Last week I reviewed “Beauty and the Beast,” which was based on a beloved classic from my childhood. This week’s film is “Power Rangers,” which is also based on a property I was obsessed with as a kid. The difference is that while I’ve held a consistently high opinion of “Beauty and the Beast” throughout my life, it took me only a few years to see “Power Rangers” for the glorified toy commercial that it was. So I had a different set of standards going into each film: “Beauty and the Beast” had to live up to one of the greatest animated films of all time; and “Power Rangers” had to rise above one of the laziest cash grabs of my generation. It’s no wonder that I like the latter film slightly more.
The film opens with a bit of backstory about how ancient warrior Zordon (Bryan Cranston) banished the evil Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) to the middle of the Earth. We’re then introduced to our main characters. They’re more flawed than their goody-goody TV show equivalents. Three of them even meet in Saturday detention, and in case the “Breakfast Club” allusions weren’t obvious enough, one of them is there because an explosive went off in their locker. Jason (Dacre Montgomery) is a screw-up who ruined his future with a botched prank. Billy (RJ Cyler) suffers from a spectrum disorder which makes him a frequent target for bullies. Kimberly (Naomi Scott, who bears a striking resemblance to original actress Amy Jo Johnson) is a bully herself, having used social media to humiliate a classmate. Zack (Ludi Lin) is a sleazy voyeur with a heart of gold for his sick mother. Trini (Becky G) is a loner whose family moves around a lot, plus she feels burdened with an additional secret. The chemistry and development of the main characters is the movie at its best.
The teens find some mysterious crystals in a quarry and develop superpowers. They return to the quarry and find themselves trapped in a high-tech command center. There they meet the robot Alpha 5 (Bill Hader) and a reanimated version of Zordon. For some reason, he chooses to project his essence onto one of those screens that’s made up of thousands of little pins that create an approximate version of whatever is pressing up against them. Good for him finding a Spencer Gifts that deep in the Earth’s crust. He tells them that they have the ability to morph into the Power Rangers and they can use an arsenal of weapons and robots to defeat Rita. There’s just one problem, they can’t morph. They have to learn a lesson first, and it’s frustrating that the film makes us wait so long for us to see the new line of action figures, I mean, for the heroes to reach their full potential.
The action is exactly what you’d expect from a big-budget “Power Rangers” movie: sleek enough to not look cheap, but missing the heart that gave the TV series a sort of cheesy appeal. One of my favorite things about the show was the creativity that went into the monster du jour, and here that spot is wasted on goopy CGI version of Goldar. Curiously, the fight between him and the Rangers’ Megazord is over before we can really soak in either of them.
Once the special effects take over, “Power Rangers” is as brainless as ever. But there’s some decent human work being done here, at least when the script isn’t forcing the characters to spout one- liners or engage in tired team-building. It’s a step up from the TV show, which isn’t much of a compliment, but probably one the movie will be happy to take.
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