A film that is so much more than we expected.
I'll start with the rough: If you came for the robot dinosaurs, you're going to be a little disappointed that Power Rangers has a pretty disjointed climax. There's barely any roll out or transition when the titular characters hop into their robot rides (called Zords) and go to town on the giant golden golem called Goldar in downtown Angel Grove. It's a climax we've seen dozens of times before. At least there wasn't a portal in the sky.
Tonal transition isn't Power Rangers' strong suit. When the film opens, we follow Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery, a perfect Chris Pine clone) as he pulls a destructive football related prank in his school locker room, before crashing his truck into a cop car. This is where they choose to put the title smash against a black screen: POWER RANGERS
Wait, what? I settled into my seat. This did not bode well.
Jason loses his football scholarship (and his one way ticket out of Angel Grove), and gets sentenced to Saturday morning detention for the rest of the year. On his first day, he meets Kimberly (Naomi Scott), a disgraced cheerleader, and Billy (RJ Cyler), an autistic boy who nobody in school knows what to do with. Jason makes fast friends with Billy, immediately understanding and accepting his struggle. And now we like Jason.
Jason and Billy start hanging out, and end up tooling around near the old mine when they run into Kimberly and two more kids named Trini (Becky G) and Zack (Ludi Lin). They discover some mysterious coins about five minutes later, and well, you know the rest. They get super powers and costumes, and have to save the world from an alien witch named Rita Repulsa.
So why do I like this movie so much?
It's simple. I love these kids.
Well drawn characters can get you out of a lot of jams (hi Force Awakens), and Dean Israelite and John Gatins squeeze this orange of all its juice making us like these folks. I'm going to risk spoilers from here on out, gang, so if you're a bit phobic about knowing what happens in a superhero origin story, this is your out.
We know Jason and Billy's deal from the jump, that's the film's intended hook. Kimberly, however, is a mystery. She starts the film ostracized from her cheer squad and already in detention; we don't know why until the midpoint of the film. The twist? She slut shamed her friend on social media after she started dating her ex. Kimberly isn't out of her cheer squad because the plot demanded she be a misfit, she's out because did a bad thing -- and she's wracked with guilt about it.
Ludi Lin's Zack Taylor is another story. Zack is that self-advertised psycho we all met in school, the guy who would drink that mixture of chocolate milk and Mountain Dew we'd mess around with making in the cafeteria out of boredom. He constantly shouts how crazy he is and about how much he skips class, while stalking and skulking around abandoned trains. A lazy movie would have stopped there, but this one reveals Zack's covering up a very real and scary pain for a kid, letalone anybody: his mom is dying, and he's taking care of her. All the performative craziness is a mask - all to try and tamp down an inevitability he's not ready to face.
Trini Kwan, played by Becky G, is kind of a jerk. She's the most aloof of the five kids and staunchly refuses to hang out with any of them, even when (especially when) they're discovering their newfound Power Ranger Moves™. She plainly wants to be left alone.
So here's the thing, and you've probably read it on the news by now: Trini is gay. This isn't a winkingly ambiguous Beauty And The Beast Disney situation, either.
It's revealed when the kids are camping and trying to learn more about each other -- these Power Rangers are having trouble morphin', and they have to solve why. Y'know, plotty plot. So, they go around the campfire sharing their secrets out loud. When they get to Trini, somebody snarks that she probably "just has boyfriend problems", and Trini dismisses it. Zack prods further-- "Girlfriend problems?" Trini wells up and says nothing more. People might cry foul that this is ambiguous too, but it's clearly not meant to be read that way. It's a beautiful beat.
I'd watch this ensemble do anything, and these are the kids that have to save the world with colorful costumes and dinosaur cars. But, they're gonna need help that comes in the form of the training robot Alpha-5 (Bill Hader, in low-key great form) and the 65 million year old former Red Ranger named Zordon (Bryan Cranston). Cranston does well here too, playing a frustrated and mistrustful parent to these teens who are itching to show their worth. His arc is one of a teacher who so badly wants to come in and take over, but understands the cost of doing so.
Elizabeth Banks' Rita Repulsa is another story. She riffs on the old Barbara Goodson voice dub surprisingly well, bouncing between that and super creepy. It's good to see Banks stretch as a performer, but it's a strange character to begin with - and an even stranger take on her; it doesn't entirely work. She's part Shang Tsung from Mortal Kombat and part Poison Ivy from Batman and Robin; a distillation of the film's macro problem with tonal balance.
So, we're back to where I started. The movie goes full camp in the third act, with the song on blast as the Zords charge toward Angel Grove and face down the 100 foot tall monster. It's jarring but welcome. Choosing to have the Power Ranger bells, costumes, and whistles be the thing that the Jason, Billy, Trini, Zack, and Kimberly unlock within themselves toward the end of the film have both positives and negative results. On one hand, it's an uneven hop into Saturday Morning Cartoon territory, as the movie is forced to hide its hand re: revealing how bonkers it's willing to go.
But on the other, more positive hand, the robots and primary colors and the song are a result of the characters achieving an emotional synthesis. And really, those are the stakes right there. Not the Megazord suplexing Goldar (though that does happen), but these kids truly loving and accepting each other.
I'll follow these kids for eight more movies. Let's grow with them.
Terry Erickson is a screenwriter, lifelong film fan, and all around good guy based in Baltimore, MD. He's driven across America twice, is obsessed with Back To The Future, and loves almost everybody.