“Saban’s Power Rangers” (or, simply, “Power Rangers,” though its official title pays proprietary homage to the franchise’s co-creator) is careening into theaters for its March 24 release.
Although the bulk of preliminary critiques yo-yo between appreciation for the film’s sugary overtones and apathy toward its lackluster subject matter, it seems as though this live-action reboot of an inexplicably cherished early 90’s after-school animated series couldn’t quite find its niche amid the modern-day deluge of superhero films flooding the big screen. Critics say the film does attempt to pander to its long-established fan base with an air of nostalgia that alludes to the vacuous, cartoon-y decades of yore. But, it oscillates too heavily between frothy, heavy-handed “life lessons” and lukewarm cracks at sophisticated character development to carry any real substance.
The characters in “Power Rangers” have all the depth and idiosyncrasy of walking talking robo-teen action figures. How will a movie like this one do? In the minds of the people who made it, it was obviously conceived to be a blockbuster, one that would cut a swath across the demos and generations. But it seems likelier that the movie will earn the 2017 equivalent of the so-so grosses the 1995 movie did. The irony is that 25 years ago, “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” was launched as superhero fodder for kids, and there was indeed a place for it, but we’re now so awash in superhero culture that kids no longer need the safe, lame, pandering junior-league version of it. They can just watch “Ant-Man” or the PG-13 “Suicide Squad.” Safe, lame, and pandering have all grown up.
It’s bright and fun and doesn’t look like any climactic fight of a superhero movie in recent memory. It is also, jaw-droppingly, one long Krispy Kreme commercial — the Power Rangers product-placement game is strong. This movie is out of its goddamn mind. But if we’re going to continue to be sold empty nostalgia calories, they may as well taste this sweet.
Whether they’re dealing with bullying, alienation or sexual orientation, these teens are more three-dimensional than their Ranger predecessors, but eventually this repetitive effort to emphasize their relatability becomes so heavy-handed as to appear transparently manipulative. However, some judiciously timed humor helps curtail the self-consciously jokey tone of the earlier films. A revived “Power Rangers” franchise may lack the distinction necessary to sustain a full-fledged relaunch, although its worldwide appeal should assure satisfactory initial results.
The only logic the story needs is logic that justifies the presence of dinosaurs, robots, and karate. And the only theme that matters is “dinosaurs, robots, and karate.” When Lionsgate’s new “Power Rangers” reboot understands this, the result is so arrestingly silly and so belligerently joyful that it will zap fans of the original TV franchise back to the cartoon-filled, Fruity Pebbles–encrusted Saturday mornings of their youth. It taps into unashamed fun that will make a soul soar like a cotton candy–colored pterodactyl ripping through blue sky. Its goofy, gooey chaos is as irresistible as it is indomitable.
But there’s one nagging problem: The movie spends a lot of time resisting how gleeful and impossibly playful the Power Rangers are meant to be.
“Saban’s Power Rangers” (Saban clearly never learned to share) is a witless and cobbled-together pile of junk, and I mean that not as an insult so much as an assurance of brand integrity. The filmmakers have lopped off the “Mighty Morphin” from the title, reshuffled a few character ethnicities and stirred some wisecracking millennial attitude into the mix. They’ve also taken the highly questionable step of outfitting the female Rangers in breast-enhanced body armor. But for the most part, they have seen fit not to mess with a bad thing.
2017’s “Power Rangers” is, in technical lingo, what is termed a bad film. The dialogue is flat, the plotting random, and the effects shaky. It’s a movie that’s shot half like a corporate-sponsored ad for selling your organs to fund your gap year, half like those music videos that won’t stop intercutting between a couple’s sensuous tickle-fight and them staring down the camera like we were responsible for their inevitable breakup.
“Saban’s Power Rangers” may surpass the original, but for what lesson? The value of teamwork? More likely, of a franchise payoff.