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It’s Morphin’ Time!

Jason David Frank – or maybe you better remember him as Tommy Oliver – has to be credited as one of the driving forces behind the new Power Rangers movie. After the internet hyped some really great Power Ranger shorts, JDF approached series creator Haim Saban about the possibility of a mature Power Ranger movie following the Green Ranger (which would have been awesome to watch). Instead of limiting the film to just the Green Ranger, we get a full cinematic reboot of the series in the new film Power Rangers (2017).

These Rangers are very different from the ones we remember. While in the series Zordon instructs Alpha to recruit “teenagers with attitude,” the original Power Rangers severely lack the attitude. They are essentially “squeaky-clean” kids with martial arts skills. These new Power Rangers – screw ups, trouble makers, and even bullies – are edgier, bringing a certain amount of depth and realism to the characters. While the purists might see this as tainting the beloved heroes, to true intention is to sever the “campiness” which defined the series in favor of something more “realistic”.

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Photo: IMDB

Spoilers throughout.

The film starts out on a prehistoric Earth, where Zordon and the good Power Rangers are losing the battle with the evil Rita Repulsa. Unable to defeat the fallen Green Ranger, and unwilling to let her seize control of the all-powerful Zeo Crystals, Zordon calls in a meteor strike on his position – saving the crystals, defeating Rita, and killing himself and the dinosaurs in the process.

One of the major problems in Power Rangers lore, is it is surprisingly void of back story. We never really know the history and relationship between Zordon and Rita. We never know how she comes to possess the Green Ranger coin. And the power of the Zeo Crystals is slowly revealed over time. I think that this is a great addition, immediately introducing the history of the Zeo Crystals, and essentially giving us more information of Zordon and Rita than an entire twenty-three seasons of the television show combined.

Present day Angel Grove, heart-throb and star athlete Jason Scott is in the middle of school prank gone array, when he is arrested and sentenced to house arrest. This is a significant break from traditional Jason (and we never know exactly why he was executing the prank). At Saturday school, with the other delinquents, Jason intervenes to protect Billy Cranston from a school Bully. This is actually a great nod to the original show, as in the first episode Jason stands up to for Billy as well. We are introduced to Kimberly Heart cheerleader, bitchy-girl bully, and aspiring hair stylist.

Billy bribes Jason into joining him on a quest – for Gold – in exchange for a way to dupe Jason’s ankle monitor, and promising to let him borrow the world’s most stereotypical, ‘90s inspired mini-van. Through a series of unexpected events, all five Power Rangers find one another, and together they discover the Ranger Coins – unsure of what exactly they are. Unable to investigate the coins further, all five pile into the Cranston family mini-van to evade the police for trespassing on a restricted mine – when they are hit by a train.

All the Rangers awake the next day at home with newly acquired super strength. At school, they attribute their new-found powers to the mysterious coins they found, and decide to return to the quarry to investigate further. Here they begin testing the full extent of their powers, when Billy-the-klutz falls down a ravine, and discovers a buried alien spacecraft. Inside, the Rangers first meet Alpha 5.

Bills Hader’s Alpha is an infinite improvement over the original. Instead of a neurotic, highly anxious and grossly inefficient robot, the new Alpha is confident and efficient. We find that he was able to save dying Zordon by combining his consciousness with the ship’s super computer – something I seriously doubt the original could have done. In fact, the old Alpha hardly did anything more than cry “Ay yi yi”.

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Photo: IMDB

It is around this time in the film that Jason’s dads fishing boat (not that this really matters), pulls a mummified body from the sea. When the green eyes light up, we know that this is Rita Repulsa. Rita, if you remember is SUPPOSED to be sealed away in a space dumpster. In the series, after being locked away for 10,000 years, it is then that Zordon and Alpha recruit new Rangers to stop her. The movie flips this concept completely, as it’s the Rangers who find Zordon. An in what is one of many instances of lazy story telling in the film, Rita is released from the bottom of the sea by pure coincidence. The Rangers do not mistakenly free her and have to bear the responsibility release her; nor does her return coincide with the return of Zordon. No, the reemergence of both Rita-Zordon is pure happenstance.

