r6ZueZjnmZ7B2W9HGZxNVvrBtMg BDVR: Saban's Power Rangers

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Saban's Power Rangers

Originally written for OutLoudCulture.com

Eight years. It's been nearly eight years since anything remotely passable was officially laid to film in the Power Rangers franchise.


    Power Rangers has had its ups and downs over the nearly 25-year history of the franchise. The show has come close to cancellation and been rescued numerous times, there hasn't been a movie in twenty years, and the rights have changed hands twice. The series originated in 1993 on Fox, was sold to Disney and hastily uncancelled in 2002, and then sold to the Saban Capital Group in 2010 and hastily uncancelled once more. The rights to various bits of the series are splayed about many companies. The first seventeen seasons are exclusively available from Shout! Factory on home media, Fox owns the first two movies, and Lionsgate distributes home media releases for everything from Samurai onwards. Their ongoing partnership with the Saban Capital Group led to the creation of this movie. Just a shame it couldn't lead to them buying out the television series.
    In case you were wondering, or missed one of the many times I've ranted about this subject over the last three years, I'm not a particularly big fan of the way Saban, and by extension, Nickelodeon has been treating this franchise for the last six years. Their overuse of the classic theme-song and series monikers grate on many of the fans, myself included. Plus, the downright incompetent production behind the last seven seasons of the show is just baffling. Haim Saban routinely spends approximately $35 million on each 44-episode series of his flagship cash-cow, and yet the editing, writing, scheduling, airing and direction has been below standards set by some YouTube series. And yes, all of this is relevant to my review of the movie.
    Fortunately, the crew behind the television branch of the franchise has a total of jack to do with the movie. There's no lazy soundtrack "composed" by Noam Kaniel, no Nickelodeon anti-humor, no overuse of series tropes, no Fujoshi-baiting fanservice, the Red Ranger's dad isn't a deadbeat/dead, the direction is competent, the editing is solid, the characters are compelling, and the movie doesn't constantly and consistently break in-universe rules and/or willing suspension of disbelief.
Granted, a lot of the latter comes from the fact that this is stylized, high-budget reboot of the original series rather than attempting to succeed what came before, but I'm still willing to give the movie far more credit than the show in that regard, mostly because what it asks you to believe are either easy to slot into reality, or things long-time fans of the show recognize, and can fit into the worldview the film presents us. Note that I said "most of", we're going to come back to that in a while. We'll be heading into spoiler territory here, so if you want to back out, this is the last chance you've got.
    Approximately sixty-five million years ago, during the reign of the dinosaurs, Zordon of Eltar (Played by Bryan Cranston) led the original Power Rangers team to defend the Zeo Crystal on Earth. Presumably against Lord Zedd, the series recurring lead-villain. Zordon's Green Ranger, a sorceress named Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) turned against him, and used her powers to kill most of the other Rangers. In a last-ditch effort to protect the Zeo Crystal, Zordon orders Alpha 5 (Bill Hader) to unleash a meteor strike on the planet. Zordon buries the five remaining Power Coins before Rita makes her final approach. The two of them are killed by the meteor, Zordon being buried along with the coins, and Rita demorphing before landing in the ocean.
In the present day, star-quarterback and martial artist Jason Lee Scott (Dacre Montgomery) gets detention for letting a cow loose inside the school after-hours, and house-arrest for demolishing his truck and other vehicles in the escape attempt. His father berates him for this the next day and then takes him to detention. There, he finds a bully, Colt Wallace (Wesley MacInnes) messing with a very strange nerd named Billy Cranston (RJ Cyler). Jason decides to take Colt down a peg, and in doing so befriends Billy.
    Meanwhile, Kimberly Ann Hart (Naomi Scott) meets some of her friends from the cheerleading squad in the women's restroom. They're not too happy with her, and decide to kick her out of their lives. Kimberly decides to cut her hair shorter with the pair of scissors they leave stuck in the wall before rejoining detention.
    After detention, Billy asks Jason if he can help him with something. Jason tells him he can't, since he's got an ankle monitor on. Naturally, Billy can get around this, and Jason agrees to help him if he spoofs his monitor's location. Billy gets Jason to help him haul some of his gear into an abandoned mine so he can look for cool stuff. Jason agrees, but only if he gets to use Billy's van afterwards.
Billy's incredibly strange method of locution leads to Jason bowing out of helping him inside the mine, but on his way out, he runs into Kimberly. The two of them debate whether they should just up and leave Angel Grove before Billy activates a detonating rod and gets their attention and that of two others. Zack Taylor (Ludi Lin), a local daredevil who was chilling on an abandoned train, and Trini Kwan (Becky Gomez), who was listening to music and meditating.
