Mark Reviews Movies

Power Rangers


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Dean Israelite

Cast: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Ludi Lin, Becky G., Elizabeth Banks, Bryan Cranston, David Denman, the voice of Bill Hader

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, language, and for some crude humor)

Running Time: 2:04

Release Date: 3/24/17

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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 23, 2017

It is either daring or an act of folly to keep the superheroes out of a superhero movie until the third act. Yes, it takes more than 90 minutes before the super-suited, robot-riding Power Rangers show up in Power Rangers. Of course, the characters are there throughout the movie, complete with superpowers and training montages of fighting simulations of some rock monsters. As we know and as the movie constantly tells us, though, a Power Ranger without a suit or a giant robo-dinosaur isn't really a Power Ranger.

This should be a complaint, but it's not. It's strange to find oneself actively rooting against the Power Rangers showing up in full battle gear in this movie, because that means we're just going to get the old routine: a massive fight against a villain and her army for the fate of Earth and the entire universe.

The movie itself doesn't even seem that interested in the climactic battle. That could be the result of screenwriter John Gatins knowing that such a showdown is routine, of director Dean Israelite being uncertain of how to film and stage such a sequence, or of the movie's budget being too limited to really show us what such a fight would look like. It seems a matter of all three—the last one possibly explaining why the few shots of the robot dinosaurs in action are short, shot in close-up, and/or restricted by ample amounts of smoke or fire. It's so jumbled, in fact, that it's impossible to tell what animals two of the five robots actually are.

What Gatins and Israelite give us before the standard-issue climax (but after a long and awkward first act) is far more intriguing. It's the story of five, unlikely companions, forced to work together on account of coincidence (and Saturday detention) and slowly learning that their differences make them, essentially, the same. What works here is not the idea of superheroes in action. It's the notion that these characters have to understand themselves and each other before the work of saving the world can be done. It's sweetly optimistic in a way.

The five characters come from various experiences. Jason (Dacre Montgomery) is a star football player on his high school's team, who gets into legal trouble after a prank involving a bull and massive property damage while fleeing the police. He ends up in detention with Kimberly (Naomi Scott), a cute rebel without a cause whose friends have disowned her (following a rather convoluted incident involving an ex-boyfriend and a naked photo of a friend), and Billy (RJ Cyler), a teen with autism who likes to experiment with explosives (The movie begins by making him, rather uncomfortably, the comic relief but gradually presents him as a—for lack of a better term—normal part of the group).

The other two are Zack (Ludi Lin), a loner whose mother is ill, and Trini (Becky G.), whose parents can't handle the fact that she prefers romantic company of her own sex. The movie's introductory beats throughout the first act are rough. Part of it is a problem with the forced introduction of these characters. Jason comes across as a jerk. Kimberly is a mystery, and Billy is a joke. Zack and Trini barely figure into any of it. It's also the fact that the screenplay crams a lot of plot-necessary material in here, including a prologue involving alien warriors fighting in the Cenozoic Era.

Eventually, the kids find some superpower-imbuing gems and an abandoned spaceship near a gold mine. A jokey robot called Alpha 5 (voice of Bill Hader) introduces them to Zordon (Bryan Cranston), one of those ancient alien warriors, whose consciousness has been transplanted into the ship's computer. These five are destined to become Power Rangers and save the world from Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks, hamming it up under some grisly makeup), who has come back to life to find a crystal that gave life to and can take it away from Earth. Part of her plan is to create a giant monster made of gold called Goldar (One of these names is not like the others: Goldar, Zordon, and Rita).

This is silly stuff, although don't tell that to the filmmakers. They treat the science-fiction junk with as much sincerity as they treat a fireside confessional, in which the characters reveal their deepest secrets in order to become a team (Weirdly, Zordon puts the burden of forming the team on Jason, which seems to go against the whole unified-and-equal-team thing). That tone works surprisingly well when it comes to the characters, who—despite their on-the-nose back stories—come across as, well, actual characters, not just placeholders for the inevitable superhero stuff. There's enough reason to care about them working through their issues together.

That also means there's less reason to care about them figuring out how to become Power Rangers. Sadly, Power Rangers is ultimately about that process.

Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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