Thomas Cowley, March 24, 2017, at 8:00 a.m. Tweet to: @boldirishman
It should be obvious by now to anyone with a working brain that, as a society, we seem to be trapped in a bit of a pop culture Mobius Strip. A new intellectual property is born, becomes popular, has a number of sequels made, each of which are often a drop in quality after the second one, falls out of popularity and lays dormant for a while, only to have some producer pick up a shovel and start plundering graves like the world’s least ethical Indiana Jones. And like Doctor Jones, we can hear him scream “This belongs back in theaters!” and before you know it we are flooded with reboots, remakes and remastering’s. And like the infinity symbol formed by a Mobius strip, there seems to be no end in sight. After finishing off a hearty meal that was the 1980’s, the ravenous Hollywood homunculus has already set its sights on the 1990’s, even while the warm blood of Ghostbusters’ recently desecrated corpse still drips steadily from its chin. The first lambs to slaughter are the Academy Award winning Beauty and the Beast and the real life anime that is the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Of the two, Power Rangers seems like the more obvious candidate for a remake. While a classic to children of the 90s, the original property has aged about as well as boiled milk. Even in its heyday the series was used primarily as a marketing tool to sell toys much like Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles before it, but with more of a far eastern flair before Anime would make a proper appearance in Western markets. So with new technology, new graphics and new wallets ready for plundering, is Power Rangers a bold and innovative step forward for the franchise, ready to expose itself to an unsuspecting new audience like a trench coat wearing sexual deviant? Or is it a horrifying experience that all involved would rather forget like, well like a trench coat wearing sexual deviant?
Power Rangers tells the story of the original team from the first series with all the original characters returning in some form or another. Jason, Kimberly, Billy, Zack and Trini are the hub from which all other elements of the plot are adhered to like a mighty morphin bicycle spoke. While there is an admirable attempt to give each of the Rangers a backstory and some character development, the sad fact is that there is simply not enough to go around. Some characters are obvious leads and others stick more or less to the post-it note of characterization they received at the start of the film and get to add one or two traits as the plot moves along. But in the same way that a baseball card in the aforementioned bicycle spoke attempts to sound more like a motorcycle, it is not fooling anyone.
Yet, while some characters are about as shallow as a cereal spoon, there is still character development, which plays a big part in both the plot and their actions as a team; a far cry from some other sewer dwelling shell based life forms in another recent pop culture reboot. The talent is all young, apple checked faces with relatively little prior experience and as expected, some are stronger than others, but I never found any of it to be a deal breaker…most of the time. Like a pop band, the leads are stronger than those in the back, but they are all believable as angst fueled teenagers with some legitimate problems that others could identify with. The stand outs actors are of course Bryan Cranston as everyone’s favorite Orwellian hologram Zordon, and Elizabeth Banks as nemesis Rita Repulsa, but unfortunately they come in well below their abilities. Cranston is commanding, but is given so little screen time that he can barely make an impact and feels rather wasted. Conversely, Banks fluctuates between capable and over the top, though much of that can be blamed on a strict adherence to the source material, so it is hard to say whether or not that is a fault of hers or the director. However, while sticking to the source material is preferred in these types of movies, there one area of the Power Rangers that desperately needed improvement that and that was the fight scenes.
The choreography in Power Rangers (especially the first few years) was bad. Not Star Trek level bad, but not too far off for something that debuted nearly thirty years later. So with so many films over the last decade having set new standards for both visual effects and fight scene choreography, then Power Rangers must naturally have incorporated stunning CGI and acrobatic fight scenes into the new film, right? Not even close. Outside of a few scenes, the CGI is alarmingly bad for 2017 and the fight scenes feel hollow. You feel no weight behind the punches, the jumps look terrible, and the fight scenes are a mess. It almost feels like there were two different animators, one in charge of the Rangers and one in charge of the enemy rock golems, and both worked in different rooms on different days and possibly in different dimensions. Then once both halves of the fight were completed, they cut and pasted them together. Things get better when the Zords enter the fray, but sadly while the Zords look better in a fight, the design behind them, the Megazord, and Goldar are all atrocious. While Goldar in the show is a bit absurd, and the Megazord might look clunky by today’s standards, you cannot deny that the design behind Goldar has character to it and is even a bit intimidating, while the Megazord is memorable and each Zords presence is a clear and unique part of his overall design. Their film counterparts on the other hand are simply big stompy robots painted gold and, what, deep space blue with Ranger color highlights? And while 3 of the Zords have obvious prehistoric inspirations, 2 of them look like a generic fighter jet and some multi-legged battle tank which is a shame because with new age technology, all of them could have looked truly outstanding and memorable.
With all that being said, Power Rangers is not a bad movie. If you were a fan of the series as a kid, then the new movie adheres to enough of the old content to be enjoyable. There are some great shots pulled right out of the show that will have even the most jaded of fans crack a nostalgic smile. There is also some well-placed fan service that is obvious to original fans, but not as in your face “look at me” as is so often the case in other films such as C-3PO and R2-D2’s needless (and oddly out of place) appearance in Rouge One, and for that it deserves a tip of the cap. The is actual character development to the Rangers rather than all of them simply being a boring, hollow shells of armor and their ability to come together as a team is a big part of the plot, much like it was during the original run. While it does have merit compared to what it could have been, if you are not an existing fan of the Power Rangers, than this new iteration will do little to enthrall you unless you are young enough to be in the target demographic. Whatever the cultural merit, Power Rangers is at the very least a competent adaptation that shows enough respect for the source material to give a reboot a genuine attempt rather than the veritable slew of soulless, mindless reboots that the 80s just suffered. At least it is better than the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films, but that’s like saying “At least this bologna sandwich is better than choking to death on my own vomit.”