The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers first premiered on Fox Kids back in August of 1993. Since then, over twenty different incarnations of a mighty troupe of teenagers, all adorning various sources of powers, stepping up as the Rangers. The franchise has spanned from television, movies, comic books, video games, toys and collectibles, and even the live stage. Just over twenty-three years later, the original Power Rangers, of the Mighty Morphin variety, have been given the modern cinematic reboot treatment.
Like just about every instance of Hollywood cashing in on consumers’ nostalgia, and bringing back a classic franchise, there are some changes that may or may not sway certain viewers. For starters, and the most glaringly obvious, is the update to the suits. One of the most iconic images to come out of the early 90s is arguably those Rangers we love announcing their lead in, “it’s morphing time,” before appearing in their lovely morph suits. The new versions of the suits are a lot more detailed and technical. Though this may hurt a Power Ranger purist, the updated suits are visually appealing and work well in this new version of Angel Grove.
Given the history, it will be hard not to look at the film through rose colored glasses for some. There are a few little odds and ends that a ranger fan may love to see that have been omitted from this updated version. For example, there are no dramatic movements in order for the rangers to morph. But, avoiding major spoilers, there are moments that are clearly nods to old-school fans that more than make up for these little deletions. One in particular requires a bit musical digression from the rest of the modern tunes, yet fits so incredibly well.
The central story in the new-age film adaptation seems like a basic origin story on the surface. Still, it weaves the various character backstories together rather organically without coming across as overbearing or burdening. Many origin stories at this point in the world of cinema are rather stale. Basically, they have all been told before. And when an origin story for a team is required, with so many stories to tell, it can be even worse. Power Rangers takes this in stride, sprinkling bits and pieces of origins throughout the entirety of the film instead of shot-gunning it all at once. This is taken even further by incorporating some new lore to the franchise with flashbacks going as far back as sixty-five million years ago. As crazy as that may seem, it works.
Instead of just pulling together a team of upstanding teenagers, the 2017 iteration of Power Rangers gives a little more depth to Jason, Kimberly, Billy, Trini, and Zack. Treading on that fine line that many recent movies have crossed, Power Rangers is a little edgier and darker than its down-right campy predecessor. A phrase like the Breakfast Club of superhero movies may have sounded impossible or crazy a few years ago, but that is exactly what Power Rangers attempts and succeeds at. Each character is given a full, angst-riddled, and modern story of ambitious yet troubled youth.
Speaking of these characters, the core rangers are as diverse as possible. Not only are different races represented between the five teens, but social, economic, and sexual differences are expressed and explored. Even intellectual disabilities are presented in a natural and non-offensive way. These differences are noted and noticeable without being shoe-horned in to the point of gimmicky and distasteful. An extra nod of appreciation should be given to Lionsgate for not exploiting this in advertisements as well.
As far as the acting of these characters is concerned, with the exception of a few moments of over-the-top angst, they are all expertly executed. In the two hours and four minutes that the movie has to introduce everyone, raise the stakes, let everything fall apart, and rebuild spirits, the core group presents comedy, aggression, desperation, sadness, and triumph. Over all, no emotional response is overdone to the point of distracting.
There are a few moments, however few and far between, that include the almost tropish heart-to-hearts in which they feel like caricatures of modern teens. Trini Kwan, played by singer-songwriter Becky G can be a little too edgy for her own good. Zack Taylor, performed by Ludi Lin, seems to be trying too hard to be the wacky, wildcard of the team. Kimberly Heart, portrayed by Naomi Scott, comes across as the high school sweetheart stuck in the dead-end-town a little too strongly. Jason Lee Scott, brought to life by Dacre Montgomery, struggles with the internal conflicts of being the leader a little harshly. Billy Cranston, acted by RJ Cyler, well, hits every note flawlessly. It is important to note that this is just a minor complaint given how infrequently these brash characterizations occur. Outside of one five or so minute scene about an hour and fifteen minutes into the movie, the struggles of teenage development and the fictional weight put on their shoulders to save the world come across as surprisingly natural.
Beyond this core group of five, the cast is rather light in numbers. There are a few scenes involving support from parents or other auxiliary characters, but other than that, it is really just the five rangers, Rita Repulsa, Zordon, and Alpha 5. Elizabeth Bank’s portrayal and presentation of Rita is the largest digression from the original, but in a way that works. Her down right creepy and almost horror movie-like introduction to the film coupled with the growth and development in the monstrous powerhouse she becomes is a little shaky at times. Only, in a manner that indicative of the character. It is very much a fish out of water of a villain, that fits into the movie. Zordon, brought back to life by Bryan Cranston, still expertly portrays a range of emotions and leadership capabilities as just a face on a wall. Finally, Bill Hader’s version of Alpha 5 is the unexpected comic relief that is refreshing and sometimes needed.
One thing that was not expected was the real, almost adult level of comedy. There are moments that can catch viewers off guard. And this is in the best possible way. Some of the jokes and scenes are not quite indicative of a classic kids’ show. If anything, this shows a level of growth and development reflecting the demographic that grew up with the series.
This new version of Angel Grove, the town in which the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers operate, feels indicative of current America. A bit of the brightly colored and cheerful exterior that was presented back in the early 90s has become more diverse, toned down, and real. The setting will build a more realistic sense of danger and relatability for many viewers. It is not that often that the major cinematic adventures and superheroics of present day are taken outside of major metropolitan areas; whether real or fictional derivatives. The movie also made a point of subtly explaining why such a small piece of Americana could have such importance in the world.
The final noteworthy feature of this feature film is the special effects. As mentioned before, the morphing into the ranger suits is a little clunky, played out, and choppy. The style of having a suit of armor essentially grow out of the individual has been done many times, and though it works, could have been altered to give a little unique transition. Aside from that, the minions of Rita Repulsa, the Putty Patrollers, are believable and seamless. Though a vast change from the original, Goldar’s effects are smooth and identifiable for this version of the character.
The dreams of many nostalgic 90s babies have finally come true with a strong reboot to the timeless Mighty Morphin Power Rangers in the form of the 2017 block buster Power Rangers. Jason, Kimberly, Billy, Trini, and Zack return to the screen, and our lives, in an outrageously fun and balanced movie. Though the surface level of the plot appears rather simplistic, the film delves deeper into character backstory and world development in a way that is not cumbersome. With a richer-than-expected story portrayed through a diverse cast of characters in a believable world with an array of emotional tells, Power Rangers is sure to delight tried and true fans as well as newcomers to the franchise. For now, it’s morphing time!