POWER RANGERS: Late In Game Reboot Morphs With THE BREAKFAST CLUB
Entertaining without being too campy or ironic, Power Rangers gives its target audience what they’re looking for - sentiment and nostalgia.
Power Rangers takes the venerable Saturday morning TV franchise and morphs it through a food processor with Chronicle and of all things, The Breakfast Club. The result is a surprisingly entertaining, youth-oriented adventure that knows enough not to take itself too seriously while not letting its tongue get stuck in its cheek.
Modern Fanboys Too Young to Remember Original Series?
A lot of the fanboys who continually inflate the stock for Marvel Studios are too young to remember the heyday of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. The original series, which book-ended video opening and closing segments featuring American actors, was largely cobbled together out of action and special effects sequences from a Japanese television show with a distinctly kaiju sensibility – were talking about genuine man-in-rubber-suit monster stuff. And ironically, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers hit American airwaves at a time when superhero-themed properties didn’t look like they had much of a future.
The seminal 1978 Superman starring Christopher Reeve had been followed by a string of increasingly disappointing sequels, and the 1989 Michael Keaton Batman seemed destined for the same fate. Marvel properties hadn’t fared that well. The Incredible Hulk had been loosely adapted into a late seventies TV show more popular with non-comic book fans than aficionados. Captain America had also been adapted for a couple of humiliating TV movies in 1979 starring Reb Brown, while a 1990 feature mainly notable for starring The Catcher in the Rye author JD Salinger’s son in the title role. The Amazing Spider-Man had a short run on TV, played by Nicholas Hammond, best-known as one of the Von Trapp kids in The Sound of Music.
Timely Reboot or Crass Cash Grab?
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, by contrast, ran for six years and spawned a feature film -as well as spinoffs that never really stopped. Although the Power Rangers phenomenon did a great deal to convince many that superheroes were basically a Saturday morning genre, they were there and making money before the Marvel revolution was sparked in 2000 by Bryan Singer’s X-Men. That’s the irony here – that now it’s Power Rangers making the cash grab once the superhero movie had been established as a legitimate genre.
There can’t be any serious question that the current wave of superhero movies would create a tempting market opportunity for the Power Rangers, which paved the way for the more expensive and arguably more respectable Marvel and DC adaptations. That begs the question as to whether or not this is a timely reboot or just a crass cash grab. The answer is a bit of both, but in either event, it’s entertaining in its own quirky way.
We meet our heroes after a Green Lantern-esque, subtitled prologue where extraterrestrial hero Zordon (Bryan Cranston) dukes it out one last time with super villainess Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) on Earth, but in the cage of the dinosaurs. The scene is confusing, particularly to newcomers, but at least serves as a reminder that superhero action is in the offing, even as the story veers without warning into John Hughes territory. That most of them meet during Saturday detention obviously channels The Breakfast Club, and the entire movie revolves to some degree around teenagers from diverse environments finding common ground.
Teen Heroes Even More Diverse This Time Around
As in the original series, the Power Rangers are an ethnically diverse group of high school students, edgier and if anything, even more diverse this time. The original Rangers were ethnically diverse, but otherwise mainstream yearbook stars. The new Rangers add the autism spectrum and alternative sexuality to the mix. In point of fact, the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers were so apparently asexual that discussion of sexual orientation never even entered the equation.
The movie also goes to pains to make the new Rangers an edgier and more troubled group. Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery) is the WASPy star quarterback of the Angel Grove High School football team, who’s rebelling against his squeaky clean image with a bizarre prank that involves tethering a cow in the locker room – only it’s actually a bull whose surprisingly calm demeanor that may be due to Jason’s co-conspirator having “milked it…,” – never questioning that it only had one teat.
Starting a season-ending run of Saturday detentions, he meets cheerleader Kimberly (Naomi Scott), who’s serving her weekend time for her role in posting an online, intimately of a classmate, and Billy (RJ Cyler), a nerdy brain who’s “on the spectrum,” and whose recent experiment blew up a lunchbox.
Everyone Hangs Out at the Quarry
Billy disables Jason’s ankle bracelet monitor, and gets him to a quarry outside of town where some of their fellow detentionees, Zack (Ludi Lin) and Trini (Becky G.), are just hanging around like normal teens, practicing kung fu, yoga and what-not (What? Your friends don’t do this?). One of Billy’s explosions exposes an underground cavern that turns out to be a great place to hide an extraterrestrial spacecraft.
