The Hollywood reboot machine has finally turned its gaze upon an often forgotten 90s show: Power Rangers; a campy kid’s show about a team of high-schoolers saving the world from the evil Rita Repulsa and Lord Zedd. I grew up watching Power Rangers, and so this remake was having to compete with a childhood classic. Director Dean Israelite and screenwriter John Gatins have attempted to modernize the franchise while staying close to the source material, but in doing so may have isolated viewers unfamiliar with the original series.
For the film, Israelite has played it safe with the Ranger’s origin story, opting for a slow-paced build-up to a possibly anticlimactic reveal. The film begins with Red Ranger Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery) being put in detention with Pink Ranger Kimberly Hart (Naomi Scott) and Blue Ranger Billy Cranston (RJ Cyler). While exploring a gold mine, they encounter Black Ranger Zack Taylor (Ludi Lin) and Yellow Ranger Trini Kwan (Becky G.). The way in which the Rangers are thrown together initially feels rather forced, but their characters ease into each other once they discover the ancient spaceship containing Zordon and Alpha 5. The pace of the film often felt too slow, with the Rangers training becoming a tedious montage of their mediocrity. The pace finally picked up in the final Act with the Rangers confronting Rita and Goldark, but this battle certainly peaked too soon and I was left with an overwhelming sense of “I guess that’s that then.” Israelite can be forgiven to an extent for this, it can’t be easy to make a two-hour film about the Rangers becoming Rangers. As usual though, it’s safe to assume this film will be leading to a minimum of 50 sequels, until the name Power Rangers makes even the most die-hard fan cringe.
For the most part, the actors chosen for the Rangers are a good fit and bring emotional development to the film. Special mention to Israelite for the decision of Billy being on the autistic spectrum, but also not letting this define his character. Another nice touch was the nod to Trini being not-straight, something I feel should have been developed further but this may be due to the limitations of releasing to a worldwide audience. On the subject of Trini, it would have been nice for an Asian actor to be cast in this role, especially seeing as they decide to keep her original surname of Kwan. But following examples of Doctor Strange and Ghost in the Shell, it’s possibly too much to ask Hollywood to cast more than one Asian actor in a lead role. Becky G. does try her best as Trini, but the script does not allow her enough time to really shine.
The Rangers themselves are a diverse mix, something Israelite should be commended for. Jason is the only white member on the team (Naomi Scott being of English and Ugandan heritage), and while he may be the de-facto leader, he certainly isn’t the hero. That role easily falls to Billy. For a character to be considered the hero, they must experience some sort of personal growth, and if this film is nothing else, it’s certainly about Billy’s growth of character. From outcast weirdo to the first Ranger to morph, the audience is made to care and relate to Billy from the start. It is also refreshing to see an autistic character not being defined by their autism, but rather embracing it to assist with their growth. Zack is another perfect example of Israelite smashing Hollywood stereotypes, as it’s refreshing to see an Asian male who is not the typical computer genius, but instead as a wise-cracking bad-boy who really does love his mum. The example this sets for the younger audience is a positive change, it shows them that things like race, gender and sexuality don’t matter in a group of friends. Especially when it comes to kicking some alien ass.
The role of Rita Repulsa was cast to the Elizabeth Banks, possibly one of the best, yet most underrated actors. Rita is probably the most heavily doctored character, being made a turncoat Green Ranger who betrays the others before disappearing for 65 million years. The inclusion of this back story feels unnecessary, but much like the new Blofeld in Spectre, a baddy can no longer be evil for evil’s sake. Gone are the days of characters being evil, now are the times when we must have a reason to relate to their angst. Banks however makes the role her own, she injects Rita with the campiness she needs, while still retaining an evil, and sometimes scary, mystique. It was nice to see a female character not relying on her sexuality to progress in the film, and being allowed to eat doughnuts without comments being made.
It would be unfair of me to suggest the film does not have its flaws though. As a mega fan, I was disappointed by the new suits and Zords. They felt too “edgy” and “modern”, the original suits were one of the best thing about the series. It would have been possible for Israelite to modernize the suits, but keep in line with their original aesthetic. Zordon was certainly another bone of contention for me. It was apparently decided somewhere along the way to provide Zordon with more depth of character, because apparently being a giant face in a wall doesn’t cut it in modern Hollywood. Zordon is given a selfish streak not in keeping with the character he is made to be, but luckily thinks better of himself before making the move. This addition is another area that feels forced, nothing more than a plot device to aid a bigger part of the film’s narrative.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with Power Rangers. I went in with a mix of excitement over seeing a childhood classic re-imagined, and fear over how Hollywood would bastardize such a classic. Israelite, as a somewhat unknown director, has attempted to keep to the campiness of the series while injecting a modern dark vibe to bring the whole thing up to date. There is certainly room for improvement, but luckily it was no Fantastic Four (2005, 2007, and 2015).