Film Review: ‘Power Rangers’

A '90s-nostalgia reboot gives the teen superheroes a makeover and an endless origin story, but — alas — no more personality.

Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Ludi Lynn, Becky G, Elizabeth Banks, Bryan Cranston, Bill Hader.
Release Date:
Mar 24, 2017

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3717490/

After 90 minutes of hip and hollow teen banter, woefully generic origin story, and molehill-posing-as-mountain-size triumph (our heroes spend half the film learning how to morph, when all that comes down to is getting their color-coordinated chintzy plastic sci-fi armor suits to snap into place), “Power Rangers” finally uncorks one of those high-flying digital-blitzkrieg action finales that was mocked in “Birdman” as the essence of blockbuster decadence. It is indeed, but to put it in movie-junk-food terms: Just because you know a sequence like this one is bad for you doesn’t mean that it’s not fun to watch.

In the battle royale that’s the big payoff of “Power Rangers,” our heroes face off against Rita Repulsa, the alien supervillain from the TV show’s first season — this is no mere retread; it’s Power Rangers classic! — who is played, by the redoubtable Elizabeth Banks, as a leering and mottled punk dominatrix serial killer with a fixation on gold that marks her as a witch-princess for our time. She wanders into a jewelry store and literally eats the gold finery, melting it down into her crystalline gleaming-gold staff; she’s got hunks of gold wedged into her face, as if it were part of her biological ecosystem. She does everything but write an editorial for The Wall Street Journal arguing that America should go back on the gold standard — though depending on how this franchise, and the Trump administration, works out, just give her time.

Rita wants to lay her long-taloned fingers on the Zeo Crystal, an object that will allow her to destroy the planet. It’s hidden at a Krispy Kreme franchise in downtown Angel Grove, Calif., and to that end she summons her ultimate coup de gold: a 100-foot-tall monster who looks like a cross between the Devil and the winged figure of Mercury, except that he’s made entirely of molten gold that never stops smelting and flowing, like the world’s most expensive lava. If the special-effects legend Ray Harryhausen were to look down from the clouds on this towering liquid-gilt demon, he’d say that it was fantastic. And he’d be right. I’d add a dollop of praise for Banks’ triumphant barbaric snarl. As for the Power Rangers, they’re part of the sequence too — they come to the rescue in metal ships shaped like lizards — but they’re the most innocuous of heroes in search of a real movie.

Why reboot the Power Rangers now? The answer is as obvious as it is depressing. In 1993, when “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” debuted on Fox Kids, the show ricocheted off the rise of superhero culture, yet at the time superhero culture wasn’t something we were drowning in. These one-note high-school versions of Iron Man — leaping, flying, armor-wearing, and butt-kicking — seemed as thin and derivative as the Japanese tokusatsu TV series from which “MMPR” was adapted, yet the show filled a niche. A lot of people in their late twenties and early thirties now look back on “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” with an affection as primal as that reserved, by a previous generation, for the most hard-to-defend John Hughes movies. (Quick: If “She’s Having a Baby” and season two of “MMPR” fought each other, who would win? Never mind.) There was even a big-screen version. “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie” was released in 1995 and made an underwhelming $38 million. It was 95 minutes of genial trash that, like the show, seemed designed to turn kids into throwaway action zombies. (It probably worked.)

The new version tries to get all designer-techie and “ambitious” about rebooting the “Power Rangers” concept. Zordon, the Rangers’ mentor, is played by no less than Bryan Cranston, who appears as a giant face hologram, looking like a digital Wizard of Oz recast as a Toysmith Pin Art figure. And the morphing is now a much more major deal, since it mimics the scaly-blue metamorphosis of Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique. The new kids who would be Power Rangers — ne’er-do-well Jason (Dacre Montgomery), the Captain Kirk of the group; the haughty feministic Kimberly (Naomi Scott); Trini (Becky G), with her sexually alternative pride; Billy (RJ Cyler), a geek as nervous as he is brilliant; and the kickass mama’s boy Zack (Ludi Lin) — are portrayed like characters out of “X-Men: The High School Musical.” But this is also a rock & roll car-chase “Power Rangers,” meant at times to evoke the “Fast and Furious” films (best track: Social Distortion’s punk “Ring of Fire”). Alpha 5, the Rangers’ trusty automaton, is now a hubcap-headed droid voiced by Bill Hader as if he’d gone missing from an upcoming “Star Wars” sequel.

