Power Rangers Review by Spencer Moleda
Am I allowed to admit publically that I enjoyed Power Rangers? At the risk of undermining my credibility, I confess that I did. Yes, it’s surface seems too silly for anyone but children to forgive, but looking at the film through sympathetic eyes reveals amiable entertainment with an uncommon balance — its edges are harsh enough to ride the wave of melancholy revisionism without ever losing grip on its inner child.
The film is not tremendous by any means, and I realize I’m well outside the target audience. I was never particularly invested in the Power Rangers universe as a boy, but I expect slews of children and adults with nostalgic recollections will find even their coldest and most cynical defenses melting away. Even I, the unconverted, was warmed by the knowledge that the sanctity of childhoods the world over appeared to have been affectionately preserved.
We open millions of years in the past on a distant planet, ravaged by apocalyptic burning. The Power Rangers are dying one-by-one in what looks like the last dire effort to save their home against Rita, a ranger herself who lost her way. Zordon, the humanoid leader of the Power Rangers, sends several radiant stones out into the universe, only to be activated again if discovered by the next group of Power Rangers.
Fade in on our lead characters, a more magnetic and varied group of misfit teens than you might expect out of a movie with this much Saturday-morning charm. They are all connected through a mutual fascination with a glassy alien rock face hidden in their town’s mine. There’s Jason (Dacre Montgomery), a high school sports star who has lost himself confusion of adolescence; Kimberly (Naomi Scott), a young girl who seems to harbor secrets she’s ashamed of; Billy (RJ Cyler, a prodigious science aficionado on the Autism spectrum; Zack (Ludi Lin), a volatile outsider living in a trailer with his sickly mother; and (Becky G).
As you’d expect, it’s this group that discovers Zordon’s stones, leading them to a spaceship that must have been buried for millions of years. Without warning, the ship springs to life, producing a robotic sidekick named Alpha 5, voiced by Bill Hader. Alpha leads the petrified crew to Zordon, who now lives forever in the virtual confines of the ship’s computer. He explains the history of the Rangers, how Rita is in search of an all powerful object called the Zeo Crystal, and how like any pulp heroes worth their salt, it’s up to them to stop Rita before she destroys the world.
All of these characters are types to some extent or another, yet John Gatin’s screenplay provides them with enough vinegar to be pleasantly amusing without smothering their more dramatic shadings. I’d be lying if I told you there was a single memorable line of dialogue, but the actors embody their roles with admirable enthusiasm and, at times, naturalism. This may be the first film to feature the line “Come at me, bro” without sounding utterly idiotic.
The movie rests almost entirely on the earnestness of the performers, and thankfully they deliver. Bryan Cranston brings a certain sage-like credibility to Zordon, no small feat for a man embedded in an interactive wall. Elizabeth Banks, furthering the career high launched by her role in Love & Mercy, makes Rita someone who is not simply wicked but; the fearless joy she takes in simply being awful almost makes us like her. Almost.
The real show-stealer is RJ Cyler, previously seen in Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl. He does something bolder than it should be; he strips away the mannerisms and plays him straight. Far too many writers approach autism as curious spectators — they sketch characters who have no life outside of the most rudimentary symptoms. Billy feels more like a normal kid with a singular perspective; viewers on the spectrum will be thrilled to be seen as something more dimensional than a sickness of the week.
Anyone familiar with the franchise will know that once our characters “morph” into their colorful regalia, they’re able to control enormous automated creatures called Zords. The question on everybody’s mind: do they kick ass like they should? I say they do. I won’t spoil things with specifics, but let it be said that the climactic battle between the Ranger’s Zords and Rita’s Goldar will be snapped back to the best and most naive years of their lives, where giant robots clobbering each other was perhaps the coolest thing one could hope to accomplish in life.
For older fans looking for a shameless blast of nostalgia, Power Rangers just about delivers what they’re after. There is a kind of 21st Century respect the film has for its players and its legacy. It’s rare that television properties are treated with this much love on their trip to the big screen.