    They go into the mine and find a wall of peculiar glass with five glowing coins inside it. One calls out to each of them, and the colors are assigned as you would expect. Jason is Red, Kim is Pink, Billy is Blue, Zack is Black (No he's not :P) and Trini is Yellow. The authorities catch on to their presence, and the five pile into Billy's van. They try to escape, and nearly do, before Jason gets them all hit by a train. The five then wake up the next morning in their beds, in their own houses, not knowing what the hell happened. The only clue is that they all still have the coins, they're all perfectly fine despite having been hit with a speeding freight-train, and they all have powers like nobody has seen before. Not only that, Jason's bad knee stops bothering him.
Meanwhile, on the high seas, a fishing boat picks up the body of one Rita Repulsa, along with her power-coin. The reunion of the two restores Rita's body, but with a mental state far more unhinged than before. She kills a police-officer sent to investigate her body, and begins a quest to gather all the gold she can. Partially to restore her staff, which channels her awesome power, and partially to resurrect her trusted minion Goldar.
    At school, Colt attempts to ambush Billy and break his fingers (God only knows why he was using a technique that would likely dislocate your wrist and/or elbow if done properly, maybe he knows nothing about human anatomy) but Billy's newfound powers cause Colt to knock himself out. Billy becomes pretty popular because of this. He meets up with Kim and Jason, who both confirm their experiences. They're tougher, faster, and stronger all around. Their coins cause a bit of havoc in the school cafeteria, so they decide to meet up later at the mine.
    They try to chase down Trini and talk to her, but she runs and leaps across a chasm. Zack stops her from running further and the others follow. Billy nearly makes it, but falls down into the water below. Billy calls up to them, and the other boys follow. Kimberly has to trick Trini into following, but the five ultimately wind up down in the water. They dive down and find a strange barrier below. They cross it and fall into a spaceship below. Down there, they meet a mysterious talking robot, Zordon's assistant, Alpha 5.
    He introduces them to his master, whose soul he sealed into The Morphing Grid. Zordon lays out their task. The five of them are the Power Rangers, successors to Zordon's original team. They must harness their powers to protect their world and the Zeo Crystal from exploitation by those hungry for their power. If Rita gets ahold of the crystal, she can use the power it holds to create and destroy worlds. They have eleven days (The estimated amount of time it will take Rita to return to full power and recreate Goldar) to get themselves ready, or their world is likely doomed.
Naturally, most of them take this poorly and decide to leave. Jason is the last to go. He almost leaves, but Zordon's desperate plea makes him stay, and reconsider his position. Jason manages to convince the rest of the Power Rangers to return for training, and they spend the rest of the week getting into fighting shape. No matter their determination, they can't figure out how to Morph. Alpha decides to try and give them a bit of inspiration, and shows them the Dinozords. Mastadon, Pterodactyl, Triceratops, Sabertooth Tiger, and Tyrannosaurus.
    This is where we get to one of the few problems I have with the changes the movie has made. The Zords themselves are basically alright, except there's really no reason for them to swap the positions of the Mastodon and Sabertooth Tiger.
    The problem is that while Zordon and Rita came to Earth ten-thousand years ago in the show, therefore excusing the presence of the Mastodon and Sabertooth Zords in a so-called DINO Megazord, they came to Earth 65 million years ago here. Before the Mastodon and Sabertooth had even evolved. This could have been solved by simply keeping the ten-thousand-year thing and connecting Zordon's final battle with Rita with a different cataclysm in history, but considering they were foreshadowing Zeo from the beginning of the film, and appear to be foreshadowing Jungle Fury, I wouldn't put it past them to have the entire opening sequence of the movie be foreshadowing for Dino Thunder, since the subtitles at the start specifically mention "meteor" despite the object that actually wiped out the dinosaurs likely being either a comet or an asteroid.
    Anyways, Zack takes the Mastodon on a joyride, but can barely control it. Once he returns, he gets into a fight with Jason. Billy charges in to stop them, and spontaneously Morphs without realizing how. When they try and figure out how to replicate this, they fail. Zordon becomes frustrated with the lack of progress, and decides to send the Rangers home.
On his way out, Jason overhears Zordon and Alpha talking, and finds out that once the Power Rangers connect to their powers, the connection to the Morphing Grid will open up so Zordon can come back to life. This angers Jason, who sees this as Zordon and Alpha manipulating them, storms off. The rest of the team has set up around a fire outside, and they decide to stick around for a little while and try to bond. Billy talks about how he got in detention, and about how he used to come up to the mine with his dad. Zack's mom is dying, and he doesn't want to be there when it happens. Jason is something of a local superstar, so he's not too hard to explain. Kim holds off until later, and Trini generally has issues with the image her perfect parents and perfect family expect of her.
