I was about ten years too old to really get into the Power Rangers during their 1990s heydey. My formative Japanese super-team of enhanced teenagers came in the animated form of “Battle Of The Planets”. In many ways, “Battle Of The Planets” set the template for “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers“, in being appropriated from a Japanese original, re-edited to insert additional scenes and deliver a story of five teenage heroes tasked with fighting off ‘alien galaxies from beyond space’ (yep, it even trail blazed the Rangers’ sketchy grasp of astrophysics) guided by a quirky robot helper against an relentlessly repetitive alien threat. They even had specialised vehicles that combined to form a more powerful vessel. But by the time a live-action variation on the same themes came along, I’d grown out of it. It seemed a little too childish thanks to its spandex and men in rubber suits fighting styles.
So it was with very little emotional investment and even less expectation that I approached the new, big budget, big screen reboot of earth’s mightiest morphinest heroes.
When a group of misfit teens uncover five alien power discs buried in the mountains near Angel Grove for thousands of years, they find themselves caught in the midst of an alien war that has raged for millennia. Together they must learn to master their new powers and come together as a team to defend the existence of life on Earth.
This is not your rose-tinted nostalgic memories of Power Rangers by any stretch (although there is a fun blink-and-you’ll-miss-‘em cameo from Jason David Frank and Amy Jo Johnston). The fundamental building blocks (borrowed from earlier Japanese TV fare) are still there of course, but this is a film that embraces the current fashion for moody teenage angst and desperation to distance itself from its dated and embarrassing parent. So it borrows from “Chronicle” and “The Breakfast Club” to give it some teen-edginess. The tone fluctuates wildly between family friendly superhero shenanigans and darker/ crasser stuff. Surely nobody was expecting the new “Power Rangers” movie to open with a joke about jerking off a bull but that’s what you get. There are also a few moments where Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks delivering a performance a universe away from Carla Pérez’ high camp pantomime) goes to some very dark places in her attempts to conquer the world.
Of course, teens these days can’t just be untroubled youths so everybody’s got their signature issue, from rebel-without-a-cause (and Zac Efron-alike) Dacre Montgomery’s proto-Red Ranger Jason through remorseful sexting cyberbully Kimberley (Naomi Scott). There’s an unshowy nod to the LGBT community in Becky G’s Yellow Ranger Trini and teen carers get representation too through the Black Ranger’s back story which shows Zack (Ludi Lin) caring for his sick mother. It’s in Blue Ranger Billy (R J Cyler), though, that the film gets it most right, showing a positive and relatively unclichéd view of a young man living with autism. As clumsily implemented as the diversity agenda is, though, the cast are eminently likeable and make it work. Equally clumsy but much less successful is the vulgar product placement which blights the movie, especially in the Angel Grove showdown.
But, as muddled and manipulative as it might be, the end result is damn good fun. I’ve never enjoyed a “Power Rangers” movie or TV show as much as I did this one and, judging by how much Mertmas enjoyed it, it scored a direct hit on its target 10-year-old audience. It may play out more like a lavish pilot episode for a new TV series than a standalone movie and there’s nothing here that’ll have the current superhero movie titans of Marvel and DC looking nervously over their shoulder but in terms of rebooting a cheesy 90s TV show as a viable 21st century franchise, it’s a solid gold(ar) effort.