Since teenagers think they’re invincible anyway, why not make them superheroes? Or should I say Power Rangers. The latest reinvention of a kids’ franchise for the big screen, Saban’s Power Rangers, reboots the ’90s live action TV show remarkably well. After a childhood of adoring Transformers and G.I. Joe, my excitement turned to bitter disappointment after seeing those franchises cash in on demand for nostalgia with bad to mediocre movies. With my expectations set low, Power Rangers easily exceeded mediocre, delivering a modern take that’s as amiable as it is fun. I’ve never been a fan of the franchise, which is not to say I actively disliked it, I just didn’t watch. Consequently, I approached this movie with no baggage, no hopes to dash and no attachments. After watching, this is the kind of movie I’d hoped for for Transformers and G.I. Joe.
Introduced to American audiences on TV in 1993’s Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, the franchise’s latest film incarnation joins five small-town teenagers who stumble into super powers and must protect the earth from imminent destruction. This is an origin story, so before we get to see the rangers in full regalia, there’s some getting-to-know-you to be done, both for the audience and the characters themselves. The rangers must defeat the evil Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), who’s quite repulsive, and her giant lackey Goldar, made of gold, obviously. If the names are a little on the nose, it’s easy to forgive. I choose to see these quirks as vestigial traces of a ’90s kids show, not to be taken too seriously.
Director Dean Israelite, the writers, and studio deserve credit for a clever modernization of a ham-handed 1990s attempt at diversity. Whereas in 1993, a mixed-race, mixed-gender team of superheroes represented progress, in 2017, the bar is set much higher. It was great that an African-American was a Power Ranger, but did he really have to wear the black armor? And the Asian-American ranger? You guessed it, yellow. Not cool, 1993. Not cool. Thankfully, the clumsy first iteration of the franchise has given way to a more sophisticated approach to diversity, more in line with modern attitudes about inclusion. LGBTQ and autistic superheroes now help to define the new normal, rightly securing a place in the kind of films that capture kids’ imaginations. Awesome. A white guy is still in charge, though, so there’s that.
The Rangers’ onscreen chemistry works, joining unlikely characters for an affable group charm. RJ Cyler (Billy/Blue Ranger) shone with charisma, vying with Ludi Lin (Zack/Black Ranger) for easiest to like. Becky G. (Trini/Yellow Ranger) faced the most daunting challenge, as her character was the quietest and most brooding of the bunch. She carried off the character admirably, particularly in a movie where subtlety is the exception. With hints of sexual tension between rangers and multifaceted backstories, Power Rangers turned teenage angst into a means of moving the plot forward, rather than being an obligatory layer, devoid of authenticity or purpose, foisted upon characters with awkward effect.
Character development, much like exposition, is a movie chore that often separates good movies from bad ones. When done well, it’s not enough to make a good movie great, but it certainly can derail a movie, and it’s of particular concern with superhero movies. This genre features elaborate schemes that protagonists must thwart, but more importantly, audiences must understand. Power Rangers succeeds in weaving character development into the plot, doing so in a way that doesn’t play like an afterthought. Even with the second act dragging just a touch, patience pays off in the third.
The teenage experience is central to this story, but it’s easy to lose touch with the angst of teenage life as time puts years between those days and now. Pining for more freedom never really goes away; we just trade parental oppression for mundane obligations like rent and insurance. It only becomes apparent we’ve lost that quintessentially teenage angst when earnest, youthful concerns seem impossibly trivial and self-interested. It’s at that moment when it’s helpful to remember the trivial and self-interested passions we burned for in younger days, when everything was a big deal, even the little things, you know, like saving the world.
|Power Rangers (2017)|
|Release Date:||March 24th, 2017|
|Author:||Jason M. Brown|