Sunday, March 26, 2017

Movie Review: Saban's Power Rangers

Disclaimer: This review will contain spoilers. Don't read it unless you've already watched the movie or unless you don't care about being spoiled. I like to analyze movies, and I can't really do that unless I spoil the movie. You have been warned.

I saw Saban's Power Rangers today, and I also decided to start this new blog today. So this will be my first review on this blog. I had wanted to do a vlog in which I talk about movies for a while, but I decided to go this route, since blogging is more my speed than making videos.

I went to see this movie because of the nostalgia factor. I grew up with the Power Rangers. I even played Power Rangers at school during recess (and got made fun of for it). If you're unfamiliar with the show, Zordon is an alien from the planet Eltar who was trapped in a transdimensional tube by Rita Repulsa, the show's evil baddie. He has a helper, Alpha V, who does his work for him, since Zordon is limited regarding what he can do. Rita was locked in a dumpster for 10,000 years on the Moon and is freed by a couple of hapless astronauts. Since Rita is now a threat to the Earth (she wanted to conquer the nearest planet, you see), Zordon asks Alpha to teleport in five teenagers "with attitude." So Alpha transports in five friends: Jason Scott, Billy Cranston, Kimberly Hart, Trini Kwan, and Zack Taylor. He gives them all their power crystals and morphers, and tells them they are going to become the Power Rangers, color-coded superheroes who will protect the world from Rita and her henchmen (Jason is red, Billy is blue, Kimberly is pink, Trini is yellow, and Zack is black).

Before I continue, there was some controversy with the show because the creators unintentionally made Zack, who was African-American, the Black Ranger, and Trini, who was Asian, the Yellow Ranger. Of course, this is a completely dumb thing to complain about. You might as well say the Atlanta Braves are racist for making their white team members wear white jerseys. It was unintentional on the part of the creators of the show. And of course, no one complained when Tommy Oliver, who had Native American roots, was made the Red Zeo Ranger, or when any white person was made a White Ranger. At any rate, to avoid controversy regarding Ranger colors, the powers-that-be behind this movie shifted Ranger nationalities around (even though they still made a joke about Zack, who was Asian, being "black" in this movie).

In this new movie adaptation, Zordon and Rita are former rangers, Zordon being red and Rita being green. Rita betrayed her Ranger team, and Zordon sacrificed his life to put an end to Rita's attack. Just before the sacrifice, he beseeches the Zeo Crystals that he hides to find Rangers who are worthy of their power. Fast forward a few eons, and now Zordon's essence has been uploaded into a spacecraft by Alpha V. Rita is discovered by a fishing boat and comes back to life, searching for gold to create a monster, Goldar (who was one of her henchmen in the original show). The aforementioned five Rangers, much different in this movie and who are total strangers, happen upon the same place at the same time and unearth the Zeo Crystals. They are eventually led to the spacecraft where Alpha and Zordon explain that the crystals have chosen them to be the new Rangers and to save the earth from Rita's attack. They spend the movie trying to learn to work as a team in order to be able to morph and save the planet.

This was the best Power Rangers movie ever made. However, as the first two were pretty bad, that's not saying much. As a fan of the original, who grew up with the show, I feel this movie left much to be desired. There were some call backs to the show, and to other Power Rangers shows, as well. But as a remake of the Power Rangers, it fell flat. It was an exciting movie for the last half hour or so. If you're looking for a good, generic superhero movie, you'll probably enjoy this one quite a bit. If you're looking for a movie that captures the feel of the original show, you'll probably want to skip this one. After watching it, I'm not sure the writers ever actually watched the show. The writing and acting were good, which was an improvement over the show. But this movie was about as close to Power Rangers as Michael Bay's Transformers movies were to the Transformers franchise. And just like the writers included crude humor (Transformer testicles, anyone?), the writers of this movie included crude humor that was really out of place, apparently in an attempt to get older fans to come watch it.

I'll talk about the things I liked, first, since there were definite good things about the movie. Then I'll talk about the negatives, which were pretty overwhelming.

Things I Liked:

-Bryan Cranston. The end. Okay, I'm joking about that. But Bryan Cranston is a fabulous actor (he even did some voices of monsters in the show), and he did a good job as Zordon.

-Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa. The film tried to be darker and grittier than the show was, but Rita was one of the more campy aspects of the film that felt more like the show. She did a terrific job as Rita.

-The mentor aspect. There were some elements of this in the show, but it really was done better here. The Rangers didn't just accept it at first, and Zordon had to really take on a mentor role with the Rangers.

-The backstory. Power Rangers was only a half-hour show, so everything had to be done very quickly to get them to team up and get to the Zord action. This movie was able to take their time and establish a backstory regarding not just the Rangers, but regarding Rita and Zordon. That was missing from the original show. Why did Rita have a green power coin? What was Zordon's connection with Rita? This movie explains these things.

-The writing and action is much improved over the original show, although it is very much more for adults than for kids (I would not suggest taking young kids to this movie -- but more about that in the negatives).