Zordon tells the Rangers they need to begin training so they can learn to activate their armor, reach their full potential, and protect the Earth from Rita’s evil. Overwhelmed, the Rangers leave denying their calling to be heroes.

The Power Rangers begin their training, without discovering the secret of morphing into their armor. Alpha instructs them in the martial arts, showing yet again, how the current Alpha is actually an asset to the Rangers instead of a hindrance. We see the Zords for the first time. While we the love Dinozords, we cannot help but wonder why some have six legs? If the Zords were created during the time of the dinosaurs – taking the form of the most powerful creates on Earth at the time – why do some of them have 6 legs? My paleontology is armature, but I do not remember learning about sexpedal dinosaurs.

This portion of the movie really started to drag for me, as the film somehow manages to stretch three very simple concepts out indefinitely. (1) The Rangers are unable to morph, since they do not completely trust one another, frustrating Zordon and the Rangers alike. (2) Rita is on a quest for gold (much like Goldmember, she too loves “Goooooold”) so she can create Goldar to steal the Zeo Crystals for her. (3) The Power Rangers have secrets they insist of hiding from the others – such as Billy’s discovery of the Zeo Crystals, buried underneath 40 minutes’ worth of Krispy Kreme product placement.

I really appreciate the character of Zordon in the film. He was not the one-dimensional, wise and benevolent mentor trapped in a vacuum tube, lacking purpose and characterization. Instead, we discover that Zordon – the original Red Ranger – is using the new Rangers as a means to revive himself. Once the Rangers learn to access the Zeo Force and morph into their armor, Zordon will (as the envy of every evil super computer ever) become capable of transferring his consciousness back to his body.

Jason learns this and loses all respect for Zordon for using his team and not believing in their ability to defeat Rita. The Rangers, growing together as a team, decide that in spite of Zordon’s betrayal they have to attack Rita – who was creeping on Trini earlier. They find Rita at the docks and are quickly overwhelmed. Billy gives up the location of the Crystals to protect his friends, and is rewarded with a quick death. The defeated Rangers, crawl back to Zordon seeking guidance. The team’s shared guilt for the fallen Billy, inspired by his innocence and love for his first friends, unifies the Rangers and activates the Zeo force. Zordon sacrifice himself, choosing to revive Billy instead of himself, and thus puts the fate of the world in the hands of the new Rangers.

Finally, the moment we’ve been waiting for! It’s Morphing time!

The Rangers suit up and prepare to take on Rita, again. Unlike the show, a majority of the fighting takes place in Zords – a very refreshing break from tradition – though it would have been fun to see more fighting with armor. Rita’s putties – instead of being made out of putty – resemble large rock people. And Goldar, instead of being a blue-winged-ape-man, is a liquid metal monster without eyes. Personally, I prefer the crappy costumes where the mouths don’t move to the crappy looking CGI, but to each his own.

There is a random scene where Jason abandons his Zord to save his father, trapped in a truck catching fire. It really doesn’t add anything to the film, other than some sweet Red Ranger hand-to-hand combat. All of the scenes trying to demonstrate the strained father-son relations between the males in the Scott household are really a waste of time should have just been cut.

Rita makes Goldar grow, and easily overwhelms the five Dinozords by pushing them into a massive lava crater. The Zords now combine in the lava to create a gigantic humanoid Zord now in the form of the Earth’s most powerful creature – a human. The Megazord is born, or the “Mama-zord” as Billy originally names it. The Megazord defeats Goldar in the end, and launches Rita in a team-rocket inspired exit into outer space. We can only hope that she is on her way to establishing her moon palace, but unfortunately, she never mentions her terrible “headache” caused be the Rangers. The film ends with the Rangers celebrating their victory and embracing their destiny as the new protectors of Earth (or at least Angel Grove).

