'Power Ranger' Review: Gonzo Elizabeth Banks Is Working. That. Shit
I hate the Power Rangers. I was not one of those kids raised on them, and really had little more than peripheral exposure to them growing up and into adulthood. It wasn’t until I had a child that I really discovered what they are… and what they are is fucking stupid. The shows — emphasis on the plural because it feels like there are dozens of iterations — are terrible and cheesy in every way. My soon-to-be-five-year-old adores them. That’s OK. He’s four. He doesn’t know any better. And truth be told, I see the appeal. With their herky-jerky fake martial arts, jumping and flipping and kicking, their silly tottering villains, and the short, staccato shouts of “OK!” and “LET’S DO THIS!”, Power Rangers are basically a glossy, superhero version of how four-year-olds play. Seriously, watch any four-year-old play super heroes and you’re basically watching a one-act play about the Power Rangers.
Which is what makes the movie such a pickle. It’s rated PG-13, and has its fair share of (mildly) salty language, a bit of blood, and a joke about jerking off a bull (yes, really). So clearly it’s not aimed at the pre-K crowd. It’s also silly and immature, so it’s not aimed at the adult crowd, although I suppose there are enough adult fans and nostalgic grownups to fill a few theaters. But with its “darker” tone (note: it’s not all that dark), it’s unclear how this iteration of the Power Rangers expects to make money — in trying to compromise between two demographics, it ultimately settles on something that will satisfy neither. Therein lies one of the fundamental problems with Power Rangers — it simply doesn’t know what it wants to be.
I’m giving you all this preamble because I don’t really have much to say about the story itself. If you’ve seen the trailer, you know virtually exactly what happens. A band of five misfits discover a collection of mysterious coins that lead them to a spaceship where Bryan Cranston’s face lives in a wall. He tells them they’ve been chosen to be the next Power Rangers, a collection of multi-hued karate space knights who must defend the world from Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), a wicked witch wannabe, who is going to create a giant gold golem who will steal a crystal from the center of the world and then use it to destroy our planet. If that sounds ridiculous, welcome to the universe of the Power Rangers — that’s not even close to the most ridiculous thing you’ll find. They get superpowers, they train to fight, and then they fight. That’s pretty much it.
Now here’s where things get weird: Power Rangers isn’t actually that bad. It’s weirdly fun. The five teenage leads are charismatic enough, and they have a relatively easygoing chemistry with each other. The film spends only a cursory amount of time on their personal lives, instead focusing on creating a bond between them which, while it’s awfully rushed and stilted (they go from total strangers to absolute besties in about ten days), it’s no more unusual than any other teenage movie wherein a group of misfits bond together (hello, obvious Breakfast Club inspiration/copycatting. They’re goofy and enjoyable to watch much of the time, particularly the blue Ranger (RJ Cyler), playing a nerdy African-American kid on the spectrum. That’s the other thing — the diversity of the cast is refreshing, even if it does feel a bit like a kitchen sink approach — there’s a black kid with a disability, a potentially LGBT Mexican-American girl, a Chinese-American kid who lives in a trailer park with his sick mother, and a surprisingly not-blonde cheerleader whose status has fallen. If the film fails the diversity test anywhere, it’s that the Red Ranger, the leader of the group, is the most generic of them all — a blonde white boy who was the star of the football team inevitably becomes the leader. Way to check all the boxes but forget to look at the back page, Power Rangers.
But it’s the pacing and tone of the film that kill it. Power Rangers is essentially broken down into a stumbling, confused, tonally inconsistent three-act play:
Act One: The Breakfast Club. Five kids from different backgrounds come together and learn about each others’ differences, growing to love each other.
Act Two: TRAINING MONTAGE. This is the bulk of the film. It features lots of running and jumping and fighting in a glorified Danger Room against giant rock monsters meant to imitate the giant rock monsters that Rita Repulsa will raise once she hits her full strength.
Act Three: Superhero Shit. The film’s climax is the only time you’ll actually see them as Power Rangers, and it’s a cacophonous mess of a finale, with giant robots (called Zords) that they drive, eventually forming into a giant robot so they can fight Goldar, Rita’s giant golem that looks like it’s made out of margarine that got left in the sun for too long. The effects are… better than the shows, I guess, is the best I can say.
That’s it though. It’s essentially The Breakfast X-Men, But With Voltron. It also feels like three distinctly different films, and the combination is jarring. It will likely also disappoint a lot of fans, because while this movie is TWO. HOURS. LONG, it only features about 15 minutes of actual suited-up Power Rangers action. That’s a lot of buildup with little payoff. But what makes it even more peculiar is that for a non-fan like myself, it was actually the Breakfast Club parts that I enjoyed the most. Even if the cast’s dialogue fights them quite a bit — the loner girl actively makes a point of repeatedly telling them that she’s a loner, the crazy kid repeatedly literally tells them that he’s crazy. There’s something endearing about the kids’ interactions, as if they’re momentarily transporting themselves to a better movie. They’re sweet and earnest and goofy and no matter how often the writing fails them, it’s hard not to enjoy the work they’re doing.
Although if there’s going to be a prize for work, it’s going to go to Elizabeth Banks, who is working. that. shit. in this movie. She’s fucking gonzo, a jittery, slithery, lascivious vamp who wraps her body in camp and rolls around in it, reveling in it like a dog on its back scratching the sweet spot on the ground. Make no mistake, Elizabeth Banks is in a completely different movie. It’s as if she didn’t give a shit about the script, and just decided to Christopher Walken her way through her parts without looking back. It’s as if they filmed whatever fucking nutso crazypants movie she thought she had signed up for, then just wrapped a Power Rangers movie around it.
Ultimately, I don’t know whether or not to recommend Power Rangers to you. As an actual movie about Power Rangers, it kind of sucks. As a teen coming of age drama, it’s not terrible, in a Nickelodeon-meets-John Hughes kind of way. If you like 50 minutes of training montage, then I guess you’re in luck. I guess I can tell you that the 12 year old kid in front of me seemed to dig it, and the grown-ass man behind me who looked like he camped out in a line that didn’t actually exist also seemed to like it. I thought it was better than it probably should be, and I definitely enjoyed parts of it. I still wouldn’t call it good, though. Mostly? I’m just pissed that I couldn’t take my kid to it. Because if you can’t bring a four year-old to a movie about people acting like four year-olds, what’s the goddamn point?
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