Netflix UK film review: Saban’s Power Rangers (2017)
Mark Harrison | On 29, Jul 2017
Director: Dean Israelite
Cast: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Becky G, Ludi Lin, Bryan Cranston and Elizabeth Banks
Watch Power Rangers online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / Amazon Instant Video / TalkTalk TV Store / Rakuten TV / Google Play
Back in the 1990s, Saban Entertainment kit-bashed stock footage from a Japanese TV series into an American superhero series on Fox Kids, and created a genuine pop culture phenomenon. With colourful heroes and a menagerie of alien adversaries, the series is still going strong in its 24th season, rebooting every time with a new cast of teenagers with attitude.
Reboots have become an intrinsic part of the ongoing series, but this adjacent, big budget re-imagining of the original Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers has barely maintained anything else about its enduringly popular style. It’s a flattened version of the origin story that lands somewhere between the trendy bowdlerisation of Michael Bay’s Transformers films, and the lo-fi melodrama of 2012’s Chronicle.
After an intriguingly different prologue in Earth’s Cenozoic era, the film picks up in the modern day town of Angel Grove, where misfits Jason (Dacre Montgomery), Kimberly (Naomi Scott), Billy (RJ Cyler), Trini (Becky G), and Zack (Ludi Lin) happen across five coloured power coins and reluctantly take on the mantle of Power Rangers. Caught in the middle of an ancient battle between two former Rangers – Zordon (Bryan Cranston) and the evil Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) – the teens must work together, if they’re going to save the world from total destruction.
At one point during development, the producers of this reboot were so set on making it like Chronicle, they fired Max Landis, who actually wrote Chronicle, because his Amblin-inspired take on the material wasn’t enough like Chronicle. Arriving in cinemas around 18 months after director Josh Trank’s Fant4stic showed the folly of such an approach, it stands only as another reminder that the acclaimed teen sci-fi flick was no model for comic book storytelling.
At best, a modern day Power Rangers could be Buffy The Vampire Slayer crossed with Pacific Rim, and this film, apparently planned as the first of a six-movie arc that may never actually materialise, falls drastically short of that, going through the motions of its chosen reference points instead.
It does put some clear blue sky between itself and Bay-formers though, purely with good intentions. Even if it’s a little off-balance in its approach, its try-hard dedication is both the film’s weakness and its saving grace. It takes much longer to get to the stuff we want from a Power Rangers movie than it should, but it’s got bags of personality on the way.
It falls to the young cast to carry through the character-driven objectives of the reboot, especially with Cyler’s awkward, Asperger’s syndrome Billy, and the pathos in Zack and Trini’s respective home lives. The way in which these characters’ arcs are distinct, diverse and clearly motivated automatically makes this better than at least three of 2016’s major superhero movies.
However, there wasn’t any reason why we couldn’t also get a fun Power Rangers movie out of these characters, and they’re wasted on faffing about in the origin story. The adults are similarly squandered, with Cranston sleep-walking through a tribute to one of his earliest gigs on the TV series, and Banks spinning her wheels through a spectacularly campy villain performance. With such a weak script, the highlight is a surprisingly self-aware running gag about product placement, deliberately cramming “Krispy Kreme” into the dialogue and mise-en-scene as brazenly as they can.
For all of the superheroics and giant robot fights that we remember from this property, the film only has about as much action as a vintage episode of the TV show, but runs four times as long. As strong as the characters are, the film around them isn’t original enough to stand apart from every other reboot going, and, for once, it’s a reboot that could stand to have a little more fan service – a 20-second burst of that theme song just ain’t gonna cut it.
In its freshman perspective on great power and great responsibility, 2017’s Power Rangers repeatedly lurches for the same style that Spider-Man: Homecoming nails from the very beginning. Conversely, every time this film gets something right, it puts the other foot wrong, and often kicks you out of enjoying it in the process. It’s better than it arguably needs to be, and it’s tempting to give it more points for trying so hard, but overall, this is a slow start to another would-be franchise that never quite sells its potential. It sells the heck out of some doughnuts, though.
Power Rangers is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.49 monthly subscription.