Billy’s explosion also unearths mysterious colored crystals, and by the following morning our five unsuspecting heroes-to-be find they’ve suddenly acquired super strength and speed. On a return trip to the cave, they find a buried spaceship and meet Zordon, uploaded to the ship itself, and robot sidekick Alpha 5 (Bill Hader,) who basically tells them they’ve been drafted into a cosmic superhero group and begins to guide their Ranger training so that they can “morph” into those Crayola suits.
Zordon, an Oz-like floating head in the original, is reimagined here as a wall-sized pin-screen toy, and it isn’t the most visually interesting effect. Cranston’s presence is not, however, mandated by the Cranston Casting Act of 2012, which required that all Hollywood feature films have at least a Bryan Cranston cameo in order to qualify for a distribution deal. Early in his career, Cranston did a couple of uncredited voiceover roles for the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (Twinman and Snizard, if you’re dying to know), and his participation here qualifies as an Easter Egg – the original Pink Ranger Amy Jo Johnson and original Green/White Ranger Jason David Frank also appearing in on-screen cameos.
The eerily Efron-esque Montgomery is a perfectly serviceable front man, but he rapidly gives ground to Cyler, whose twitchier, quirkier and more entertaining Billy is the character who gives the movie most of its heart. Lin, the Black Ranger, comes off like a surprisingly old-fashioned action hero, a tough guy who loves his sick mother and could easily resurface in another action franchise.
Becky G, as Yellow Ranger Trini, finds the humor in a moody teenage girl finding she’s a superhero, and makes the most of it. Naomi Scott plays Pink Ranger Kimberly, like a Josh Schwartz teen drama character, and lo and behold, it might be exactly what this late in the game reboot needs.
Don’t expect our young heroes to grab their newly discovered colored power coins and start morphing. We’re in for a journey of character exploration worthy of a Spider-Man origin movie, or a YA novel. But while this is going on, Rita Repulsa gets caught in a fishing boat net and is wreaking all sorts of planet-endangering havoc. This actually does generate some suspense – when are these kids going to morph and do something about all this? Banks is clearly having a ball and it shows. She embraces the lunacy inherent in the entire premise and exudes a manic energy that’s infectious.
Director Dean Israelite Gets the Tone Right
South African director Dean Israelite (Project Almanac) has a strong sense of pacing, and juggles the not inconsiderable technical demands capably. The obligatory CGI action more than holds its own in the post-Transformers landscape. He also looks to the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and its tokusatsu roots for inspiration for the movie’s extended action climax, and comes up with something that amazingly doesn’t really look like anything in recent memory.
His mastery of the movie’s tone may be even more important. He wisely avoids any sense of adolescent smirkiness or faux wry irony. If anything, he might lean a little too far towards portentousness but it’s almost certainly the better choice. And, for better or worse, he handles the movie’s undisguised, unrepentant product placement for Krispy Kreme with jaw-dropping unselfconsciousness.
Not Enough of the “Go Go Power Rangers” Song
Anyone with sentimental fondness for the original series (and make no mistake, there are many) will wish that when the main characters finally morph they did it with the verve of the original, perhaps intoning the name of the their totem-like Zord creatures. And there’s just not enough of the pulse-quickening “Go Go Power Rangers” theme song. The song, delightfully cheesy, has the same sort of talismanic appeal that the Monty Norman 007 theme has in James Bond movies. And it’s been covered by Metallica, which should give it some sort of pop culture legitimacy.
Entertaining without being too campy or ironic, Power Rangers gives its target audience what they’re looking for. Ultimately, sentiment and nostalgia will have a lot to with this reboot’s fate.The prime audience for this feature reboot is almost certainly the now young adult crowd who adored the original TV version as elementary school age children. The box office success of the new reboot rests almost entirely on that audience turning out in sufficient numbers, and that may depend on whether or not they feel the material’s been treated well – and they should.
Audiences should be aware that there is a scene inserted during the end credits, and it will leave fans of the original series cheering. Leave early at your own risk.
What do you think? Is POWER RANGERS just a belated cash grab, or is the nostalgia audience going to turn this into a hit? Tell us what you thought in the comments below!
Power Rangers was released worldwide on March 24, 2017. For all international release dates, see here.
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