When the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers TV series began broadcasting in 1993, it was a television phenomenon that launched a still-running media franchise seen around the world. The showrunners of the original series probably didn’t expect to create pop culture history, but by virtue of how different their show was from children’s programming of that era, audiences lapped it up and its influence will still be seen for some time to come.
Saban’s Power Rangers adapts the original series’ teenage-pals-defeat-evil-with-explosions-and-self-discovery-premise for contemporary audiences by giving the main cast issues relevant to the Snapchat generation to deal with. Set in a suburban town, five misfit teenagers who share the same detention class make a cosmic discovery that simultaneously trivialises and solves their individual problems.
That’s about as complex as the plot gets. A film like this would have been considered dated if it was released five years ago. We’ve seen stories like these in X-Men (2000), Fantastic Four (2005), Hellboy (2004), and especially in the pinnacle (arguably) of the superhero team-up film, The Avengers (2012). These films all had different ways of standing out; for example, X-Men was the first successful attempt to tell this kind of story on the big screen, Hellboy had a unique premise, and The Avengers was one of the most expensive films ever made.
With a relatively unknown main cast and director, the biggest thing Saban’s Power Rangers has going for it is nostalgic appeal. Familiarity with the franchise & genre will guarantee the film a favourable performance at the box office, which I’m sure is exactly what studio executives were hoping for.
Retreading established tropes means there isn’t anything that one can consider wrong with the film. At its worst, we have bland but serviceable performances from most of the cast and inconsistent VFX quality. Dacre Montgomery’s Jason Scott is a paint-by-numbers teenage male protagonist, while Bryan Cranston’s and Elizabeth Bank’s considerable acting skills are wasted on one-dimensional characters. Goldar looks like a VFX student’s test render in every scene except the final battle, and the Ranger’s suits look like jerky puppets in some scenes.
However, when the film gets good, it gets really good. RJ Cyler’s Billy Cranston was written as a character that draws the rest of the Rangers together, but his performance brought so much sincerity and innocent guile to the role that audience members sniffled after a climactic Billy scene. Becky G’s performance as Trini also deserves praise as the only other member of the main cast that didn’t seem to be doing dramatic reading. The film also seems to recognise that it wouldn’t even be considered for industry accolades for writing, so effort is devoted to making their action scenes work, and it shows. A lot of time is spent building up to one triumphant scene where the Rangers finally have access to their full arsenal, and when it happens, the adrenaline kicks in and stays pumping for most of the last act.
Saban’s Power Rangers won’t leave a similar imprint on the cultural consciousness like the original series because it doesn’t want to. The film is content to be a popcorn flick, and even though there’s nothing wrong with that, considering the legacy of the franchise its based on, there’s a lot of wasted potential.
Saban’s Power Rangers gets a 3.5/5 rating.
Written by Chris Sim. Special thanks to Cathay-Keris Films.