I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Power Rangers

I know what you’re thinking, ’cause it’s the same thing I’m thinking: if it’s just called POWER RANGERS now instead of MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS does that mean there’s no morphin anymore? Or that there is morphin but they didn’t want to mention it in the title because it’s not particularly mighty as far morphin goes? And is morphin actually just morphin’ without the apostrophe or is it some mythological Power Ranging concept that I’m unaware of and it’s not explained in the movie and that’s why it’s not in the title? Also, did they foresee that I would try to text “It’s morphin time!” to my friend and it would autocorrect to “It’s morphine time!”? I mean, this is a movie that raises many questions.

There is in fact morphin (not morphine) in the new 2017 movie POWER RANGERS, but they have to earn it. A do-over, not a sequel to the ludicrous 1990s after school TV show, director Dean Israelite (PROJECT ALMANAC) and writer John Gatins (FLIGHT) (story by Matt Sazama & Burk Sharpless [THE LAST WITCH HUNTER, GODS OF EGYPT] and Michele Mulroney & Kieran Mulroney [SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS]) try to make sense out of a mythology that started as just some bullshit that importer Haim Saban made up to string together library footage from the Japanese robots vs. giant monsters show Super Sentai Rangers.

I’ve honestly been looking forward to this for many years, the day when the generation that grew up on this ridiculous show would be ready for the serious movie treatment. It’s not as “dark and gritty” as Joseph Kahn’s satirical take in the short POWER/RANGERS, in other words it’s not as hilariously misjudged as you/I might expect/hope. There is a slight attempt at edginess I suppose considering that it opens with ancient alien Rangers fighting each other to the death and causing the extinction of the dinosaurs with a suicide comet, then goes right into a not as funny version of the jerking-off-a-bull joke from KINGPIN. But for the most part it’s a good tone for this: way smarter than the show, but still a little dorkier than it seems to realize it is. I enjoyed it quite a bit.

The basic concept, in case you’re not familiar: a group of teens in the town of Angel Grove, California are given powers to defend the earth from alien monsters. The “Rangers” pretend to be ordinary high school students until it’s time to put on their face-covering motorcycle helmets (each of a different color and dinosaur theming) and do acrobatic martial arts against an army of drones called “Putties,” or use their “Zords” (robotic dinosaurs that they drive) to fight against various giant monsters trying to crush the empty warehouse district. This formula of Saved By the Bell meets Voltron became a pop culture phenomenon in 1993 and the Saban company has continued to reinvent it with revolving casts and concepts ever since, going through around twenty different revamps including POWER RANGERS LIGHTSPEED RESCUE, POWER RANGERS JUNGLE FURY, POWER RANGERS DINO SUPER CHARGE and POWER RANGERS DR. DOLITTLE FORCE GENESIS TORNADO PUNCHERS.

I’m not clear who the original Power Rangers were supposed to be, they were described as “teenagers with attitude,” but they seemed like very square All-American popular kids. This time it’s clear that they’re bad kids and misfits who unite and try to prove themselves to the world and their parents and what not – I’m sure that’s inspired by THE BREAKFAST CLUB, but of course my mind goes to A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS.

Sort of the lead (and leader) is Jason (Dacre Montgomery), who was the star football player but got kicked off of the team, ruining the season and angering the town. Kimberly (Naomi Scott, THE MARTIAN) was kicked off the cheerleader squad and excommunicated by her friends, so she goes into the bathroom and gives herself a cool haircut. They meet in detention, where they also meet Billy (RJ Cyler, ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL – he was Earl), who explains that he’s on the spectrum (which would explain alot about the cartoon nerd behavior of the original character).

The Power Rangers were always diverse, but it was a little weird that the black guy was the Black Ranger and the Asian girl was the Yellow Ranger. They ditched that, and seem to be intentionally pushing away from the stereotypes, so the black kid is the nerd and the Asian kid (Ludi Lin as Black Ranger Zack) is the kind of douchey too-cool-for-school guy. The Yellow Ranger (Becky G, Empire) is said to be a lesbian.