They return home, and the now fully-powered Psycho-Rita ambushes Trini in her bedroom. She gives her an ultimatum. Join her, turn over the location of the Zeo Crystal and live, or fight and die. Trini goes to the other Rangers, and they decide to stand up and fight. They head to the docks to fight Rita, but she quickly overpowers and restrains all of them, despite her incomplete Ranger suit. She figures that they have to know where the Zeo Crystal is, and she's right. She tortures Zack until Billy, who pinpointed its location earlier in the film, divulges the location. It's buried below a Krispy Kreme in town.
    Rita drops Billy into the water below, charging the rope with her magic until he's dead, and releases the other Rangers. They drag him up and attempt to revive him, but to no avail. They take him to the Command Center, and beg Zordon to do something, but he can't. Eventually, they realize something very powerful, that any of them would die to protect the other, the way Billy had. This unlocks the Morphing Grid finally, granting them the powers of the coins. Rather than choosing to come through himself, Zordon sends Billy back. This give the Rangers what they need to don their suits and take the fight to Rita.
    Repulsa sics an army of Putty Patrollers on the newly-Morphed team, but their training takes over and they beat through them. They summon up their Dinozords and set off for Angel Grove to take down Goldar, with the original MMPR The Movie theme-song pumping in the background.
They make quick work of the Putties, but Jason has to leave his Zord to rescue his father from his crashed vehicle. The Power Rangers regroup, confident that they can handle anything after the Putties, but Goldar is something else entirely. The individual Zords are no match for him, and the golden monster pushes the five into the pit he created while digging for the Zeo Crystal. The Rangers almost come to terms with their fate, but the Zords all link up to form the mighty Megazord. I'd go into more depth about this fight-scene, but it really needs to be seen to be appreciated. Suffice to say that you get to see the Megazord German Suplex Goldar!
Rita says that there will be more to come, more to try and claim the Zeo Crystal, but the Rangers just smack her into space, and she lands on the moon.
    All in all, this movie was better than we had any right to expect. It hits the sublime middleground between character and action that so many films fail to reach. The characters are generally about right, and the plot never missteps the way I've seen many films do over my time as a critic
I feel I should draw a few comparisons to another blockbuster reboot, Transformers. This movie does now what Transformers should have in the second film. It's got enough references to the original while incorporating enough musical cues and stings from the original series that the soundscape still feels connected to the original in theme. Brian Tyler does an excellent job on the music in this film, and it almost sounds like Ron Wasserman, or even John Williams composed it at times. The music forges its own identity while remaining true enough to the original that it's recognizable. This is something that we should have seen in Revenge of the Fallen, but didn't.
    Speaking of which, something the middle two Transformers movies lacked were decent characters. Fortunately, they don't skimp on character development. Nor do they stray too far from the originals, mostly. Jason takes command, Kim makes jokes, Zack is a cool dude, and Billy is still the oddball who speaks in such a manner that your brain goes numb like you took a bite of an Oragel creme donut. Trini is the only one who's really changed a lot, going from soft-spoken and wise to misfit outcast. Apparently she's questioning her sexuality too, but considering the looks she and Zack were exchanging, I have a feeling it won't be in question much longer.
A while ago people were making a big deal about the announcement that Billy was autistic. My reaction was "Breaking News! Power Rangers movie retains defining characteristic of lead character! In other news, Marvel has killed another beloved hero and replaced them with an evil clone working for Hydra!"
    Yeah, Billy Cranston being autistic has always been something of a given. His social awkwardness, his somewhat obsessive behavior, the near lack of a sense of humor, and the mind-numbing speech-pattern only a few people really understand kind of gave the game away. Sorry Wikipedia, you done jumped the gun on saying this movie was "(T)he first blockbuster film to feature LGBTQ and autistic superheroes." The 1995 movie beat you to the last one.
Alpha 5 is alright. I've said before that I like Bill Hader as a voice-actor, but they seem to have gone out of their way to give him extra lines in this movie that really shouldn't have been in the final product. It's nothing too too bad, but enough of the original Alpha would get on anyone's nerves too.
Now we come to Zordon. Bryan Cranston was perhaps the perfect choice for Zordon of Eltar, and the portrayal of the character in this movie is pitch perfect. Cunning, intelligent, loads of patience, and self-sacrificing to a fault. The scene where he resurrects Billy instead of himself had echoes of the In Space finale playing in my head, which tells me that director Dean Israelite and the writing team know what they're doing, and will handle it well.