The best parts of the movie are clearly the throw backs to the original series. Like when the herd of Dinozords first roll into battle and the “go, go Power Rangers” theme plays, teleporting the audience back to 1993. Or when the Power Rangers do finally face Rita and she throws her staff and yells our favorite line from the show, “make my monster grow!” After all, the movie wouldn’t be a Power Rangers movie without that one! After the Rangers save the day, original actors Kimberly Jo Johnson and Jason David Frank are among those celebrating the victory and posing for pictures with the towns newest heroes. There are two great moments which foreshadow the arrival of Scorpina, and the appearance of Tommy Oliver, in future films.

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Photo: IMDB

Bryan Cranston, accustomed to playing monsters in the original series makes a damn good Zordon. Elizabeth Banks plays a fantastic Rita who pushes the character in new directions but also remains in line with the original character. As far as the Rangers go R.J. Cyler – who plays Billy – really seems to steal the show, capturing the spirit of the original Power Rangers in his performance.

I have strong love-hate feelings towards the film. The movie was fun, the movie was entertaining, but there are terrible parts of the film. The first is the CGI. Ironic considering the horrendous production quality of the show (something we understood and laughed about even as children). The CGI is only okay, but not even really up to the standard of today. Instead of depth or detail, all these post-production shots seem to have a blurred quality to them, and give the impression that they were created on a limited budged, and an even shorter timeline.

The soundtrack lacks a cohesiveness to the music selection. The soundtrack seems to have been created by random iTunes shuffle, jumping from country, to Tron inspired electronica, to Kayne West depending on the scene. Considering that one of the best qualities of the show is the guitar solos played by the world’s greatest guitarist, the movie leaves much to be desired.

While there are plot holes and slow moments, there is only once scene in the film which feels terrible. The Rangers decide to go team building. Huddled around a bond fire, drinking beer, they decide to reveal their “secrets” to one another. That isn’t an issue – especially since it is an important team building moment for the characters (though, the original Rangers never would have TOUCHED beer). The issue is when Zack and Trini didactically discuss her sexual origination. It feels sloppy, forced, and superficial. And I really hated it.

Especially since earlier in the film, in an interaction between Jason and Billy, Billy reveals his Autism. I thought this was outstanding, and a bold move for a – well, whatever genre a Power Rangers movie falls into. But this moment between the characters feel genuine, it feels natural, and it doesn’t feel like the filmmakers are taking a moment to “teach” the audience like this is an after-school-special. Since the show first premiered, it has always been praised for its diverse casting, so it is logical that the filmmakers would expand this diversity beyond simply race and social-class. But the scene around the campfire just felt like sloppy writing, a quick way to make a point, instead of making the characters earn it.

The other major shortcoming of the film, is the absence of nostalgia. Apart from the few I mentioned above – it was really quite disappointing that there were not more nods to the original source material. I would have loved to hear the Power Rangers guitar rift a few times throughout the film. It would have been awesome had during the training montage, Zordon introduced the group to their full arsenal of Power Weapons. It also would have been fantastic had the filmmakers slipped the voice of the original Zordon – David Fielding – somewhere in the film. And let’s not kid ourselves, we would have loved to see the rest of the original cast, Austin St. John, Walter Jones, and David Yost, all make appearances as well.

I think that the biggest failure of the film is an issue of focus. In the series, the Power Rangers were the focus of the story. We didn’t care much for the characters high school alter egos, as the story was about the Power Rangers, their battle with Rita. This film – and the undue focus on their high school lives – is akin to making Raider of the Lost Ark but focusing most of the attention on the personal life of Indiana Jones. While many millennials have enjoyed the film, it is clearly Power Rangers for a new generation.

There it is – sorry for the essay. If nothing else, I think we can all agree that it was better than Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie (1997). Did you see the film? What did you think of this new Power Rangers film?