(I thought it would be funny/cool if they had one of the boys be the Pink Ranger but never commented or joked about it at all. Then I read that in fact Max Landis, who wrote a draft of the script that they decided would be better to seal inside a magic crystal and fire into space, did have a male in the pink costume, but it was a joke about how they got their alien coins mixed up.)

I mentioned that these Rangers have to earn their Morphin, and that is the key to both the strengths and the weaknesses of POWER RANGERS. This is a better message for the kids: even if you’re destined to find glowing alien artifacts in a mine and turn into monster fighting super heroes, you still gotta work for it. I don’t care if you’re the Chosen One you can’t just sit around the house all day you gotta put in some fuckin elbow grease. First they discover their super strength and jumping powers and try to get used to them. Then they meet the robot Alpha 5 (Bill Hader, ACCIDENTAL LOVE) and giant talking face Zordon (Bryan Cranston, DRIVE) and stand on platforms inside a crashed alien ship… but then it doesn’t work. Nope, it’s not morphin time yet. They aren’t ready.

So they have to train and they eventually discover that (SPOILER FOR THE MOVIE POWER RANGERS) opening up and learning to like each other is the secret to morphin. Although it does feel like the movie takes a little too long getting to where they get to wear color-coded suits and helmets, I do like that they’re basically harnessing the magical power of friendship.

Also on this theme: when their Zords (reminder: robotic dinosaurs that they drive) combine into the giant “Megazord,” they have to learn to coordinate as one body. At first they just stumble all over the place because they’re a bunch of separately moving parts.

Oh, by the way, would you be surprised to hear that the appealingly simple spandex-and-helmets designs of the original costumes have been recreated in thick layers of sculpted plastic muscle armor with all kinds of added textures and light up parts and extra flaps and doodads and crap all over the fuckin place? Or have you seen movies lately? I don’t know if today’s film designers were home schooled with the incorrect information that overly detailed = cinematic, or if they’re paid by the hour so they never stop gluing shit on top of shit on top of shit on top of shit. But at some point this madness has to end and people have to learn how to draw and sculpt things that are beautiful again.

Dear concept designers, when you’re sittin at the drawing table, know when to walk away, know when to run. –Kenny Roger’s “The Gambler”

Anyway once they have their overly complicated messes of armor they are equipped to jack into their Zords (now computer animated, of course, and similarly overdesigned) to go fight resurrected power mad ex-Ranger Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks, W., SLITHER) and the giant winged (but not flying?) monster she made out of gold, some of it stolen from a homeless guy’s teeth. After 90 minutes of trying to do a classier, more cinematic version of Power Rangers (my favorite example being the RIGHT STUFF slo-mo group walk toward the camera with Philip Glass-like synth blurps [music by Brian Tyler, BUBBA HO-TEP]) all the sudden they’re like fuck it and just trot out the original TV “Go go Power Rangers” song as they ape the vintage Japanese stock footage of the Zords running in profile. (Hopefully if they make a sequel they’ll be meta enough to recycle this footage, maybe even make it a little grainier than the rest of the movie.)

The biggest laugh actually came at the best possible place: the dispatching of the villain. SPOILER: After they choose not to kill Rita, but to take her to Zordon, she goes kamikaze and leaps to attack. It’s the cliche of the defiant bad guy forcing the good guy’s hand, except instead of shooting her in the head they’re driving a giant robot that literally slaps her into outer space.

Banks, by the way, is a highlight, playing Rita very mega but not as if she’s in a comedy. Just right. Great casting choice.

For me the biggest problem with the movie is the pretty minimal amount of martial arts. What they have (fight coordinator: Brian Ho) is mostly against shapeshifting computer animated putties, but it’s fun. It’s just a small amount considering this comes from a show that always had a bunch of karate fights, so much so that it served as a training ground for the King of DTV Action Isaac Florentine (who was a frequent Power Rangers director, second unit director and choreographer). I hope they make a part 2 and I hope as we speak those kids are laying in their bunk beds at Kung Fu Boot Camp staring up admiringly at a poster of Keanu training for THE MATRIX.

