Director: Dean Israelite
Starring: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Becky G, Ludi Lin, Bill Hader, Bryan Cranston, and Elizabeth Banks
The inherent silliness of teenagers in colourful suits fighting rock shaped monsters is not lost on the filmmakers of 2017’s big-budget Power Rangers reboot. As a more grounded, realistic take on the franchise, the action is frequently broken up by jokey banter between the characters, who display a keen sense of self-awareness. As a group of high school kids who suddenly become alien fighting superheroes, the self-awareness goes a long way in keeping the film palatable for those unaccustomed to the series’ brand of over the top action. Even so, the film doesn’t hold back embracing the craziness that’s part and parcel of being a Power Rangers movie, making for a film that will likely appeal to both newcomers and long-time fans alike.
Power Rangers is quick to establish that it’s not going to be your garden variety, Saturday morning cartoon kind of adaptation. It opens with a dramatic car chase with protagonist Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery) trying to outrun the police. With the cops hot on his tail, the camera whirls around the interior of the car – between Jason in the driver’s seat and the sirens chasing behind him. When he looses control of the vehicle, we witness the crash from the cockpit of the car, in a slow dramatic shot that lingers on Jason as the crash rattles his body. It’s a well-directed scene that sets the film’s grittier tone from the onset.
These minor moments of inspiration lend the film a surprising gravitas. Director Dean Israelite (Project Almanac) does an admirable job of balancing the drama with the action. Make no mistake, this is an origin story and the first half of the film effectively acts like a John Hughes coming of age drama; giving us insight into the troubled lives of the teens both at school and at home. While the film’s characterisations never rise above the usual high school movie clichés, it’s at least commendable that they put in the effort to develop the characters before their suits supersede them.
When the teens finally gain their powers, the film does a complete 180 and turns into the cheesy 90’s superhero adaptation fans would expect. I couldn’t help but laugh when Elizabeth Banks’ hammy villain, Rita Repulsa, first appears on screen and yet her gleefully overdone performance is only the tip of a cheese iceberg. The finale embraces the series’ kitschy roots to deliver a succession of over the top, CGI fuelled action sequences that seem to have come from the mind of an 8-year old high on a sugar rush. At first the shift from drama to camp is quite jarring, yet by the time the teens are all suited up and the Power Rangers theme kicks in, it’s hard not to give in to its shamelessness.
The arc of the story in Power Rangers is so bizarre that if someone where to watch only the beginning and end of the film, you couldn’t fault them for thinking that they were watching two completely different movies. While the film struggles to reconcile the darker, grittier tone of the first half with the campy, cheesy second, it does manage to provide enough substance to keep the audience invested when the crazy action kicks in. It may not break any new ground but as a modern update, Power Rangers gets the job done.
Words by Dominic Kwaczynski