    Finally, Rita Repulsa. Elizabeth Banks was the perfect choice for this role, hands down, and this movie does a lot more to show her as a viable threat than the show usually did. Rather than sit around her base on the moon sending monsters after the Rangers, she overpowers them herself and kills people. I like Crazy Rita a lot, and this character will fit in well once Lord Zedd shows up.
A few minor things to mention. I was a little disappointed that they didn't get Austin St. John to play Jason's father, since David Denman basically looks like a discount version of him. Amy Jo Johnson and Jason David Frank's cameos were cool, but JDF and AJ should have been either teachers at the school, or parents of one of the Power Rangers (Possibly Kimberly).
    On that note though, I'm glad they didn't go all-out the way the DC television series have been and have all the previous Power Rangers they could find play small roles in this movie, because that would have been going overboard.
    Finally, the designs. I like the suits generally, but the silver highlights could have been white, and the helmets all look a little strange. I hope this is something they fix in future, along with the design of the Megazord not really matching up with the individual Zords. I like the new Megazord, it looks a hell of a lot better than the toy versions did, but it still could be a bit more coherent in design. More color and flash, less generic metal.
    Now that I've gotten what I think of the movie out of the way, here are a few things that I would like to see out of the first of the six confirmed sequels.
    First off, bring in Tommy as-is. Give us our long-haired, green-bedecked native American charismatic ass-kicker who can stand toe to toe with Jason and either tie or win. Don't gender-swap him as has been rumored. Give his suit plenty of gold, and make sure to give him some kind of Morphing sequence. Re-create the fight between him and Jason, possibly within an MMA cage. Something else, make sure to give him an actual Dragon Dagger, and an actual Sword of Darkness. The Power Sword was cool, but Tommy's gear should remain as unchanged as possible while remaining coherent with the rest of the aesthetic. Something else to mention is that you'd better make the Dragonzord look cool, and you'd better tell Bandai to make the toy version compatible with the previously released Dinozords.
    The suits are mostly alright, the helmets could use a bit of a change to look more like the animals they're based on, or even just the original helmets. Tommy's helmet especially could use an overhaul to be a bit more unique. Without the teeth it doesn't really look all that threatening. Also make sure that the Dragon Shield is detachable, and tell Bandai to do the same for Tommy's Legacy and Action Hero figures.
    The only thing I would really change about the suits would be to change all of the silver on them to white to throw back to the original series a bit.
    Now, let's address the product placement. It's fine. It's barely there and they actually kind of make a joke out of it. It's fine. Just don't take too far, okay Lionsgate?
    The second movie is where Brian Tyler should kick right in with recreating musical cues from the original score. 5-4-1, Fight, We Need A Hero, Go Go Power Rangers, and especially Go Green Ranger, Go! If Tommy's going to be one of the primary antagonists, then his theme-song should be in the movie. If you can't get Ron Wasserman back to do the vocals, then make sure you get someone who has a similar kind of voice for vocals. Kevin Rudolph wouldn't be a bad choice, but this is something you need to work on until you find the right guy for the job.
    Going back to the characters, there was a romance sub-plot with Jason and Kimberly that was cut from the final version of the movie. I think this was a good choice, since it kind of throws a wrench into the plot-integral Tom/Kim romance later on. All I have to say is that unless Naomi Scott or whoever winds up playing Tommy dies somewhere along the line, you'd better not split these characters up. Hell, going into the season two, three, and Zeo adaptations, you'd better not replace any of the characters unless you absolutely have to. You're not working with Sentai footage at all, so you might as well go all out on the plot. I just hope that the Thunder Megazord is done justice.
    Anyways, even though I've been laying down all this fan-service I want to see, it's important to not go too heavy on it. I see that they're foreshadowing at least sixteen series into the future, but you have to know what to cut and what to leave. It will be perfectly fine if they skip straight to the Green With Evil arc for the second movie, as long as the second movie is littered with some decent character development. After that, they should slow down a bit and make at least one more movie before hitting the Green Candle arc. Once they hit Green Candle, I expect to see some hardcore action and visceral confrontation between Tommy and Lord Zedd.
    As much as I would caution against fan-service for the sake of it, I would love to see Bulk and Skull in the next movie. Just make sure they don't turn into Victor and Monty from Ninja Steel.
In the end, this was one hell of a movie and I definitely recommend it. Pick up the soundtrack after you see the film too, because Brian Tyler did a damn good job on the score. It'll have you on an emotional roller-coaster from start to finish. The characters are pretty great interpretations of the original, and the movie is at least as good as the Boom! Studios comics, if not better.

Image from Impawards.com