Saban's Power Rangers (2017)

Review Date: 4/20/2017

Rating: 3/5 Peanuts

In a Nutshell

While objectively a by-the-numbers superhero origin story, Saban's Power Rangers is an enjoyable action flick that balances being both a nostalgia-fueled throwback for children of the 90's and a new beginning for a younger generation of viewers. 

Full Review:

It's morphin time! Sorry, I had to - I just had to. For those of you who were fortunate enough to grow up in the 90's (America's a.k.a. America's golden decade) there were copious amounts of amazing entertainment demanding your attention. To name drop just a little bit there was the good (but dated) X-Men cartoon, Batman The Animated Series (still the definitive Batman incarnation in my opinion), The Amazing SpidermanTeenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesPokemonFresh Prince of Bell AirSaved by the Bell - and on, and on, and on it goes. But one property stood out above the noise and remains the definitive 90's children's show. That property, was Power Rangers. And god damn it I loved that show.

A little history lesson for the uninitiated. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was created by Haim Saban as the ingenious mashup of footage from a 1975 Japanese show called  Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger, which was itself part of a larger franchise called Super Sentai (literally "Super Team"). See, Saban, who cut his teeth producing 80's era cartoon theme songs (looking at you Inspector Gadget), had the ingenious idea to lift the "expensive" action sequences from the Super Sentai series and inter-cut it with new footage to make it accessible for a U.S. audience. So while the Angel Grove (L.A.?) scenes with Jason, Kimberly, Zack, Billy and Trini were (then) current 90's teenagers dealing with average problems like bench pressing over 1,000 reps at the gym/juice bar/gymnastics studio (just normal 90's things), any time they suited up (or "Morphed") into their Power Ranger alter egos you the viewer are magically transported back to 1975 Tokyo (or the nearby gravel quarry, as the case may be). Simple, cheap, different. And boy did it ever work. 

Executives at Fox Kids hated the final product so much they tried to kill it, airing episodes in a terrible time slot and planning a quick 8-week run. Much to their chagrin (and financial misfortune given their short-sightedness in not buying the full rights from Saban) the show quickly became the highest rated show on Fox Kids. Full stop. 

As an adult, Saban's changes are obvious, and when re-watching the original Power Rangers series now (which obviously I did - thanks Netflix!) armed with this knowledge they can even be a little jarring. But when I was 6 the effect was pure magic. I loved Power Rangers when I was a kid. I was the Red Ranger for Halloween 3 years in a row, I had all the major action figures (the Tickle-Me Elmo of their day), and the biggest argument on the school yard was who got to be which color-coded ranger in our recess antics - remember when kids played using their imaginations? I even learned the concept of time because of Power Rangers (Me: are we there yet? Dad: 90 more minutes. Me: how long is that? Dad: 3 Power Rangers Episodes) enough said. 

So now that you understand my obvious bias (is it really bias if I'm also right?), let's dive into the movie.

The movie's premise is effectively unchanged from the original show. Sure, they spend about 90 minutes (or 3 episodes!) setting up the plot and overall premise, a far cry from the ~2 minutes the pilot episode devoted to it, but its really just Basil Exposition with an updated (though still faithful) look and feel. At the end of the day it's still 5 teenagers chosen seemingly at random to save the world from a space witch and her army of faceless minions (its still impossible to make the Puddy Patrol seem ominous) and assorted giant monsters. They still Morph (eventually) into colorful superheros with an ill-defined power set and eventually call upon their Zords (half giant robot, half piloted mecha, because Japan) to save the day. Zordon (played by Bryan Cranston who is himself an OG Power Rangers alumn) and Alpha-5 (voiced by the always welcome Bill Hader) are still in the command center and are still only there to advance the plot. If it ain't broke, don't fix it am I right?

That said, the movie is clearly and deliberately trying to (re)establish a franchise. There's way more backstory and an honest attempt at character development, but at the end of the day all the pieces are still there, and they are all by-the-numbers. To be fair, Power Rangers the show probably did much to create the freak of the week, escalation of conflict, deus-ex-machina climactic battle, the-end-for-now formula recognizable in every modern super hero movie today, if we want to get all meta about it, but this movie was made today and not back in 1994 so I'm judging it based on today's standards.

Other than that, there's not much to say about the first 2 acts. The directing is safe and uninspired, the characters are familiar and portrayed adequately by a relatively unknown cast of up and comers. The Avengers inspired team building happens as expected, and the conflict feels a little forced. Elizabeth Banks goes full throttle on her depiction of Rita Repulsa which is to her credit, but a movie is only as good as its villain and Rita remains mostly toothless (though not literally, jeez). True, the 3rd act certainly gives viewers an exciting action-based payoff for all the ground work laid in acts 1 & 2, but for a movie about super heroes there sure isn't a lot of super hero action at the end of the day. Such is the trouble with most origin stories though, and I eagerly look forward to the Dark Knight (*cough* Empire Strikes Back) sequel installment. 

Where the movie really sets itself apart from its superhero peer set is the fan service & nostalgia. While Marvel has done a good job at spoon feeding Easter Eggs in a drip-drip-drip kind of way as a nod to better informed fans, Power Rangers goes a little heavier on it. Obviously I can't comment on if this works for new viewers, but my sense was that it does. At the end of the day reboots should be less fearful of acknowledging their source materials than the executives seem to be, but that's another discussion for another time. Let's just say that the highly tactical decisions made (Zordon's rules, "It's morphin time", "ay yay yay", etc.) are all welcome inclusions. And let's not just gloss over the wonderfully joyful 15 seconds of the oh so catchy 90's original theme song which finally lets rip once the Zords start sprinting across the open stretch of plains. My inner 6 year old just had a very unconfusing nerd boner. In the original show, the theme song plays easily 3-5 times per episode - in a show literally built on recycled footage that's no surprise, but honestly I wanted it again in the movie. At least they gave it to me once. 

So in summary Power Rangers was a relatively safe bet on a massive gold mine of a franchise. True, they stuck the landing, but their difficulty scores are low. Until next time (and there will undoubtedly be a next time) I leave you with this.