By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
* Minor spoiler alert
The Power Rangers movie has the potential to be better than its “original” product — a hodge-podge of American shot storyline mixed in with fighting footage from Toei’s Super Sentai series. Thankfully, as a product from a single producer with a think tank of creative minds, it’s not as much of a mixed product, but a well to do update of series still beloved by those who love tokusatsu (entertainment emphasizing special effects more than character drama).
This film offers all the right tones in the opening act which no doubt showed the producers are aware of Power/Rangers, the fan film. Praised for its darker story and lamented because it was not for kids (it is gory violent), I wondered how deep the back story would get. I enjoyed the opening moments since it hinted towards this bloodier direction. As a PG-13 rated film (there’s some bad words said and a LBGT character), I was a little dismayed but did wonder how long this movie will take to get past all the origins and team-building exercises to get to the big fight which marks the last act of every television episode.
But is this movie better than the dubbed parody Dynamen which premiered on Night Flight? While this other show introduced me to this world with its hilarious send-up and mix of 80’s music, hopefully the series I truly adored does not jade what I have to say. While I care little for this decade’s modern music, this movie released by Lionsgate is wildly entertaining. It is set to look at problems some youths face today. Mind you, I will not be drowning my sorrows at a Krispy Kreme, since none exists in my hometown and I ignored this laughingly blatant product placement.
When you get used to seeing a lot of Michael Bay style films over the years to which this film obviously draws its style from, there comes a time where switching the brain off during these type of movies is a must. You watch it for the eye candy and I must admit, those Zords (the mechs the Rangers pilot) look cool! The look of the bad guys is another story, which I’ll get into later.
In a quiet town of Angel Grove, the high school tomfoolery of Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery) gets him into trouble. Soon enough, he’s in detention hall where he meets tech wiz Billy Cranston (RJ Cyler) and former cheerleader Kimberly Hart (Naomi Scott). They are all misfits, and soon enough they meet hunky Zack Taylor (Ludi Lin) and Trini Kwan (Becky G.) to form the most unlikeliest team of heroes. Personally, I think Ross Butler (Riverdale and K.C. Undercover) makes for a better Asian character for this series, but I doubt he can get enough time between television programs to appear in more movies.
Like the animated series Scooby-Doo, Mystery Incorporated, there’s a history to the sleepy township these teens live in that not all the residents are aware of. Cranston has an idea thanks to his dad digging for mysteries, but after a fishing ship drags out a decayed body (just how long it has been in the water and not riddled with coral and worms is a question best left not to discuss), a bigger tale unfolds. Even though the team never learns an ounce of it until Zordon, an AI (technically, the spirit of the previous Red Ranger was put in a machine), reveals the crystal he once protected in Earth’s ancient past is buried deep in the township. Whoever controls it can use the energy encased within to destroy the Earth.
The plot is nothing new, as it’s a send-up of a few ideas and concepts from the early seasons of the television series. As for whether I really want to know how this saga will pan out will depend if I want to invest into watching this cinematic treatment. The cinematography is good and the choreographed fights hit simple marks — sadly, this film is no Ninja Fantasy. For a time, the original series motivated youths to learn martial arts. This aspect is very minimal and I miss it. Aside from Lin showing off well-executed chops, the intention of a multi-cultural team is to show no matter what your nationality is, we can all work as a team to fight against a cosmic threat. When there’s in-fighting and uncertainty, the group dynamic will never pan out.
Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) lives up to her name as being terrible. Sadly, Banks does not have much to work with in a very basic movie which follows through the same motions as its television counterpart. This actress is clearly having fun with the role, but I wanted more of a James Bond style of villainy than cardboard. Sadly, I did not think much of her costume (while technically reptilian in design, I think it should belong in the upcoming Aquaman movie) and the big gold giant she summons looks like a rejected design from WETA when they were working on Lord of the Rings.
Folks going to see this movie is most likely interested in it more for the nostalgia. With the hints of potential romantic interest within the team and an aloof hot-headed ninja (akin to the problems Leonardo and Raphael have between each other in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) possibility causing problems later on, I’m curious in seeing where this cinematic treatment will go.
I know what the original Japanese shows represent. While the original product can be studied for its inner workings within Japanese culture (from the meanings of the colours to numerology, and its significance within the Bushido and Buddhist code), this American version takes less of a notice with these finer details and simply emphasizes why teamwork matters. After all, if they can not “Power up” into their suits because of division and uncertainty within the ranks, then they are not a unit at all.
3½ Rangers out of 5