Rose-tinted glasses. Or, in today’s parlance, “nostalgia goggles.” Call it what you will, but in an ever-increasingly technological age, where products, shows, technology itself and even jobs can go through complete life cycles in a short span of time there is a comfort to be found in the reassurance of a past which never changes.
Of course, when children of a generation become the adults who are directors, producers and writers, the chance to indulge in that nostalgia coupled with the safety a studio perceives in an established franchise as opposed to the risk of a new property can be hard to resist. Whilst it appears that the “Marvel Effect” has every studio wanting to turn everything they own into some all-consuming franchise juggernaut has rushed many unwarranted films out in the last few years, some have taken a surprising time to come back around.
For a television show that has, in its Westernised format, been running for twenty four years (the Japanese version Super-Sentai, which the Western version still uses footage from has been running since 1975), it seems strange that despite the enduring popularity of Power Rangers there hasn’t been a big screen adaptation since 1997s Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie.
Following very much in the vein of many eighties cartoons, Power Rangers was always a vehicle for toy sales in the mould of Transformers, and whilst having new “powers” seemed great to children the cynical adult just saw a new wave of toys to roll out every festive season. Yet despite the shows’ continued syndication and merchandising success, any thoughts of seeing the titular heroes outside Saturday morning television seemed a distant dream, at least until Joseph Kahn’s brilliant 2015 bootleg appeared on YouTube with Battlestar Galactica‘s Katee Sackhoff and Dawson’s Creek‘s James Van Der Beek as adult rangers in a gritty interrogation scene. A cinematic release it was not, but twenty million views is proof enough of popularity still existing for the teen fighting force, and now it has come time for a new generation to enjoy Power Rangers.
Fittingly it starts sixty five million years ago in the Cenozoic era where the original Rangers and the alien red and green Rangers Zordon and Rita Repulsa battle for the Earth’s life crystal, the “Zeo-Crystal.” Skipping forward to present day American suburbia, the audience are introduced to Jason (Stranger Things’ Dacre Montgomery), an all-star quarterback whose prank lands him in a car crash and a knee brace, and suddenly the star athlete is in Saturday detention for the rest of the year. His first encounter with the “delinquents” of the breakfast club sees him sticking up for Billy (newcomer R J Cyler), a troubled kid with slight autism who is bullied for his obsessive compulsive tendencies, while also along for the punishment is mean girl Kimberley (Disney’s Life Bites’ Naomi Scott).
Having saved Billy, Jason is bribed into helping him that evening with the promise of being able to bypass the electronic curfew tag his prank landed him with. Deciding that an evening of house arrest is not preferable to helping an awkward student, Jason agrees to drive Billy to a local goldmine where he likes to look for stuff. Bumping into Kimberley, she and Jason discuss about running away from the dead end town they are stuck in when an explosion brings them back to the mine.
When they return they discover Billy has been joined by new girl Trini (singer Becky G) and absent student Zack (Monster Hunt‘s Ludi Lin) and in the debris they find strange glowing coins. Chased from the mine, they are in a head-on collision with a train, yet all wake at home the next day with no memory of how they returned there. That isn’t their only surprise, as they each discover they have superhuman powers, from strength and speed to jumping abilities.
Attempting to learn more about the coins they discover an underground alien spacecraft, where the spirit of Zordon, played with much aplomb by Hollywood’s favourite chemist Bryan Cranston, has been awaiting them. Revealing that they are chosen to protect the Earth he scoffs at their credentials but warns them that their fated discovery was just in time, as Rita Repulsa (The Hunger Games‘ Elizabeth Banks) has also revived and is about to destroy their home city then the world to obtain the Zeo Crystal.
Thrown together and needing to overcome their insecurities and prejudices to work as a team to stop Rita, this is where this film diverges from its predecessors. Instead of a plethora of training montages and fights with plenty of corny dialogue and expensive digital action, this film concentrates on the dynamic and bonds between these teens as they learn to trust each other, offering the genuine character development so often missing from such films which usually ask the audience to care before giving them cause to.
Director Dean Isrealite has certainly grown from his feature debut Project Almanac which was poorly received critically and commercially, and the Marvel methodology of building a story around the characters rather than the Transformers route of building characters and a plot around set pieces is executed well here, and there is even a cheeky dig at Transformerswhen a yellow Camaro is destroyed to which Jason quips “sorry, Bumblebee.”
There are a few more adult (if not mature) jokes and it is a surprise to see the film get a slightly higher rating than the previous iterations of the characters. Written by Spectral‘s John Gatins from a story by Dracula Untold‘s Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows‘ Michele Mulroney and Kieran Mulroney, there are some bold choices such as placing Billy on the Autism Spectrum and a gay female Ranger in Trini which give more depth to characters that were traditionally rather one-dimensional and vacuous.
There may not be something here for everyone and some may find the deliberately hammy performances of Banks and Cranston grating, but taken for a fun popcorn flick it is two hours of great escapism, well shot and lit and devoid of annoying jump cuts, lens flare and explosions all over the place, a throwback to the classics of the nineties, only with less Day-glo colours and corny one-liners. The Mighty Morphin’ may be gone, but the Power Rangers are certainly back; it will be interesting to see how long for.