In the ’90s, you probably knew them as “Mighty Morphin,” and these days they take the pre-fix “Saban’s,” but we all know them best as simply the “Power Rangers.” Executive producer Haim Saban discovered the “Super Sentai” series on Japanese television in the ’80s and brought the concept of teens in colorful costumes fighting monsters to American audiences in the form of the somewhat silly, but much beloved, “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” series. Now, of course, we have the big screen reboot, for better or for worse.
Joseph Kahn’s “Power/Rangers” short film that popped up online in 2015 showed just what a truly dark Power Rangers project could look like, but this version of the “Power Rangers” is about as dark as a CW series: just enough to be taken (somewhat) seriously, but with enough of a sense of humor about itself to have some fun, too.
The team of screenwriters has brought a sense of levity, as well as realism to the high school dramas, and the film is more about a bunch of oddball teens than it is about colorful-suited, karate-chopping superheroes. The first half is “The Breakfast Club” with way more extreme daredevil behavior, as this posse of misfits discover each other and stumble into their startling new powers, by way of five colorful coins they happen to blast out of a mountainside.
The explosives enthusiast is Billy (RJ Cyler, who steals the whole movie), a neuro-diverse nerd who befriends disgraced football captain Jason (Dacre Montgomery) in detention. Also on the mountain that day are rebellious former cheerleader Kimberly (Naomi Scott), heavy metal yogi Trini (Becky G) and adrenaline-addled delinquent Zack (Ludi Lin). Soon they’re being groomed by 65-million-year-old alien Zordon (Bryan Cranston — no really) and sassy robot Alpha (Bill Hader) to take on Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), who plans to use Goldar the gold monster to steal the Earth’s life crystal.
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If the Rangers are on the CW, Banks is in a universe of her own, stalking about the small town of Angel Grove in hobo dominatrix gear, dramatically stage whispering, “GOLD,” “CRYSTALS” and “KRISPY KREME” to no one in particular. It’s a committed performance that inspires chuckles, but hopefully it’s supposed to.
The actual power ranger-ing in the movie is blessedly short, focusing more on character and team building. It’s a good thing, because director Dean Israelite and cinematographer Matthew J. Lloyd have a chaotic approach to shooting action. The film is dark and murky, and the action sequences have no sense of geography. It seems a trend these days to keep the pace blisteringly fast to never let the film drag, but the cutting between scenes could give one whiplash.
We are denied a good morphin’ sequence, though, which was the best, most memorable part of the series. All we get is slow-motion strolling when they could have been wildly peacocking on a cliff’s edge.
“Power Rangers” maintains the essence of its origins in that it’s rather pleasantly bonkers. It errs on the side of goofy rather than gritty, and that’s in its favor. Trying to take this too seriously would be a mistake. Ultimately, it’s not much more than an itch on that nostalgic sweet spot that Hollywood is more than happy to scratch these days.
☆☆☆ out of 5
Cast: Elizabeth Banks, Bill Hader, Bryan Cranston, RJ Cyler, Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, Becky G, Ludi Lin.
Director: Dean Israelite.
Running time: 2:04.
Rated: PG-13, for sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, language, and for some crude humor.