I was never a fan of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and it fills me with no shame whatsoever to admit that. The show was at its peak of popularity when I was in high school. A few times, out of curiosity, I gave it a shot. Despite several tries, I never got through an entire episode. It’s easy today to appreciate what that show was doing back in the 1990s, providing live action superhero/kaiju-equivalent of the Adam West Batman TV series of the 1960s. The crucial word is “camp” and those Mighty Morphin, back-flippin,’ flying kick-spinnin,’ world-savin’ Power Rangers provided 30-minute installments of painfully corny camp. If you became a fan as a child, then the Rangers and their adventures likely played like golden daydreams. For anyone old enough to ride a carnival ferris wheel, the show is a 90’s cheesefest with lots of “attitude,” akin to those Slim Jim ads that once starred “Macho Man” Randy Savage.
Those seeking a definitive cinematic interpretation of the Power Rangers TV series experience already have the 1995 summer flick, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie. It’s as awful and amusing as the source material. There’s also the slightly more preferable 1997 flick Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie, which has a climactic “Maligore” battle, with stolen shots in Iao Valley. Seriously, I once called the Maui Film Commission and confirmed that no authorized filming for a Power Rangers movie took place on the Valley Isle. They apparently shot some scenes here (the Iao needle is visible in one key shot), then jumped on a plane back to the mainland and, to quote the movie, shouted “Later, Flame Face!”
The new 2017 Power Rangers film doesn’t ignore its origins but, rather than camp, embraces the silliness of the source material. Yet, while the movie maintains a sheepish grin, it’s mostly played straight and given a serious, even gritty approach.
A cluster of outsider teenagers (led by newcomer Dacre Montgomery) discover a buried spaceship, containing the warning of alien Zordon (Bryan Cranston) that an evil force is about to attack the Earth. The teens learn to work together, train and prepare themselves for the ultimate transformation: the ability to “morph.” Seriously.
The movie has stunning visuals. Though it’s in the same washed-out, overcast color scheme as any Zack Snyder movie, the cinematography by Matthew J. Lloyd (who shoots Daredevil-The Series) is as smart and engaging as Brian Tyler’s score. The whole thing plays like a thick puree of The Breakfast Club, Chronicle, Transformers, The Goonies and every Marvel TV series origin episode currently airing. The thing that amazes me is how much it works.
Director Dean Israelite’s prior film, Project Almanac, is a like a warm-up for this one. He has chosen five fully engaged and likable actors to play the Rangers. On the other hand, Elizabeth Banks’ performance as “Rita Repulsa,” a carry-over from the series, is a problem. While Banks is trying to be scary, her performance resembles, in more ways than one, Uma Thurman’s work in Batman & Robin.
The massive climax of Power Rangers features numerous battles and a belated reprise of the iconic “Go Go Power Rangers” theme. It’s certainly lively, seeing how far Israelite goes updating the Rangers action in a post-Michael Bay world. It’s also the film’s low point.
At a little over two hours, the movie takes a long time to get to its five leads getting into costume and battling Rita. The first two acts are the film’s best, playing like a weird high school-set sci-fi comedy. The intended audience appears to be young teens but anyone who digs a family-friendly Marvel movie will have a good time. This is the best Power Rangers movie to date and I was only embarrassed once that I was watching it.