REVIEW: 'Power Rangers' morphs into a new take on an established franchise

 Ludi Lin, Naomi Scott, Dacre Montgomery, RJ Cyler and Becky G. star in  Power Rangers , directed by Dean Israelite.

Ludi Lin, Naomi Scott, Dacre Montgomery, RJ Cyler and Becky G. star in Power Rangers, directed by Dean Israelite.

With Power Rangers drawing better-than-expected reviews and surprising everyone with a $40 million opening weekend gross, 2017 is shaping up to be a really good year. (If you don’t believe me, check out this list compiled by a Redditor.) Despite its promising opening, I’ve found that there is a large segment of people who steadfastly refuse to give it a chance – that’s understandable, given the Power Rangers’ target demographic, but part of the fun in seeing a movie is to be taken in directions that amaze or surprise.

This review has a few spoilers, so reader beware.

The opening shot throws you right into the action in the Cenozoic Era, as a battered and beaten Red Ranger crawls across the battleground towards the dying Yellow Ranger. In a last-ditch attempt to destroy Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), the Red Ranger calls on their android friend Alpha 5 (Bill Hader) to launch an asteroid and destroy everything, but not before he collects all five power coins – coloured glowing rocks that allow the user to morph into a Ranger – and buries them deep underground. The asteroid hits Earth, launching Rita Repulsa into the depths of the ocean and killing all the dinosaurs.

In the present day, teenagers Jason (Dacre Montgomery), Billy (RJ Cyler) and Kimberly (Naomi Scott) are held in detention, and over a series of coincidental events that only work in movies, bump into Zack (Ludi Lin) and Trini (Becky G) at a nearby mine, where they discover the five power coins. They quickly realize that the coins give them special powers, and eventually discover a spaceship hidden at the bottom of a watery ravine.

 Brian Cranston voices Zordon, the mysterious figure who assembles the Rangers.

Brian Cranston voices Zordon, the mysterious figure who assembles the Rangers.

Once inside, the teenagers are greeted by Alpha 5 and introduced to Zordon (Bryan Cranston), the original Red Ranger whose consciousness had been saved and preserved on the ship, and they learn about the previous Power Rangers and the mantle that’s been passed down to them. Over the course of 11 days, the Rangers train for their inevitable battle against a re-animated Rita Repulsa, who has arrived in Angel Grove to search for an energy source called the Zeo Crystal, now buried underneath a donut shop. In the silly and entertaining final battle, with their help of their mechanized assault vehicles known as “Zords,” the Power Rangers managed to defeat Rita’s giant molten gold monster, Goldar, with a suplex and literally bitch slaps Rita into outer space, where she freezes.

It’s amazing how many similarities there are to The Breakfast Club, in which each of the five teens are easily identifiable archetypes, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Plenty of far more successful franchises – financially and critically – use the same paint-by-numbers characters; the difference here is that Power Rangers manages to execute them very well. In fact, it is so dedicated to its character development that the teenagers spend more time on screen navigating through high school life than fighting monsters in their Power Ranger suits. (Although, this may be for budgetary reasons as well).

The acting is pretty good and not cringe-y, so it avoids one of the biggest pitfalls of a film that has relatively young and inexperienced actors carrying much of the story. There aren’t too many problems to nitpick: the plot isn’t without its holes, some of the jokes are completely out of place, it constantly flip-flops between being an angst-y teenage drama and a popcorn flick, and maybe it skimps on the nostalgic factor a little too much, but overall, it’s well put together. It’s certainly not as silly as the TV series, where each line has to be delivered with an air punch or fist pump, and in fact seems to try to really distance itself from the tone of the show.

 Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa.

Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa.

The action sequences are coherent and the visual effects are also quite good, with the highlight being a wall of water that defies physics and once passed through, allows the teens to discover Zordon’s secret space ship. Banks’ villain is worth pointing out because she seems to be having the time of her life, delivering her lines with as much zest and silliness she can muster.

Lionsgate is desperate for another franchise after The Hunger Games, and it’s believed there are plans for a six-film arc for Power Rangers. It’s incredibly ambitious and it’s unlikely they’ll be able to fulfill that promise unless the films get better, but with such a surprisingly good opening weekend, it’s on track to at least surpass or come close to the $100 million mark. If there is to be a sequel, expect the stakes to be ramped up – with the origin story out of the way, it allows the Rangers to have some more fun with their suits and Zords.

Power Rangers gets two and a half stars out of four.

What did you think of the latest film in the franchise? Will it kick off a new series of feature films, or is this a property that won't quite hit the mainstream? Join the discussion in the comments section, and if you liked this review, share it with your friends and followers!