2017. Directed by Dean Israelite.
2017’s first genuine surprise is here. An outright refusal to slip into the creature comforts of the spandex universe, Dean Isrealite’s Power Rangers doesn’t redefine the superhero film, it makes it actually matter. An intense, self-aware script plays to the strengths of a refreshingly diverse cast to deliver a crowd pleasing experience that is both playful and serious, mimicking the coming of age experience by telling a tale about self-acceptance and the importance of friendship.
Five misfits find mystical colored coins that turn them into the Power Rangers, a legion of larger than life soldiers who are charged with defending life. They begin training in an attempt to unlock their “morphs”, powered armor that not only protects them, but uses their mutual bonds as a weapon against the ultimate evil, a fallen Ranger with designs on Earth. John Gatins’ outstanding script checks every box on the list for a film like this, but rather than simply hitting the note and moving on to the next fight sequence, the story remains grounded in the plight of the young adults at its core. Featuring the first autistic and LGBTQ superheroes and a wonderful mix of campy and somber themes, Power Rangers takes it time, making you care about these personas as they discover who they really are.
Matthew J. Lloyd’s cinematography, particularly during the first two acts is sensational. It begins with a dizzying car accident sequence that sets the tone before transitioning into crisp close ups of the stunning and beautifully imperfect cast. These are real heroes, not pristine statues and the camera masterful captures their inner struggles while keeping the fantastical elements of the story present, but in the background. There’s an inverted underwater sequence offset by slick lighting that is the standout, a telling whisper that the genre can be so much more than what it currently is. There are moments of horror sprinkled throughout, with Elizabeth Banks’ Rita Repulsa obtaining gold in unspeakable ways, which is a reminder of the narrative’s refusal to be categorized. The pacing and gliding between themes may be a turn off, however it is indicative of the comic book brand. Many films of this type double down on the gritty or lighthearted side of the action, while Power Rangers asks “Why not both?” and it mostly works.
Sadly, the final act devolves into the standard destruction of the city/world ending scenario in which the heroes must save the day, but the fact that there is essentially only one fight sequence is astounding, and it doesn’t transpire until well over 90 minutes into the story. Isrealite’s faith in the material and his cast is evident in every scene. The matter of fact acceptance displayed by each character when confronted with their mortality is the centerpiece. Where other films chronicle the journey of a flawed hero to greatness, the Power Rangers use their flaws to strengthen their bonds through self-love and mutual respect, with their intimate knowledge of their compatriots being the key to their survival. Brian Tyler’s synth score encapsulates the teenagers vs. weirdness experience with pulsing tones and mysterious rhythms, touchstones to films where wonder and imagination are the real weapons against oppression and greed.
The CGI is well done and the lack of fight scenes allows it to not overstay its welcome. The television show involved big robots fighting big creatures, concepts that beg for this kind of treatment and the film delivers, not only showcasing interesting vehicles, but using slick editing to allow the viewer to actually comprehend what is happening once the mayhem begins. Banks’ villain is underdeveloped, which is a hallmark of the genre, but her presence is menacing to the point that the final confrontation will have your attention, if only for her dedication to the melodrama.
In theaters now, Power Rangers is a welcome injection of fun and maturity to the blockbuster experience. It’s not a perfect film by any means, but its patient storytelling, exceptional camera work, and perfect cast more than compensate for its expected shortcomings. The studio has a six movie arc planned and if this film is an indicator of the possibilities for the franchise, viewers can expect great things if it succeeds.
Highly. Highly Recommend.