Review: Power Rangers

Tonally whack Power Rangers reboot can’t quite sell the franchise pitch. Entertaining enough, if overlong, unfocused and ultimately forgettable.

Perhaps fitting for a film that revolves around slightly stroppy, brightly clad teens who come together to fight enormous evil golems while riding strange robots that meld together to create an even bigger strange robot, the brand new outing of the long running mighty morphing Power Rangers is a strange beast.

Predominantly Riverdale-lite with a very late in the game dash of CGI-overload monster movie mayhem, this latest reboot of the OTT Japanese martial arts throw-down series badly dubbed and recut with new material for American audiences from 1993, there’s something to be said for the vaguely serious approach taken by relative newcomer, Project Almanac director Dean Israelite.

From a dubious bull masturbation joke to an admittedly visceral car chase scene and a Weiner-like sexting scandal, Israelite’s addition to the cannon takes its time to establish the admittedly not-all-that-memorable outcasts who will eventually megazord together in perfect harmony.

John Gatins, who also worked on that other so-so monstrous reboot Kong: Skull Island, is on screenplay duty with a small squadron of storywriters behind him. They take a mighty long time to establish the various woes of our band of pretty and impressively diverse misfits making their way through the high school daze of sleepy Angel Grove.

The heroes who don’t know they’re destined to save the world, thanks to some long-buried glowing rings from dino times (it’s complicated) includes Australian actor Dacre Montgomery as bland jock and would-be Red Ranger Jason, Naomi Scott as the slightly sparkier Kimberley (Pink), and the screen time-poorer Ludi Lin and Becky G as Zack (Black) and Trini (Yellow) respectively.

The eminently likeable RJ Cyler is the only actor graced with much meat on the bones as future Blue Ranger Billy, an autistic young man obsessed with tech and uncovering the gold of days gone by, hence unwittingly discovering the power up rings that will empower them in a mining quarry via a nonsensical near-death experience that remains glaringly unexplained.

Ms G would most likely have been more interesting if the Yellow ranger’s laudable ‘coming out’ weren’t so wilfully obtuse and then completely ignored, so much so that some audience members may blink and miss that commendable equality drive altogether.

Despite the long-winded but thinly drawn characterisations, the kids are all likeable enough to get by on cruise control for younger audiences in particular, though the then interminable stretch before getting to the action may lose many. Even on discovering a buried spaceship populated by a wasted Bryan Cranston in massive CGI wall face form and similarly squandered Bill Hader as Lost in Space-style sassy robot Alpha 5, the Power Rangers take a very long time to fight anything at all, barring each other and some holograms in repetitive training montages.

Elizabeth Banks rocks up late as classic series villain Rita Repulsa, the laughably named ex-ranger with centuries-long beef returned from the dead to take down this new batch of do-gooders, but once again she doesn’t really have much to work with and, much like the movie, can’t quite strike the balance between all-out camp comedy and parentally approved, softly softly menace.

What Power Rangers really needed to do was embrace its joyously daft premise. Whatever Kripsy Kreme paid for their truly bizarre product placement in the shape of a surreal recurring joke, they are to be commended as the only participant on the right page, gleefully upstaging everyone else involved – barring Cyler – including a mid-donut gorge Banks.

Despite the odd pacing and po-faced nature, Power Rangers is a handsome-looking film with great cinematography by Netflix’ Daredevil director of photography Matthew J Lloyd, ensuring it feels a lot better than it has any right to. Some of the heavy lifting is done by the soundtrack too, including a maudlin take on Stand By Me by Bootstraps.

If the final act descends into substandard superhero smack-down shenanigans, at least the film knows it, with an on-the-nose Transformers joke landing like a wrecking ball on a nudge nudge yellow and black-striped car. If only Israelite could have struck a more sure balance between the off-the-wall humour and faux-serious drama, Power Rangers may have soared.

As it is, Israelite’s is a fun enough but instantly forgettable franchise pitch (complete with a weirdly teased team addition) that doesn’t seem to know who, exactly, it’s aiming for.

Stephen A Russell @SARussellwords