I’m glad I saw this with a big opening weekend crowd. There were giggling kids, but mostly Millennials who clearly grew up on the show. They laughed, applauded, had loud nerdy conversations afterwards, also their rumblings of excitement tipped me off to the original cast member cameos in a crowd shot. I’d guess they’re not totally blinded by nostalgia, they probly realize how absurdly shitty and insane the show was. But the movie is enjoyable for the challenge of taking that nonsense, staying faithful enough to bring up those memories, but still turning it into something semi-coherent… and yet not so much that it drains it of its stupid charms. Luckily I don’t think it’s entirely self conscious. The Rangers and Rita sure seem serious when they keep yelling about getting to the Krispy Kreme during the climactic robot battle, because (due to endorsement deals beyond the reality of the movie) that is the location of the all important Zeo Crystals. Assuming the filmatists know how funny that is I thank them for playing dumb.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 29th, 2017 at 11:44 am and is filed under Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

34 Responses to “Power Rangers”

  1. Not so mighty anymore, more emo from the trailers that I’ve seen.

  2. I want a Krispy Kreme so fucking bad right now. Thanks a lot, Millenials.

  3. This movie bored me and by the time it finally embraced it’s silly ridiculous concept, the thing was pretty much over.

    I also really wish they jacked special footage from a Japanese movie and just got rid of all those pesky non-white people like the show so the costume, robot, and monster designs would have been better. Since they didn’t and did everything in America that means every single last design is shit in this thing.

    Also, was anyone else weirded out by the ‘F’ yeah’ moment during the climax when Kimberly inadvertently gets back at the cheerleader bullies? After we learn the terrible thing that she did I do not think she was right and kinda deserves her social scorn much less a ‘good for her’ moment when she gets back at her bullies.

    One last thing, combining Bulk and Skull into one character and then on top of that not using him too much makes this a terrible adaptation. That said, despite it boring me I can acknowledge it’s better than I’m letting on and I can applaud it for tackling some subjects that other superhero movies wouldn’t dare touch and also I wouldn’t object to a sequel.

    As an aside, I’ve been texting the following to my nephew everyday since we saw the thing:
    Krispy Kreme Krispy Kreme Krispy Kreme Krispy Kreme Krispy Kreme Krispy Kreme Krispy Kreme Krispy Kreme Krispy Kreme Krispy Kreme Krispy Kreme Krispy Kreme Krispy Kreme Krispy Kreme Krispy Kreme We gotta git to da Krispy Kreme

  4. Y’know, I’m all for an equal representation of all kinds of people, but I’m kinda sick of seeing characters who are “on the spectrum” in TV and film. Not that I have something against real Autists, but it became kind of a hip,trendy thing to have. I would love to see some more fictional characters being like: “Oh well, I’m a bit socially awkward and also pretty nerdy about things, but that’s okay.” instead of blaming such things on “the spectrum”. Or at least show more accurate representations of it.

  5. CJ: I thought Billy’s movie-autism was funny. It’s no shittier than most other depictions of it. Adding an autistic character in and then loudly announcing it makes the filmmakers feel better about themselves even though they didn’t care to do all that much research on it.

    See also the Yellow Ranger’s supposed lesbianism. They hint at it to make themselves feel good about themselves but they leave it vague enough so if enough people bitch they recant it by saying ‘we didn’t specifically say she was lesbian!’ Though if they do recant they’ll lose the entire Tumblr community.

    Anyways, I’ve been more sensitive to autism depictions since my nephews and niece all have it at various parts of the spectrum. Then the Shyamalan twist: I was diagnosed with autism last month (Aspergers). So I’m a bit more aware of it now. Still find the depictions funny though.

  6. There have been rumblings about a Power Rangers remake for years, so I’m kind of shocked they actually made one. I’m also shocked that it pulled in forty million bucks this weekend. This show was popular when I was ten, but even then I thought it was terrible. So I guess I really misunderstood the pull of millennial nostalgia.

  7. I feel so bad for 90s Kids. Their shit SUCKS.

  8. Mr. M: Well actually if you sat down and watch all 24 years before giving up on it after three episodes you would learn that POWER RANGERS has an incredibly deep AND mature mythology, etc. etc. Also it’s from my childhood which makes it above criticism according to the Internet. I have no other defense for it by-the-way.

