The “Power Rangers” property might not be a lot of things, but it is enthusiastically, unabashedly goofy. The Japanese import is cheap, colorful, fast-paced, action-packed, juvenile and totally pun-tacular, and these are all qualities that — for better or worse — fail to transfer into Dean Israelite’s moody and typically somber big-budget reboot. Sacrificing the TV series’ inherent silliness for bleakness, edginess, (moderately) grounded stakes and halfway soulful, progressive character analysis is a blessing and a curse. The franchise is given more depth, integrity and social relevance, yet it’s a broader, gloomier, more expensive and more intense re-imagining that nevertheless still tries to cater to the demands of its nostalgia-driven audience and indecisive studio execs. More like “Power Deranged.”
Similar to the original series, “Power Rangers” finds a group of five not-quite-normal teenagers, which includes: reckless, ambitionless former footballer Jason (Dacre Montgomery, providing his best Chris Pine impression); introspective, impulsive Kimberly (Naomi Scott); good-hearted dork Billy (RJ Cyler); temperamental weirdo Zack (Ludi Lin); and isolated introvert Trini (Becky G.). Through a convoluted, contrived series of events involving detention, a house-arrest detector, a van visit to the mountains and some students coincidentally crossing paths, these unwitting teens soon find themselves in the possession of glowing, mysterious but deeply powerful rocks which transform their ordinary lives into extraordinary ones, aided by super strength, super rock climbing and super jumping. In their process to find answers, they discover the looming, once-powerful alien spirit of Zordon (voiced by Bryan Cranston), who’ll teach these Power Rangers — alongside his dependable, quick-witted robot Alpha 5 (voiced by Bill Hader) — how to save their world from certain doom.
That is, if they can learn how to morph, and that’s not something that can happen overnight. They’ll need to bond and develop a firm sense of loyalty with one another, which won’t come easily. But they don’t have long to set aside their uneasy differences, especially as the villainous, maniacal Rita Repulsa (played deliciously by Elizabeth Banks) unfolds her diabolical plans for world destruction. Will these future Power Rangers have what it takes to come together to save the planet? I’m sure you have a guess.
Curiously both willing and unwilling to take risks, “Power Rangers” is at a standstill with its own self. Like Josh Trank’s “Fantastic Four” reboot, it’s often afraid to own up to its inherently endearing corniness, the very quality that made the franchise such a phenomenon for generations in the first place. Yet like the recent MCU installments, it’s so quick to stick to a conventional blockbuster formula that it lacks its own identity or, at least, consistent personality. It’s like a teenager jumping between phases and trends without settling into one that fits until it’s too late. It’s a little bit of everything and a whole lot of nothing. It’s a blockbuster struggling to figure itself out.
Throughout the course of this overlong 124-minute sci-fi action-adventure/coming-of-age superhero dramedy, “Power Rangers” pays homage to, attempts to replicate, or simply steals from “The Breakfast Club,” “Thor,” “Chronicle,” “Transformers,” “Pacific Rim,” “Children Of Men,” “Iron Man,” “Spider-Man,” 2009’s “Star Trek” and maybe “Gods Of Egypt.” And those are all merely the ones I caught. Israelite and screenwriter John Gatins (“Real Steel”), from a story by Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless, Michele and Kieran Mulroney and an uncredited Max Landis, based on Haim Saban and Shuki Levy’s IP, don’t handle this newly inspired reboot incompetently per se, but they can’t help but awkwardly, uncomfortably ape on the pre-established successes of others without celebrating the original source material at hand. At least, until the last 20 minutes, when “Power Rangers” abandons the muted, character-focused, teen angst-ridden tone found in the first two-thirds of the film for a bubbly, bouncy and over-the-top final act in a style that fans should find familiar.
The titular youngsters are — like everything else in this movie — a mixed bag. Cyler walks circles around his peers, providing charisma and confidence that’ll hopefully take him very far. Montgomery is strictly in Bland Leader mode, but he tries his best to enliven the proceedings. Both Scott and Lin can’t get a firm grasp on their characters or figure out how to flesh them out. Then there’s Becky G., who might be the most interesting member of the group as the first gay big-screen superhero, but who also remains the least developed Power Ranger. Overall, their chemistry isn’t warmly felt, but there’s a decently established growth to their group’s core kinship that aids in the attempts to make the material more human and relatable than before.
Thankfully, Cranston, Hader and most especially Banks are happy to pick up (some of) the slack. Hader and Banks are clearly having a ball, with the latter in particular delving into Sam Raimi-esque levels of evil hamminess that’s a lot of fun to watch, relishing the chewy bombastic villainy of Rita. It’s a shame that “Power Rangers” couldn’t afford more time with such a richly delectable antagonist. Cranston, meanwhile, brings some much-needed gravitas to the proceedings, at least under Israelite’s vision for these characters, and his throaty sternness provides a firm sense of urgency for our Power Rangers. Their mission wouldn’t nearly feel as important without him.
However, there is a constant sense of uncertainty with “Power Rangers,” that results in a blockbuster that weirdly feels embarrassed to be associated with the Power Rangers brand, while also totally willing to own up to it in the right, crucial moments. It’s too indebted to other studio properties, and it’s half-hearted in its approach to pay full respect to the material’s daft, nostalgic legacy. And the studio executives can’t quite decide what’s best, so they fly in all different directions, trying (and usually failing) to make it all come together in the end like the titular team at the center of this film.
Israelite’s “Power Rangers” isn’t bad enough to outright dismiss, yet it’s too dizzyingly overpacked and overwhelmingly unsteady to even moderately recommend. It’s an almost-decent studio reboot that’s both punchy and too quick to hold its punches. And that’s without delving into its horrifically, laughably bad soundtrack remixes and its obnoxious Krispy Kreme product placement that, flabbergastingly, is crucial to the main plot. Never quite fun enough for kids or teens, but also unlikely to appeal to loyal fans, “Power Rangers” feels like a film that’s not quite finished morphing into its true form. [C+/C]