The final act of Power Rangers is everything you could want from a Power Rangers movie. It’s fun, funny, action-packed, and filled with so many Zords and monsters that you’ll actually feel like you’re watching a big-budget update of the popular kids’ franchise. The problem is that the 90 minutes proceeding it wants as little to do with the Power Rangers as possible.
For its majority, Power Rangers is a heavy-handed, character-forward teen angst drama with a little bit of Rangers stuff sprinkled in. It’s way, way less interested in the characters as color-coded superheroes than it is with their struggles to grow up and accept the responsibility of being Power Rangers. It’s not a bad story mind you, but it’s so devoted to its "Breakfast Club" teen drama it doesn’t have time for fighting and Zords and everything that makes the franchise well... fun, so overall the movie feels wildly uneven and, ultimately, disappointing.
As you could tell right from the characters’ muted, overcomplicated uniforms, it’s obvious director Dean Israelite ( director of the very underwhelming Project Almanac) didn’t want to make a bright, colorful Power Rangers movie. After a very promising dark, prologue featuring Bryan Cranston’s Zordon and Elizabeth Banks’ Rita, we meet Jason (Dacre Montgomery) as he’s committing a crime and getting into a violent car accident. The film then cuts to black and the words “Power Rangers” appear in a very small font in the bottom corner of the screen—it’s like the opening of a Steven Soderbergh movie, not a Power Rangers movie. Anyways from there, we follow Jason as he goes into detention, meets a few fellow outcasts and, eventually, they all haphazardly meet at a rock quarry almost an hour outside of their town. There they find the power coins and begin their journey to becoming Power Rangers.
As this is all happening, it’s obvious from the realistic setting and muted visuals that the film is taking the material super duper seriously. Yes, it gets to the Power Rangers stuff fairly quickly but it all feels secondary to the teenagers’ problems. Zack (Ludi Lin) has a sick mother. Trini’s (Becky G.) parents don’t understand who she truly is (she's gay for the sake of being gay, it adds nothing to her character, and is a throwaway line just like Josh Gads La Fou in the new Beauty and the Beast). Kimberly (Naomi Scott) is dealing with a bad case of cyber-bullying and Billy (R.J. Cyler) is ostracized because he’s on the spectrum. Add that to Jason’s problem of throwing his life away for a dumb prank and these kids obviously have some issues.
This could have been a great parallel, right? They need to deal with their personal problems and the difficulties of becoming Power Rangers simultaneously, and these conflicts could have informed each other. But at almost every turn the Power Ranger training and mythology again plays a distant back-up to the teen drama. There’s rarely a sense of “wow” early in the film and the characters almost never think about the bigger picture of the world being in danger. They are so laser-focused on their small-town lives and high school problems that it seems like they barely care about becoming Power Rangers or saving the world. Oh sure they say they care, but the movie doesn’t show any evidence of it. And since they don’t care, why the fuck should I? It all just ends up making the film feel super slow, with the exception of a training montage or two.
But once you get past all that "drama" the kids finally put on the fucking costumes and jump into action. At this point, the audience I saw the film with cheered, because the movie has finally delivered on its promise. It’s the Power Rangers! Zords! Rita! A giant gold monster (serious fuck you to whoever decided on that being look for Goldar)... oh an Fighting!!! But something is off... literally, and this was a major problem for me. The kids don’t wear their iconic masks. Other than a few "strike a pose" shots they spend a majority of the time in the movie with their faces fully shown while wearing the suits. We can seriously see their faces almost the whole time. Even in this huge, ludicrous action scene, the film refuses to fully embrace the mystique of the Power Rangers.
To their credit, the cast does their best in their roles. Elizabeth Banks seems to be the only person aware she’s in a Power Rangers movie and she acts with pure, devilish delight. The kids all embody their characters fairly well, too; obviously, the script was written to give them maximum room to grow as characters in the film and they do just that. R.J. Cyler’s Billy, in particular, is a character that’s the audience can latch on too. It’s just a shame they weren’t given the same memo as Banks that this franchise is less The Breakfast Club and more monsters and robots.
Despite the fun of the third act, it can’t erase those first 90 minutes, and the harsh tonal shift between the two. It’s hard to imagine that young kids—arguably the prime Power Rangers audience—would enjoy sitting through all that talking and angst before getting to the good stuff, although maybe they will. Maybe for kids, the teen heroes are simple and charismatic enough that they’ll latch onto and look up to them sympathize with their problems and truly felt the evolution when they become Power Rangers. Sadly, that's also where the bigger flaws in Power Rangers start to make themselves even more apparent. The CGI is miles away from great, and most of the fight sequences in the latter half of the film look like video game cutscenes from a bygone generation of consoles. Despite the enhanced budget and production values of the 2017 reboot, there's an easy case to be made that the original 1990s TV show had better fight sequences. Less polished? Sure, but more well-choreographed and realistic. It's not that the action is bad, but for how little of it there is in the film it should've been considerably better.
The problem with Power Rangers is that it establishes a world where five kids in robot dinosaurs don’t belong. In a film devoted to exploring Billy, Jason, Kimberly, Zack, and Trini’s teenage angst, somehow it’s the Rangers who end up not fitting in. its equal parts John Hughes and Justice League. Next time, ease off on the melodrama.