  9. Hey, man. A good deal of my film education came from Tiny Toons and Animaniacs.

  10. “overly detailed = cinematic”

    Vern is so right about this. Sometimes simpler is better.

  11. RBatty: How excited are you for the gritty reboots that are probably already being developed? I’m betting Dot gets the Harley Quinn treatment.

  12. I’m already trying to recruit two other people so we can go as the gritty reboot versions of Yakko Wakko and Dot for Halloween that year. (I’m guessing it will probably be 2019). My only fear is that the movie will be TOO popular and there will be Warner Brothers and Sisters as far as the eye can see.

  13. Red Letter Media did a good job of making fun of the Krispy Kreme tie in, I wonder if at Krispy Kreme donuts “napkins are always FREE!”?

    Mr. Majestyk – What about JURASSIC PARK? Also I hated Power Rangers as a kid, a buddy of mine summed it up at the time by saying it was “for babies” which was the ultimate kid insult.

  14. Even the kids I knew that did like it summed it up with basically the “it’s so bad it’s good” argument, everyone knew it was cheesy and goofy, even if you liked it.

    I mean come on now, you really think stuff like Transformers and He-Man is so much better?

  15. Really, Mr M? I’m not gonna defend fucking POWER RANGERS, but the 90s gave us the Spielberg produced cartooniverse (Tiny Toons, Animaniacs, Freakazoid, Pinky & The Brain, etc), the best seasons of THE SIMPSONS, the best seasons of STAR TREK: TNG, also DS9, BABYLON 5, the internet, JURASSIC PARK, Nickelodeon, the artistic peak of music videos, XENA (which was POWER RANGERS quality on the outside, but was actually surprisingly deep and creative), that BUFFY show that some of you like so much, CLUELESS, WAYNE’S WORLD, Adam Sandler movies that were actually funny and that’s just the stuff that I can think of on top of my head while being awake for less than 30 minutes.

  16. Face/Off, Golden Age/Studio era Seagal, Tarantino, Kevin Smith, more Die Hard movies than any other decade…

  17. Very good point about how even if you’re the chosen one you still have to earn it. Like once you get the job you still have to work hard.

  18. The 90’s is also the decade where every new thought died, and the great cultural recycling started…

  19. Ren & Stimpy owns any American cartoon broadcast in the 80s, this is a fact.

    Anyone who takes animation seriously pretty much views the 70s and 80s as the dark ages of the medium (at least in the west), you can’t beat the 80s when it comes to kid friendly movies, E.T., THE GOONIES, GREMLINS etc but there wasn’t much on tv for kids that was anything special.

  20. This thread has the potential of becoming as mature as a He-man cartoon.

  21. Shoot: I know you are, but what am I?

  22. Like two things anybody mentioned were for kids. Try again.

  23. Don’t encourage them. You want me to start babbling about how we had just 1 channel, but instead we used our imagination and played outside and blah, blah, blah..?

  24. Outside? Is that that place where the wifi never works?

  25. Don´t forget, we grew up with Czechoslovakian animated films and the only time in the year we got exposed to Disney was one hour on Christmas Eve.

  26. Well, I would argue that most of the stuff is, while not exactly made FOR kids, was very popular with them and kid friendly (Star Trek, The Simpsons, Clueless, Wayne’s World, Sandler movies) and the mention of Nickelodeon alone might count as 25 different things, but you want kids stuff? The Disney Renaissance, the console wars (Yes, back then gaming was considered as kids stuff), DINOSAURS (The Jim Henson show), GARGOYLES, GOOSEBUMPS, the X-Men cartoon, HOME ALONE, TOY STORY 1 & 2 and that’s just again just the stuff on top of my head.

    pegsman: No, you must think of the 00s. The 90s weren’t perfect, but it was a time when many people decided to fuck the conformity of the 80s and decided to do their own thing. That goes for cartoons (which went from toy commercials and Garfield specials to creator driven weirdness), movies (The rise of independent cinema), video games (from pixely cartoony sidescrollers to FMV games and hyperviolence targeted at adults) and music (Nobody gave a fuck about genres anymore, pop singers featured credible rappers, rock bands experimented with drum computers and samples, electronic music became more rock oriented, etc.).