-They had to learn how to work together as a team. This was a positive and a negative. I wasn't so bothered by the fact that they had to learn to come together as a family unit before they could morph. Again, being a feature-length film, they could take more time with it. But there were some negatives regarding this, expounded on below.

-I liked how the movie explained a bit more about how the individual Rangers control the Megazord. That wasn't really explained well in the show, they were just shown in the cockpit pushing buttons and pulling levers.

-I also liked how they focused on the individual Zords fighting Goldar before they merged into the Megazord. However, most of the Zords did the same thing, firing machine guns. It would have been nice to see each Zord using Zord-specific weapons.

-Krispy Kreme! Some may see this as overbearing product placement, but I thought it was great how they integrated it into the film. It wasn't just there in the background but ended up playing a rather big role in the story. Not only that, but some of the dialogue kind of implicit shows just how addicting Krispy Kreme doughnuts are. I believe Rita said something to the effect that "the source of all life is at Krispy Kreme" (though she was talking about the Zeo crystals that were hidden there).

-Finally, I liked how Rita beat the tar out of the Rangers when they went after her before they were ready. The original show had a lot of episodes in which the Rangers fought an enemy before they were really ready, and would often win under those conditions. This movie showed that there are some real consequences for bad battle strategy.

Things I Didn't Like:

Some of these will seem like nitpicking, but some of these are critical failures of the film.

-The Rangers are criminals and just all-around bad people. When we first meet Jason, we find that he's a delinquent. He's under house arrest for a year and wearing a police anklet, which Billy offers to help him disable. Kimberly is known as the meanest girl in school (having shown a boy a girl's picture of a nude selfie she took with the caption "is this the kind of girl you want to take home to your mother?"). Very little is ever really revealed about Trini and Zack, but these are supposed to be the ones "worthy" of becoming the next Power Rangers? True, the Rangers of the show were nice to a fault -- they were known as goody-goods, so it's more realistic to give them faults. But making them criminals who spend most of their time in detention is going way over the deep end of credibility.

-The crude humor. In the scene where we learn Jason is a delinquent, he and a friend are putting a bull into a locker room. In this scene we learn that Jason's friend masturbated the bull, thinking he was milking a cow. This isn't just a throw-away joke, either. They spent a couple of minutes talking about it, and even focus in on the bull's penis. This was right at the beginning of the film, after the backstory scene with Zordon and Rita, and immediately killed the movie for it. It was wholly inappropriate for a Power Rangers movie.

-Changing the personalities of the characters. These were not the characters I grew up with, and killed the feel of the movie for me. The most egregious change was Billy, whom they made black and autistic. Billy is supposed to be a white boy genius. This was not Billy. Trini was not Asian, but Latin, and was made questioning her sexuality. Zack, of course, was not black but Asian. The change in nationality was most likely due to not wanting to appear racist, but I would have preferred they kept the Rangers the same nationalities, just switch their colors around. This wasn't simply a case of actors taking on a role and bringing their particular interpretation to the role, this was changing inherent parts of the characters' personalities. These were not the characters I grew up with. I am a conservative Christian, so my views about homosexuality aside, I do not oppose making a gay superhero, nor do I oppose making an autistic superhero. But Billy was a white boy genius, and Trini was an Asian straight woman. They should have remained as such, or this should have just been a brand new team of Power Rangers.

-The look of the Zords. This movie felt a lot like Michael Bay's Transformers movie, not just because of how egregiously they screwed up the source material, but also because it was difficult to tell the individual Zords apart at times. You could sort of tell the Tyrannosaurus Rex from the others, and you could tell Kim's Zord had wings. But it was really difficult to tell them apart most of the time while they were separate.

-This one was just bizarre. Billy took the Zeo crystals to a Krispy Kreme and hid them. But in the show, the power coins and Zeo crystals were required to morph. This meant that the Rangers should not have been able to morph because Billy hid the crystals.

-It took too long to get to the action. The Rangers didn't finally morph and then fight Rita and Goldar (and the Putties) until the last twenty-five or thirty minutes of the film. Now granted, with a feature-length film they can take a lot longer to tell their story. The half-hour format of the show, including commercials, meant that they often had to rush the origin story so they could get to the Zord battle. But even with this movie, it still took a real long time to get to the point where they were Power Rangers.

-The Rangers are pretty foul-mouthed in this movie. Several instances of "ass", a few "hells", and a couple instances of the Rangers uttering the s-word. Billy cut himself off from dropping an f-bomb when he quoted John McClane's famous catch phrase from Die Hard, although it was played off for humor. I half expected Zordon or Alpha to tell them to watch their language. This was extremely out of place, since none of the Rangers ever swore on the show, and is also one of the reason I would encourage you not to take small children to this movie.

-The characters were all one-dimensional. Aside from the aforementioned criminal and bad behavior, they all really just had one pet issue that they could share with the rest of the team that helped them to bond. And we really didn't get to know either Trini or Zack throughout the film, except that we learned Trini is gay and her family doesn't understand, and Zack has a dying mother and he fears he's going to lose her soon. More character development was needed.

