“Power Rangers” is the “Batman Begins” of its franchise, the gritty reboot that tells our heroes’ improbably lengthy and self-serious origin story and introduces them to a whole new generation (by which I mean the same generation as before, only 20 years older now).
Mind you, “gritty” is a relative term. The new film does have an intermittent “Friday Night Lights” vibe and a campfire scene of Power Rangers baring their souls to one another. (“What does this mean, when this is all over? Are we Power Rangers, or are we friends?”) Its 124-minute runtime and emphasis on brooding character backstories over actual heroics are evidence that it wants to be a respectable, grown-up kind of superhero movie, not just for kids.
And it certainly is more real-world than the cheap ’90s TV show it’s based on — but what isn’t? The film’s uncomplicated plot, undemanding stunt work, unconvincing special effects, and unpolished acting are reminders of its cheesy, simple-minded roots. Try though it might, it’s more “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (any of them) than “The Avengers.”
We begin at the end of a battle 65 million years ago, in the Earth’s Cenozoic Era. The incongruous melding of cool fantasy and baffling dorkiness that has always been this property’s Achilles heel comes to light as two latex-clad warriors fight ferociously while speaking a language whose subtitles are in the font of a fantasy computer game. One of the grapplers is named Zordon, which puts him right at home in a story like this. Zordon’s opponent is named … Rita. Rita Repulsa, we later learn.
But never mind them for now. In the present, in the all-American (actually Canadian) town of Angel Grove, we meet five high-school students representing your basic “Breakfast Club” types: Jason (Dacre Montgomery), the star quarterback who blew his chances with adolescent mischief; Kimberly (Naomi Scott), a newly disgraced cheerleader; Billy (RJ Cyler), an autistic science whiz; Zack (Ludi Lin), an unpredictable Asian-American wild man; and Trini (Becky G.), the lone wolf rebel.
These five, who attend the same school but don’t really know each other, become heroes primarily thanks to coincidence. One day they all happen to be in a canyon near their neighborhood, separately, when they all stumble upon ancient coins that give them super strength. (I am omitting some extraneous, nonsensical details, like how the coins aren’t activated until after the five are in a van that gets hit by a train, whereupon they all wake up, unharmed, in their beds at home, and the train thing is never explained. Or the fact that they only find the coins because Billy, acting on some vaguely referenced information from his departed father, blew up part of the mountain.) When they return to the canyon to test out their powers, the five accidentally fall into a submerged cavern where a friendly robot named Alpha 5 (voice of Bill Hader) introduces them to Zordon (Bryan Cranston), whose essence has been uploaded into the computer system of a spaceship that’s been hidden here for 65 million years. Zordon tells these five randos that since they found the coins, they must be the Power Rangers, whether they like it or not.
They mostly do not. Boy, you’ve never seen such a group of ungrateful teens as these newly invincible snowflakes who love having great power but grumpily refuse to accept great responsibility. Be part of a TEAM? With these STRANGERS? Harmonize our spirits so we can “morph” and gain EVEN GREATER POWER? Ugh, forget it. We’ll just keep the magic coins that give us super strength, thank you.
And so there is a lot of dickering and dissembling, ham-fistedly written (by John Gatins) and broadly, earnestly acted as the five half-heartedly try to unite by training with Alpha 5. Their ultimate purpose is to stop the evil Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks, working for a living), now reanimated after her desiccated corpse was recently, coincidentally discovered by a fishing boat — indeed, by Jason’s father (David Denham), because why pay an additional actor for a small role when you can just have someone already on the set say the lines? Rita intends to build a monster out of gold and have that monster, whose name will be Goldar (obviously), retrieve some magic crystal that will destroy the Earth, etc. You know the routine. The crystal is currently buried under a Krispy Kreme, mentioned by name 475,000 times.
It may interest you to know that the film is 90 minutes old — 75% over — before the team finally morphs into their costumes and does the whole “Power Rangers” thing. These origin-story reboots do sometimes take a while to arrive, but we don’t mind if the time is spent developing interesting characters and building a world in which future stories can take place. That is not that case here. These 90 minutes are not a tight 90 minutes, and these teenagers, though likable enough, are not particularly compelling, their personalities somehow still unformed despite the film having spent so much time on them.
When it comes to world-building, the film chickens out on being a big-boy movie and does what lame kids’ movies do: let the outlandish or illogical details stand and hope the audience isn’t discerning enough to care. The director, Dean Israelite (“Project Almanac”), shows occasional stylistic flourishes, suggesting a desire for legitimacy. But the wide, flat dopiness of the screenplay prevents the movie from rising above its tween-centric class.
C (2 hrs., 4 min.; )