Jason Scott. Kimberly Hart. Billy Cranston. Trini Kwan. Zack Taylor.
It’s been some time since those were the names of a current Power Rangers team and I remember the original cast somewhat fondly. I remember watching the original series when I was 14 or so and it is a safe bet that many in their 20’s or 30’s grew up with at least one of the teams over the course of the multi-decades of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. One of my favorite memories ever was spending new years eve with a group of friends as we figured out a movie to watch, and we had finally decided on Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie. Now, that movie didn’t have the entire original cast as only Kimberly and Billy had remained on, but it was still a movie that was so bad that it was actually kind of good. You know the kind.
This new Power Rangers movie works as a reboot to the original team using the same names as the first five kids to discover that they were part of something much bigger than themselves. The movie changes a little bit of lore to make it work here and frankly, it all works quite well. I found that the film emphasized more on the kids themselves than any version of the tv series ever did, digging far deeper into who they are and most importantly, why they are.
The cast of this new team is a rather remarkable group of young actors that do a great job of getting you to actually care about them. You have Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery) as a high school ex-football player who was injured in a school prank. Kimberly Hart (Naomi Scott) was a popular girl who was cast out of her inner circle. Billy Cranston (RJ Cyler) is autistic and often bullied. Trini Kwan (Becky G) a new girl to school who has trouble making friends. Zack Taylor (Ludi Lin) who describes himself as a bit crazy but who also skips school to take care of his sick mother.
At first, I wasn’t sure about Becky G and Ludi Lin. I was completely sold on RJ Cyler as his Billy is a true highlight of the film and easily the most likable member of the cast. They do a great job on Dacre and Naomi with their set up of Jason and Kimberly, but again, I wasn’t sold on Becky G and Ludi Lin, at first. A bit more than halfway into the film you get to learn more about them and what makes them tick. They play defensive for a solid chunk of the film but once you get to know them, they become far deeper and richer characters and it is then that the whole team comes together quite well.
Bryan Cranston, technically the second B Cranston to feature in the movie is back in the Power Ranger world as Zordon. Back during the original series, Cranston played a few villains here and there and it almost became more of a silly bit of Power Rangers trivia than anything widely known. Cranston does a great job here as Zordon, even if the character is barely used to great effect. There is a very cool scene at the start of the film that features the actor and it does a great job at setting up what is in store for the new team that would replace his.
The annoying robot from the original series, Alpha 5, is back and voiced by Bill Hader. They did a pretty good job at making him a fairly new version of the character but still retaining the essence of the Alpha 5 from the original series. He has some pretty laughable moments guiding the Power Rangers around their new base as well as the many training moments in the film. It took me a little while to get used to Hader as the character as he doesn’t do much to change his own voice.
I will say that the only actor to let me down in the movie is the one on-screen that didn’t really have much to lose; Elizabeth Banks. While the rest of the on-screen cast of young actors are giving their all in the possibility that this is their big break, Banks just seems to bring too much cheesy-ness to a movie that is trying to be somewhat silly but more grounded than what Banks is trying to do with villain Rita Repulsa. The scene of her in the jewelry store felt like part of a completely different movie and one that stood out for me, in a bad way. I like parts of what she did like the visit to Trini in the middle of the night or the confrontation at the shipping yard, but overall I felt she didn’t give near as much to the film as the Rangers themselves did.
While the movie does retain some of the classic lines like “It’s Morphin Time!’ and “Make my monster grow!” the movie does a good job at having its own identity and doesn’t fall into just making a live-action film that follows the tv show too closely. This is a modern Power Rangers for a current audience and it does stray away from a lot of what made the original series what it was, and the film is better for it. I mentioned before that this film digs into the personal and troubled lives of its Rangers far more than any of the series before it, and it does so in ways that will allow you to better relate to any of the characters in this film. This character building does come at a cost of the action, but generally, in films like this, you tend to not get this good of character building, so it’s nice to see that Director Dean Israelite chose to offer substance over style, at least where it counted.
The suits, the Zords and the other visual elements that are commercially viable for a movie essentially based on color coded ninja’s that attack with giant robots are put on hold for much of the film. This is an origin story and the build up and team building for the group feels real and is well paced. This is a group of teens that don’t know each other at the start of the film and they will need to go through much to get where they need to go, and they do. It’s also rather hilarious to even call them teens given the fact that the actors themselves range from 20-29 years of age.
The movie relies very little on big visual effects until the tail end of the film and while the suits look great, the Zords aren’t nearly as impressive but are fairly serviceable. The soundtrack is pretty decent throughout the film and for those hoping to hear a little “Go Go Power Rangers” music, you’ll be happy to know that, yeah, they do sneak it in there for a quick scene.
Power Rangers was great, a much better film than I was expecting. The trailers themselves weren’t terribly impressive, but it’s the final film that matters and it succeeds. The group of relatively unknown actors do a great job as the new group of Rangers, coming across as very real people with real backgrounds and problems. Elizabeth Banks is probably the only actor that failed to live up to the standard to which the rest of the cast held themselves to and this version of Rita Repulsa deserved better. I’m excited to see the future of this hopeful franchise and who knows, maybe we’ll get a new version of Zedd, or another Ranger down the line.
It’s Morphin Time!