You can take the Japanese-shot footage out of the Power Rangers, but can you take out the absurd goofiness inherent in the concept? Well, let’s see what happens when you try. Darren reviews.
Any film student worth their salt knows the Hero’s Journey. The supposed universal tale, that all western storytelling is based. Rather like a checklist, this idea has stages that the majority of western media follows, ticking the stages off almost by rote. It seems that a lot of the time it’s unintentional but by following it, while it does not automatically make your movie good, you will find it generally is going to hold the audience’s attention. The original tales are the classic myths; Odysseus, Perseus and Achilles. Nothing follows this mythic structure better than our own modern day gods and demi-gods, the superheroes.
Power Rangers tells the story of five teenagers (sans attitude) who find five mystic coins. This allows them to wake up, physically stronger than ever before. After leaping impossible distances and surviving a car crash with no memory of how, they find a buried alien spaceship. With the help of Alpha, the ships robot, and Zordon, a dead ex-ranger himself, it is up to our gang of newly minted heroes to prepare for war and help protect the earth from the destructive Rita Repulsa.
From my intro I think you know what you are in for with this kind of film. It’s your standard wish fulfilment story. It’s functional with some decent action, mediocre special effects and hammy acting from the scenery eating villain. The pacing is off though, ironically fitting its run time more like a television show than a feature length presentation. It’s everything you’d expect a Rangers movie to have. I will admit to squealing with surprisingly childlike glee when the theme song was played.
If you like the standard superhero fare that has become so required for the cinema these days, then you could do a lot worse. Why I find it interesting though is in the ways that it subverts or, more often, just plain messes up.
The character list draws from various walks of life. While the characters themselves aren’t always the most engaging, their backgrounds and stories are, reaching a wide audience in youth that needs to be catered for. Out of the main characters three are women, one of whom is the bad guy and isn’t the typical feminine type of villain you have come to expect. Two are POC and another is a visible LGBT character. One character is autistic, being portrayed both heroically and sensitively and, finally, there is no forced romance. In many ways all of this is a win; in others it’s sad that it has taken this long to get it. If this movie was a bigger success or just better marketed I could already see some of the outrage for it. Rangers is(as much as I hate the word) a millennial movie. Diverse, haphazard and not quite sure how it’s going to fit in.
While I feel like it gets all of this right the major misstep it makes is such a common one: it gets its own main character wrong. Jason is shown as our lead; the typical white guy protagonist. He’s a social pariah for some reason, he is seemingly charming and he’s struggling to come to terms with the world he lives in. However, like Kurt Russell in Big Trouble in Little China, the story isn’t about him. It’s about Billy, a shy autistic Black nerd who has recently lost his father. Unable to express, or at times, understand emotions, he is clearly our lead. From everything to the inciting incident that marks the end of the first act, to the return with the elixir in the final 20 mins, Billy is our protagonist.
Watching this formed a sort of cognitive dissonance as I tried to reconcile the two halves of my brain. One, telling me everything I know about films and stories. The other, a movie focusing on Jason, meant trying to separate him from the rest and attempting to grant him some unearned mantle of leadership.
Despite what the movie tries to show, it is clear who the main character is and if only they had of followed through we would have had such a stronger structure. Just because in the show the Blue Ranger wasn’t the leader does not mean that Billy isn’t the obvious choice. What sounds more interesting to you: a guy who has been sent to detention for a prank and now must become a superhero? Or a young intelligent man with no social peers, desperately trying to connect with people but finding himself unable to do so? Wanting to express the grief he feels for his father while trying to keep his new family together against outside forces because it is the only time he has been happy? I know which I’d rather have.
If you want to relive a misspent 90’s childhood or if you want to see a movie that is at least trying to be more than the sum of its parts, one that at least acknowledges different points of view, then I’d say give this one a shot. It’s not as bad as others I could name.