Kernel Rating (out of 5): (2.5 out of 5)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 127 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 13+. The original live-action show was made for children, but this PG-13 adaptation is focused primarily on the teenage experience, so it may be a little mature for younger kids. Cursing; vulgar and sexually themed jokes; a male character is briefly shirtless and a female character is briefly in her bra and underwear; fistfights and bullying; a subplot about sexting; and a variety of violence, including a couple of awful car accidents, characters who are killed and have their gold teeth pulled out, characters who drown, a nightmare sequence where the zombie-like villain turns people into ash, and a few other action sequences.
‘Saban’s Power Rangers’ is a better film when it embraces the nostalgia of ‘80s movies and brings misunderstood teenagers together as a group of friends. ‘It’s morphin’ time’ is when the film becomes another forgettable action flick.
By Roxana Hadadi
As a movie about teenagers misunderstood by their peers and by their parents, who unite in wary friendship after testing each other and themselves, “Saban’s Power Rangers” is pretty great; as an action movie, it’s pretty subpar. The first hour or so, when they’re fighting back against bullies and passing notes in detention? Great stuff! But then they actually have to fight bad guys, and the movie unfortunately transitions from charmingly corny to forgettably violent.
“Saban’s Power Rangers” is a big-screen adaptation of the live-action children’s show that dominated the ‘90s, with color-coded ninja warriors fighting to save Angel Grove, California, and the rest of Earth. Back then, Power Rangers mania was a big deal, even as the first iteration of the series struggled with Rangers whose colors were uncomfortably close to stereotypes about their ethnicities, like the Yellow Ranger being Asian. But the movie does a better job when it’s mimicking the beats of ‘80s teen classics like “The Breakfast Club” than when it suits up for action. The first hour is far more enjoyable, before “it’s morphin’ time.”
After a brief flashback that introduces an earlier iteration of the Power Rangers, their mentor Zordon (Bryan Cranston, of “Kung Fu Panda 3”), and villain Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks, of “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2”), the movie jumps to present-day in fictional Angel Grove. It’s “a small craptown,” according to former popular girl Kimberly (Naomi Scott, of “The 33”), and she’s itching to get out.
Also ready to go is disgraced star quarterback Jason (Dacre Montgomery), who has injured his knee and ruined his college-playing prospects after a school prank gone wrong; new girl Trini (Becky G.), misunderstood by her parents and ignored by her peers; secretive truant Zack (Ludi Lin), who is more often skipping school than attending it; and kid genius Billy (RJ Cyler, of “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”), who identifies as being “on the spectrum.”
“We don’t really know each other,” Jason notes, but after a night spent in the Angel Grove quarry where they come across glowing crystals—red for Jason, pink for Kimberly, black for Zach, yellow for Trini, and blue for Billy—the same weird things start happening to all of them. They have intense strength, ridiculous jumping abilities, and can move super quickly, and after discovering a hidden spaceship, they learn from robot Alpha 5 (voiced by Bill Hader, of “The BFG”) that they have been identified as the Power Rangers—a group of warriors meant to defend the Earth.
But the teens aren’t really convinced (“Why do you keep looking at each other? Is that a human thing?” Alpha 5 wonders at their confused reactions), and neither is Zordon, whose voice drips with disbelief when he wonders how “these teenagers” are supposed to defend the Earth against Rita Repulsa, who has some convoluted scheme involving gold and something called the Zeo Crystal and who wants to kill people and blah blah blah. With 11 days until Rita sets her plan in motion, the teens start training—but as Trini asks, “Are we Power Rangers, or are we friends?”
“Power Rangers” is more enjoyable when it explores the latter option. Cyler is the beating soul of this movie as the intelligent, curious, and unintentionally hilarious Billy, and his dynamic with Montgomery in particular is really winning. Jason may slap a bully who mocks Billy, but it’s Billy’s smarts that keep the Power Rangers one step ahead of Rita. And although most of this dialogue is unbelievably cheesy (“They believe in labels,” Trini says of her parents), modern cinema sorely lacks teen-centered movies these days. Even though “Power Rangers” doesn’t provide anything new to “The Breakfast Club” formula, its willingness to explore the adolescent experience in any way is appreciated.
But then there’s that whole fighting-Rita thing, and that’s where “Power Rangers” becomes disappointingly generic. The action scenes are choppily edited and sometimes impossible to follow, and while Banks has some hilarious moments as Rita (sitting in a donut shop, eating baked goods while Destiny Child’s “Survivor” plays in the background and her golden monster destroys Angel Grove outside), her villainy is barely explained. “Power Rangers” is a better film when it’s figuring out who its teenage characters are rather than the warriors they’re supposed to be, and you almost wonder whether their personal journeys should have been developed over several hours instead of packed into one two-hour film. Like maybe through something like a television show. Crazy idea, right?
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