The thing is, it’s all franchise window dressing. What it can’t cover up is that 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.

Film Review: 'Power Rangers'

Reviewed at Dolby 88, New York, March 17, 2017. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 123 MIN.

Production: A Lionsgate, Toei Company Ltd. release of a Saban Brands, Temple Hill Entertainment production. Producers: Haim Saban, Brian Casentini, Wyck Godfrey, Marty Bowen. Executive producers: Joel Andryc, John Gatins, Brent O’Connor, Allison Shearmur, Takeyuki Suzuki.

Crew: Director: Dean Israelite. Screenplay: John Gatins. Camera (color, widescreen): Matthew J. Lloyd. Editors: Martin Bernfeld, Dody Dorn.

With: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Ludi Lynn, Becky G, Elizabeth Banks, Bryan Cranston, Bill Hader.

More Film

  • Don Edkins, documentary filmmaker

    Documentary Filmmaker Don Edkins on ‘Creating an African Voice’ 

    DURBAN–For the 10th Durban FilmMart (DFM), the industry program of the Durban Intl. Film Festival, a new strand was created to look at the unique challenges and opportunities facing documentary filmmakers in Africa. The two-day program, Durban Does Docs, offers a series of conversations, seminars and workshops with an intensive focus on the aesthetics, funding, distribution [...]

  • A Faithful Man

    Film Review: 'A Faithful Man'

    French actor Louis Garrel has been married twice, first to Iranian talent Golshifteh Farahani, and now to model-cum-actress Laetitia Casta. He has also directed two features, the first a free-wheeling love-triangle comedy called “Two Friends” in which Garrel plays the cad who comes between his best friend and the object of his obsession (played by [...]

  • LGBTQ Film Festival Outfest Opens With

    LGBTQ Film Festival Outfest Opens With Documentary About Gay Porn Shops Circus of Books

    Granted, the red carpet at the opening night of Outfest in DTLA may not have been the most star-studded but it was without a doubt the most diverse, inclusive and, yes, fabulous. “I’ve never been here before,” admitted “RuPaul’s Drag Race” vet Trixie Mattel, who stars in the documentary “Moving Parts.” “It’s supposed to be [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Russ Tamblyn's Career Had Legs After Childhood

    With an acting career that spans work for Cecil B. DeMille and Joseph Losey to Quentin Tarantino and David Lynch, Russ Tamblyn’s creativity and longevity is proof that there’s life after child stardom. In Tamblyn’s case, there’s also been a bounty of juicy film and TV roles long after his legendary legs no longer kicked [...]

  • Olivia Wilde Booksmart Director

    Film News Roundup: Olivia Wilde to Direct Holiday Comedy for Universal

    In today’s film news roundup, Olivia Wilde has landed another directing gig following “Booksmart” and revenge thriller “Seaside” and “Woodstock: The Directors Cut” get August release dates. PROJECT LAUNCH Olivia Wilde will direct and produce an untitled holiday comedy project for Universal Pictures with her “Booksmart” partner Katie Silberman. Universal outbid five other studios for [...]

  • Choas Charles Mansion and the CIA

    Amazon Studios Takes Film Rights to Manson-Centered Drama 'Chaos' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Just in time for the 50th anniversary of the grisly murders executed by the followers of Charles Manson, Amazon Studios has optioned film rights to a nonfiction title about a journalist who spent decades obsessively following the case. The studio will adapt “Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties,” from [...]

  • Sword of Trust

    Marc Maron on 'Sword of Trust,' Lynn Shelton and Conspiracy Theories

    Marc Maron has interviewed everyone from Bruce Springsteen to President Obama, so he’s probably learned a few things about being a good interview. Of course, as he points out, he generally has over an hour to talk leisurely speak with his guests in his home and draw out stories beyond the public narrative; it’s a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content