Power Rangers (2017)
Directed by Dean Israelite
I never watched much “Power Rangers” as a child, being barely too young to appreciate the action, but what I remember liking as I look back on it was that they always seemed to be fighting in broad daylight, which was good for us because we got to see the action more clearly. Too often in action movies it’s dark or raining or the camera is moving so fast you can’t tell what’s going on. This is how they trick you into missing the fake punch or the stunt double. That’s not to say they can’t still trick you in daylight. It’s 2017, after all, and the Power Rangers are fighting computer-generated rock creatures this time around. But at least they have the decency to show it in the light, where we can see their fake kung-fu in all its kick-butt glory.
In case this decade needed another origin story, “Power Rangers” brings together a bunch of kooky misfits of all stripes: Jason (Dacre Montgomery), the high school quarterback; Kimberly (Naomi Scott), the mean girl; Billy (RJ Cyler), the over-achiever; Trini (Becky G.), the newbie; and Zach (Ludi Lin), the adrenaline junkie. Together by happenstance, they stumble upon the keys to superpowers beyond their dreams. And just in time, because Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) and her aforementioned earth monsters are nearby, looking for the crystal that holds the secret to life as we know it. Only the Power Rangers can stop her, if they can get past their shock in their egos in time to work together.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen nameless, faceless villains pick a fight with our heroes, and it’s not the first time we’ve seen it end predictably. As an audience, we know villains that aren’t proper characters don’t have a hope in doing anything besides dying. In “The Avengers,” it was those alien slugs. It’s fun to see our protagonists slice and punch and shoot them, but at the end of the day we all knew the only real threat came from the villain who had a name and an actor—Loki. Here, we know that only Repulsa herself poses any real threat to the Power Rangers—it’d be terrible storytelling if it went any other way. So the rock creatures are a waste of time. They’re just an appetizer, a time-waster until we get to the only fight we know will be of any consequence.
But the biggest hiccup comes in the middle, when the movie tries to force the characters to bond, to get to know each other, to get serious and talk about teen problems…the problem is it wasn’t a problem. The cast camaraderie is apparent from the moment they meet. Each brings something to the table, and together they look like they’re having fun. It’s contagious. RJ Cyler broke out as the irreverent Earl in the underappreciated “Me & Earl & the Dying Girl.” Here he brings that quick humor to Billy, a science nerd on the autism spectrum. The rest hold up their end of the bargain, but Cyler takes the cake. Together the Rangers bond immediately, and you’re excited to see where this comical, action-packed journey goes. But when “Power Rangers” puts the brakes on the momentum in an attempt to raise the stakes, it exposes itself as a typical high school movie stealing superhero tropes to morph into a sloppy “X-Men”/“Breakfast Club” mash-up wannabe. Just when you’d started forgetting about that fact. But as eye-roll worthy as those slow twenty minutes are, it’s all part of the plan. “Power Rangers” is a necessary evil, the origin story that most people hate but is necessary viewing if you hope to get any enjoyment out of the just-announced five (!?!) sequels, sequels that, I pray, jump right into the action and don’t slow down for another ice-breaker session.
Still, I could do with more. “Power Rangers” has its roots in the ridiculous, so you can’t be surprised at the piling on of absurdities. This franchise is at its best when it is having fun without taking itself seriously. Thankfully, most of the time, “Power Rangers” remembers that.