The Power Rangers are finally back on the big screen, and instead of being a camp, kiddie focused feature, this newest incarnation is like The Breakfast Club meets The Avengers, mixing a teen drama in a superhero origin story. Jason (Dacre Montgomery), the school’s star football player meets Billy (RJ Cyler) and Kimberly (Naomi Scott) in Saturday detention. Billy is a technical genius, while Kimberly is a cheerleader on the outs with her squad. The ragtag group soon are joined by Zack (Ludi Lin), a reckless classmate who rarely attends school, and Trini (Becky G), the “new girl” and outsider in their their hometown of Angel Grove. The first two acts of the movie centers around the teens getting to know each other as they’re chosen to become Power Rangers in order to protect the world from the villainous Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks).
During the group’s journey to become true Power Rangers, we learn more about this band of misfits and the complications they face in their lives. The movie successfully establishes the team as flawed and makes them more relatable, compared to the uninspiring versions in the original series. The same could even be said for the Power Rangers’ mentor, Zordon (Bryan Cranston), who the team find trapped inside an ancient spaceship. In part due to his slightly different backstory, Zordon comes across as a little harsh to the teens due to Rita’s threat to the world and a surprisingly selfish motive on his part.
While the film is less campy than the original series, it’s not a completely dreary movie. The chemistry between the actors is palpable, and there are plenty of moments of levity as they interact with each other and learn how to adjust to their new Power Rangers abilities. The inclusion of the quirky robot Alpha 5 (voiced by Bill Hader) further provides comedic relief as he helps train the Rangers.
Surprisingly, there’s really only a few action scenes in the film, and there’s also a lack of meaningful exploration of the character of Rita Repulsa. Having less action than expected in a big blockbuster movie and not fully fleshing out a villain are risky moves, but it does offer a strong payoff in the end here. A big-action movie like this needs an over-the-top villain like Rita, but it’s the characters’ bonds that carry the story in the film. Rita’s motives are never fully explained–other than a villain’s typical lust for ultimate power. Rita’s character feels closer to the original TV incarnation instead of having a deeper take similar to the teens, Zordon, and Alpha 5. Elizabeth Banks delivers a fine performance with what she has to work with, though this Rita simply isn’t a compelling villain.
The fight-scene visuals are heavy with CG elements–and a big departure from the original series’ low-budget scenes. The CG scenes sometimes contain too much CG, giving an unbalanced feel when compared to those taking place in the teens’ home and school. The effects to shine when the team morphs into their Power Rangers armor. Seeing the in-costume Rangers fighting Rita’s Putty Patrollers does an excellent job of balancing the old-school cheesy vibe with modern movie visuals. The days of spandex clad and rubber creatures are over. The Rangers’ hand-to-hand combat can also be displayed with more flare and on a grander scale compared to the past incarnations.
Despite convincing performances during the character bonding moments from the Power Rangers actors, the lack of big-action scenes are a letdown. Diehard fans will want to see the Rangers’ Zords or the Megazord vehicles fighting giant monsters but that action is mostly contained in the climactic battle. The franchise is known for its over the top action, and there just isn’t enough here.
Minimal gigantic Megazord action aside, Power Rangers may be just another big-budget Hollywood reboot, but unlike some like 2001’s Planet of the Apes or 2010’s Clash of the Titans, it’s got plenty of charm. It’s an appealing blend that captures the source material’s essence while simultaneously making sure it stands on its own–and with characters you’ll want to see return in a potential sequel.