Power Rangers REVIEW
Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery) has just blown his big chance at a professional football career and, perhaps, his knee. Billy Cranston (RJ Cyler) blew up a locker and didn’t really notice because he’s so focused on excavating at his dad’s old mine. Kimberly Hart (Naomi Scott) is in detention for doing something she may never forgive herself for. Zack Taylor (Ludi Lin) splits his time between looking after his sick mother and battling the terror that she’ll never get better. Trini Kwan (Becky G) is on her third school in three years and just wants to be left the Hell alone.
They all end up at the old mine at the same time. And when Billy’s excavations go a little too well they discover a group of mysterious coins. Coins that glow, give them incredible strength and speed. And the coins eventually compel them all back to the mine, where their true destiny as Power Rangers awaits.
Power Rangers is going to be one of the oddest movies you see this year. It’s got absolutely the same cheese level as the original series but it’s all delivered in a very straight-faced way that works surprisingly often. The opening sequence in particular, which establishes just why Zordon (Bryan Cranston) is a wall now is surprisingly well done and hints strongly at the wider continuity the producers have been talking about recently.
The Krispy Kreme product placement is so egregious that a Krispy Kreme sits atop the most important spot on Earth? That doesn’t work so well. Or, in fact, at all.
But before we get to that there’s a lot to enjoy, and surprisingly little of it actually involves the Power Rangers Power Rangering. Most of this movie is basically the Science Fiction Breakfast Club, with Kim, Billy and Jason all meeting in detention. There’s a well-handled sense of Angel Grove being an actual small town too, with Billy’s dad angrier that his son has blown his chance to leave than at what Jason actually did. None of the kids actually want to be in Angel Grove, they all have good reasons to not like it and that makes their decision to stand and fight all the more meaningful.
Plus the five central performances are all really strong. Dacre Montgomery, who we’ll see next in Stranger Things, gives Jason a scrappy, principled anger that makes him much more interesting and troubled as a team leader than you’d epxect. Naomi Scott’s Kim struggles with crippling guilt over a recent decision and that self-hatred ties directly into the team’s training montage. Ludi Lin’s Zack is a surprisingly great, and very sympathetic, posturing troublemaker convinced he’s not brave enough for anything so tries everything. Becky G’s Trini is a wonderfully snarly loner who keeps her cards close to her chest. Much has been made of the movie ducking her sexuality and we accept absolutely that some people will view the way its explored doesn’t go far enough. For us, it does and the sight of the first canonically LGBT Power Ranger the same week as Bill on Doctor Who is confirmed as gay makes us very, very happy.
But this is Billy’s movie. RJ Cyler has one of the hardest jobs here. He’s required to be the comic relief, the technical genius and the heart of the movie and nails all three. Billy openly talks about his autism and it’s never once used as a stick to beat the character with or a cheap gag. Billy is brilliant, in every way and his absolute honesty is one of the things that ties the team together. Plus, much like Lin’s Zack, his backstory is presented in a manner that’s refreshingly pragmatic and all the more touching for that.
Without these five central performances, the movie would collapse and there’s not a weak link amongst them. The rest of the cast impresses too. Bill Hader’s exuberant Alpha 5 is great fun and Bryan Cranston gets a surprising amount to do as Zordon. One of the movie’s strongest elements is the way it makes Billy’s team’s story as much about as Zordon letting go as them taking over.
And then there’s Rita Repulsa. And the problems.
Elizabeth Banks is great, as always. But the moment the name “Rita Repulsa” is spoken aloud for the first time the film wobbles. The moment we find out she’s been stalking Angel Grove and killing people with Gold teeth, it wobbles again. The moment she discovers the Zeo Crystal is beneath a Krispy Kreme and the film stops for a few seconds while Rita eats one, it essentially breaks in two and never quite recovers. It’s a crunching gear change down from the fun, interesting character-led SF of the first three quarters and the film struggles mightily to get back on track.
Even when it does, it never quite recovers all the way. The closing action sequence is great if a tiny bit weightless but the penultimate beat relies on Rita being amazed at something that she, under no conceivable circumstance, could not have seen coming. It’s clunky in a way the rest of the film isn’t even if the actual closing fight is surprisingly visceral and high stakes.
But for all that, this is a fantastic update of 75% of the Power Rangers story, and a pretty solid update of the other 25%. Some elements fall flat (the opening joke is exactly as…“WHAT?!” as you may have heard) but the core of the movie is the team themselves and they’re great. So, while the final quarter does feature more than one misstep this is still a surprisingly good time. And with any luck, the next movie will dial the product placement down to under Michael Bay-like levels.
Now, who wants a Krispy Kreme?
Review by Alasdair Stuart
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