-The violence was more extreme. This is another reason that I think young kids shouldn't see this movie. There were never any on-screen deaths in the original Power Rangers show, and whenever the bad guys talked about ending the Power Rangers, they always used generic terms like "destroy." In this movie, Rita is quite open about wanting to kill the Power Rangers, and even succeeds in killing one of them (though, of course, they're able to revive him). Plus, Rita is trying to find gold in order to form Goldar, so she goes so far as to find a guy with gold teeth and extracts his teeth from his mouth. It's a much grittier Power Rangers than the old show was.

-The Rangers weren't martial artists. The most physical ones were Jason, who was a football jock instead of a martial artist, and Kimberly, who was a cheerleader instead of a gymnast. But in the original Power Rangers, most of them could fight to some degree. In this movie, none of them had a martial arts background, so they basically had to learn to fight in 11 days. Very unrealistic.

-They had civilian powers. The original Power Rangers did not have civilian powers. Now, some Ranger teams did, and it's debatable whether or not any Ranger team should, or if the Ranger powers should be special enough. However, there were many acrobatics in the original show, a lot of wire work being done. But it was a campy 90's show. It really feels like the writers of this movie took the campiness way too seriously, and thought they needed to give the Rangers super strength and super jumping ability to explain why they could do all those acrobatics in the original show.

-Goldar. I didn't like Goldar at all. In the original show, he was a minion of Rita (and later Lord Zedd). In this movie, he was just a giant gold monster without a face.

-Putties. Rita's henchmen in the show were called Putties because they were made from clay. In this movie they were rock monsters, so calling them Putties didn't make much sense.

-I didn't care for the look of the Megazord. It didn't look like all five Zords combined. And the cockpits were still separated, rather than having one cockpit in which all five Rangers could occupy and work together from.

-Near the end of the movie, when the Zords were rushing out, we got a short snippet of the original Power Rangers theme. It was a shame we didn't get more of it, especially as the ending credits played. The first Power Rangers movie, despite being a lot worse, at least ended the movie with an awesome rock song (Van Halen's Dreams). I didn't stay until the absolute end (I stayed past the mid-credits scene), but I hear if I had waited I would have at least heard an orchestral rendition of it.

-Alpha V's look was too goofy. I thought the voice actor did a good job (not nearly as grating as the original), but the original Alpha V had a much cooler look.

-Finally, Bulk and Skull were not in the movie. Of course, with the way they butchered these characters, if Bulk and Skull had been there they would have made Bulk the skinny one and Skull the fat one. There was a bully, but rather than being comic relief like Bulk and Skull, he was really mean (at one point he wanted to break Billy's wrist). Perhaps it was better that Bulk and Skull weren't there.

So there you have it. I don't think it's a bad movie, overall. Just extremely disappointing as a fan of the original source material this movie drew from.

I'm going to include a list of the various objectionable content. I won't do this for most films. I'm just doing it here to show how different this movie is from the television show that inspired it.

Language: Mostly mild; the Lord's name is abused a couple of times, a few instances of "ass" and "hell," one use of "bitch," two s-words, and one character stopping just short of an f-bomb.

Sexual content: Kimberly strips down to her skivvies to go swimming. Kimberly sends a nude pic of a friend to a guy. One of the Rangers (I think it was Zack) makes a masturbation joke but uses the word "morph" instead. And of course, the aforementioned bull scene.

Violence: More extreme than the show, but not as extreme as many superhero movies. Rita literally extracts someone's teeth from his mouth and she attacks Trini in her bedroom. She also ties up and drowns one of the Rangers. She sets a jewelry store on fire. Goldar likely killed many people on his rampage through Angel Grove. Other than that, it's normal Power Rangers violence: beating up on Putties, and attacking Goldar in their Zords.

Other objectionable content: Trini, a highschooler, appears to be drinking a beer during the campfire scene. Aside from the criminal and bad behavior, other reckless behavior is performed by these teens, including trying to race a train to get away from security officers (with near fatal results). Again, these are the "worthy" successors of the Power Ranger title.

Grade: C+

Reason for grade: It was a good superhero movie, but I'm giving it just a slightly better than average rating because of how disappointing it was and how far it deviated from the source material. It was disappointing in that respect. Plus the crude humor and swearing was very out of place for this film.

Saban's Power Rangers
Directed by: Dean Israelite
Written by: John Gatins
Dacre Montgomery as Jason Scott (Red Ranger)
Naomi Scott as Kimberly Hart (Pink Ranger)
RJ Cyler as Billy Cranston (Blue Ranger)
Becky G as Trini Kwan (Yellow Ranger)
Ludi Lin as Zack Taylor (Black Ranger)
Bryan Cranston as Zordon
Bill Hader as the voice of Alpha 5
Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa
Fred Tatasciore as the voice of Goldar
Jason David Frank, cameo
Amy Jo Johnson, cameo

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