesn’t really need to see what’s happening, do they?” approach to action scenes. Visually, the film is quite dim and dark, and there’s an early car chase that’s among the worst ever put to film. The pacing is, in a word, garbage. I don’t know who decided that a Power Rangers movie should be over two hours long, but whoever it is I’d like to pull a Project Almanac and go back in time to convince them to at least cut the gag about a character accidentally giving a bull a hand job. (It’s in the first five minutes, too.) The characters are thin and dialogue is clunky. See: Black Ranger Zack (Ludi Lin), the rebel of the team, helpfully noting that he’s “crazy!” not once, but twice. And five-time Emmy winner Bryan Cranston, playing the Rangers’ mentor Zordon, solemnly intoning “My Ranger team died protecting the crystal from Rita. That’s why I’m in this wall.” Say what you will about Cranston’s career choices, but the guy always shows up and gives it his all.

And if Cranston gives it his all, Banks—playing Rita in full snarling, cartoonish camp mode—is operating at a full five hundred percent. It’s clear that she’s having the time of her life. She’s the main reason that Power Rangers, for all its deficiencies, is still fun to watch. It’s heavier on the jokes than its grim ’n’ glum visual stylings would seem to indicate, though it never achieves the sublime goofiness of its 1995 predecessor, where some Ranger or another would spout a terrible pun every five minutes.

Still, there’s a fair amount of comedy mixed in with the generic action. The actors playing the Rangers all boast the chemistry required to carry the film through its lulls. (Really, the pacing here is horrible.) Special kudos go to the charming RJ Cyler (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) as Blue Ranger Billy, aka “the nerdy one.” Here, unlike in the ’90s “Power Rangers,” Billy is on the autism spectrum, which along with Power Rangers’ multicultural cast is evidence of its determination to bring a franchise at times lacking in diversity through to the 21st century. If the end result lands on the clunky side (Zordon’s robot assistant Alpha 5, voiced by Bill Hader, excitedly exclaiming “Different colors, different kids, different color kids!”), well, at least its heart is in the right place.

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