  27. If we stick with movies, since that’s why we’re here in the first Place, would you say that independent movies from the 90s beats independent movies from the 80s?

  28. I kinda liked the movie for the first half hour. I liked meeting the outcast detention kids and seeing them scurry up hills and jump off cliffs. Even the boring-looking Red Ranger seemed like an OK actor.Then the outcast teens find Bryan Cranston’s face and a comic relief cg character and you think they’re going to be become Power Rangers!

    …But NO! They can’t MORPH until they’re truly connected to one another!

    And that’s when the movie started to go south. There’s a full hour of what feels like killing time. Instead of some nice bonding scenes between the kids, you get a bunch of lame training scenes and second unit cuts to Rita Repulsa asking extras for gold. There’s also a “Zordon only wants us to MORPH so he can come back to life! We’re not really Power Rangers…” subplot that stretches things out even more.

    Then… at the 90 minute mark (!!), the kids finally morph, and… it sucks! I was looking forward to some goofy martial arts action, but there’s barely any of it. The action is a bunch of below average pre-vis cg mixed with awkward cuts to Rita in front of a green screen. The ZORDS are blurry transformer blobs. The GO GO Power Rangers theme suddenly kicks in for about 10 seconds.

    Overall, the movie feels like the director was pretty confident about the ‘superhero teens in detention’ stuff and totally out of his depth with the Power Rangers stuff.

  29. Fuck an I reading in this thread.

    Bruh GUMMI BEARS, DUCKTALES & THE REAL GHOSTBUSTERS which were all 80s toons shit all over REN & STIMPY and then some.

  30. RESCUE RANGERS and THUNDERCATS alsonmake REN & STIMPY their bitch. If you aren’t old enough to have watched these when they first aired ok fine but please don’t group them with the likes of MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE or RAINBOW BRITE.

    They were far beyond that narrative and animation wise. Contrary to popular belief not every 80s American cartoon show was produced with the intent of being a glorified toy commercial. Some of them displayed real effort in being legit instead of being something like CHUCK NORRIS: KARATE KOMMANDOS.

  31. Broddie: aw hell no motherf***er what you got against RAINBOW BRITE?!

  32. Ok geoff I will give RAINBOW BRITE credit for at least trying to world build and tell an overarching story. I may have gone too far there. Still it’s just crazy to me how it’s become a trope in itself to act like every 80s cartoon show from the west was just poorly produced glorified commercials on the internet. Just because those type of toons are the ones most remembered today (ie: G.I. JOE & TRAMSFORMERS) doesn’t make it true. It just means they were the most popular ones.

  33. Pegsman, I would say the 90s, with directors like Linklater, Smith, Tarantino* or Rodriguez all the other kids who sold gallons of their sperm or their comic book collection, to make one single movie, that played on one festival and then got dumped to video where it was forgotten 6 months later, kick most of the 80’s ass. I mean, the 80s gave us the Coen Brothers, Jim Jarmusch and Spike Lee, so they didn’t fail completely, yet there was something fresh and renegade about the 90s Indie scene, that makes it stand out. This was the time, when the geeks took over. But the good geeks. The ones who had their fetishes and interests that they put front and center of the camera, but still created original stuff, instead of simply copying what they liked as a kid.

    *I still don’t like him or most of his output, but I acknowledge his role in the 90s Indie movement

  34. Broddie – The Disney Afternoon stuff you mention was late 80s, that was when the tide started to turn and TV animation started to get better, so something like DUCKTALES (a woo woo) is closer in spirit to other 90s shows (plus it ran into the 90s didn’t it?)

    When I talk about 80s cartoons I’m talking more early to mid 80s stuff that pops into everyone’s head when you say “the 80s” like TRANSFORMERS, GI JOE, HE-MAN etc

    And for the record, I’m not saying all of it is worthless, when I was a kid Toonami on Cartoon Network played reruns of THUNDERCATS and I liked it quite a bit, I also remember renting VHS tapes of REAL GHOSTBUSTERS and enjoying that too, it’s just that by and large 80s toons are pretty cheesy and inferior to most of what came out in the 90s.

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