The first scene in Saban’s Power Rangers features a joke about jerking off a bull; the movie never gets more clever or subtle. It also probably never gets less weird. Saban’s Power Rangers is full of clichés, takes forever to get going, and suffers from Transformers Syndrome (the dreaded disease where your million-dollar CGI results in indistinguishable characters and clumsy action sequences). Still, there is a bombastic charm to the movie. The director and five credited screenwriters don’t seem to worry if three training montages is too many, or care that using the theme song from the 1990s results in tonal whiplash. Elements of the movie are undoubtedly stupid, but it has a nostalgic kind of irreverence about it, as if to say, “It’s Power Rangers, everyone. Relax.”
The plot is like a paint-by-numbers of Salvador Dali. Everything is predictable but stunningly bizarre. The major thrust should be familiar: Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) is a bad woman intent on destroying the world, in this case by stealing the Zeo Crystal. To do this, she is going to eat a bunch of gold, craft a spear, and then raise a gigantic gold winged creature that can’t fly in order to dig the crystal out, though she has no idea where it is. Yeah. Beset against her are our heroes: five misfits of different backgrounds and ethnicities who discover powerful coins that grant them the mantle of Power Rangers. At least, once they discover the true power of friendship and teamwork.
As far as the Rangers’ story goes, they Chronicle their way to the power coins and the resulting powers, but instead of a single simple accident, there are almost a half-dozen different hoops for them to jump through, and it is agony all the way. They find the coins at the mine, then they crash a van and mysteriously transport home, then they go back to the mine, then they jump over a chasm, then they jump into the chasm, then they go into a spaceship, then they listen to a robot, then they decide to train. Each step, each step along the way, someone chirps up with a, “should we really be doing this”. It’s exhausting.
As a result, the story takes forever to get moving, and since the true powers of friendship and teamwork remain mysterious to this group of color-coded teenage heroes <coughTurtlescough>, it isn’t until deep in the third act that we actually see the Power Rangers fight in their full armor. One could argue that there aren’t really Power Rangers in Power Rangers until the final 1/8th of the movie. It’s terrible pacing for an origin story.
As far as the villain plot, Rita Repulsa doesn’t entirely make sense. How/why did she survive for 65 million years in the ocean? And I guess eating gold heals her and makes her stronger? While we’re at it, the entire idea of her plot is pretty stupid. Couldn’t we be more inventive than a crystal that, if taken, extinguishes all life on Earth for some reason? Oh, and the crystal is like 100 feet underground? Good thing the construction company that built the Krispy Kreme didn’t jar it loose and eradicate all life on Earth.
For what it is worth, the performances in this film are surprisingly tolerable – not a given for YA fare. Sure, they’re cheesy and hammy as all Hell. But, the groaners are kept to a minimum. We probably see better work from Dacre Montgomery (Jason/Red Ranger) and RJ Cyler (Billy/Blue Ranger) than we got from Jennifer Lawrence in either of the Mockingjay films, for instance. Naomi Scott (Kimberly/Pink Ranger) is also fine, and actually has some tender, human moments in a couple of scenes. The two worst performances come from Ludi Lin (Zack/Black Ranger) and Becky G. (Trini/Yellow Ranger), but they are far from nails-on-chalkboard bad. They’re just flat.
As for the more established talents, Bryan Cranston and Bill Hader lend their voices to Zordon and Alpha-5, respectively. They are each fine, if a little hollow. The look of each is okay, with a slight edge going to Alpha-5. There are couple of good jokes from the robot that mostly come from Hader’s excellent delivery, but mostly these two characters miss.
Elizabeth Banks delivers and absurd performance. She chews the scenes as willingly as her character gobbles gold. She is off-the-walls, Eddie Redmayne scream-whispering in Jupiter Ascending crazy. It’s so far off of normalcy, that you almost appreciate the dedication. Everyone else seems to be in a different movie, unfortunately.
This is the primary issues with Saban’s Power Rangers. The children’s TV show with giant toy robots completely embraced its wonky tone. This version is only about 1/3 there. Sure, there’s cow masturbation jokes, the old “our daughter’s on drugs” shtick, and talking robots. But, there’s also frank discussions of parental misunderstandings, dying mothers, and nightmarish visions of the apocalypse. It doesn’t mesh well.
It is so off-balance that it ruins the one sincere moment of nostalgia: the Power Rangers summoning their Zords. It looks like it is lovingly ripped from the TV screen, complete with “Go, Go, POW-ER RAN-GERS!” vocals and jerky robots moving their arms all stupid. Instead of being excited and feeling happy nostalgia warms emanating from the hole where my heart should be, I just sadly wondered aloud where this movie had been for the last 7/4ths of an hour.
And once the fighting does start, it’s pretty sad. The Power Rangers look good in their armor, but only fight Rita’s foot soldiers in a single scene. That scene is full of quick-cutting and hyper-punctuated slow-motion, a mundane visual style that would have felt like a poor-man’s Zack Snyder 300 rip-off a decade ago. The fights in the Zords are worse. Three of the designs are practically indistinguishable metal mashups, and the only reason I could tell Pink and Red apart from the others is that one flies and one walks on two legs.
The themes are as ho-hum as they come, though their packaging is quite interesting. Among this group of friends that need to discover the power of teamwork and friendship, we have a black kid on the spectrum, a Chinese boy, a gay latina, a fallen white jock, and a trouble-making white girl. It’s practically a stock photo of diversity, with distinguishing characteristics, backgrounds, and hardships. Looking at the construction of the group, it is kind of sad that there weren’t more intelligent things for them to do. But remember – the movie began by masturbating a “cow”.
Saban’s Power Rangers is yet another movie in a long line of baffling big-screen adaptations that fail to establish and maintain a consistent tone. There are seeds of an entertaining movie here, nestled somewhere between the gold-gargling Rita and the silly ‘90s nostalgia. An artistically successful adaptation of the Power Rangers always was going to be a longshot. This attempt reminds us why most longshots miss.