Power Rangers (2017) Movie Review

So here’s where I’d normally pick up about some broad, main theme that I would use to tie my thoughts on the subject together into a consistent argument. As one of my former English teachers once told me, a good essay is like a tour guide. It’ll introduce you to the highlights you’ll see on the tour, show you the best views and give context and history to them, then finally bring you back to where the tour left to disembark.

Unfortunately…. I can’t really do that with this movie because it’s SO scattershot and fast-paced that it’s difficult to find a coherent thread to tie together my thoughts on it.

Instead, I’ll open up with a bit of an explanation on my background with this subject.

Hey kids, it’s STORY TIME!

Probably surprising for my age demographic, I didn’t have a lot of nostalgia attached to Power Rangers when I walked into this movie’s viewing. Sure, I had tuned in here and there to the shows when growing up and had fun catching parts of the Twitch marathon stream that aired before the movie’s premiere. I even have a lot of memories of pretending to be a Ranger when playing with friends on the elementary school playground during recess. (I have fond memories in particular of trying to do flying side-kicks on a neighbor’s trampoline, calling them “Power Rangers kicks”). But I was never that much of a fan of the franchise as a whole.

However, I don’t know if you readers have noticed yet, I’m really, really, REALLY into tokusatsu.

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But that’s actually a fairly recent development. I only started watching Kamen Rider back in early 2015 as I was wrapping up my graduate studies, and before I had started teaching full-time. I quickly fell in love with the franchise though, and later expanded it to Sentai as well, but I’m not nearly as well-versed in those shows.

So tackling the Power Rangers movie provides an interesting challenge in trying to tie together all my various interests when it comes to movies and TV shows – my love of superhero narratives, a childhood pretending to wear cool suits and punch monsters, and my more recent interest in the Japanese side of that genre of media as well.

Would the movie succeed in providing a western-flavored fusion of all of the above? Would it crash and burn?

Who knew? After all, the trailers and marketing only really hit about two or three months out from the theatrical release, people in general, I think, were apprehensive and expecting the worst. Because of that, I went into this movie with almost no expectations, other than I’d probably be entertained by the suited fights and annoyed to death by the characters.

I wound up getting almost the exact opposite.

In order to break down my opinions on the movie, I’m going to address a few pressing points that I think contributed to how well it sold its main cast, and some points where I think they could’ve done better. Overall though, I really enjoyed this movie and would encourage people to go see it themselves to form their own opinions.

The Characters

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Jason/Red Ranger

The movie does a good job of building the movie around his perspective first. He’s in detention for doing something stupid, compounding other mistakes in his past which destroyed his future as a college athlete. But we see the pressure he’s put under by his family and the town around him, as well as skills and character traits that put him into a leadership position before he even becomes a Ranger. As a former QB the audience can infer that he’s naturally adept at handling pressure of making decisions and uniting a team around him. He’s also incredibly charismatic (the actor conveys that well) and shows us that he’s just naturally a good kid in how he stands up for Billy, and eventually in how he reaches out to protect and help the other weirdos that wind up on his new team.

Just like Jason’s guilt over wrecking his knee, and his potential to represent his town as their All-Star Golden boy, we’ll find that all the Rangers carry some sort of guilt over failures they put on themselves. Jason’s is the most external in his guilt for letting down everyone in the town around him. Because of this perceived responsibility, he’s the easiest to see as traditionally “heroic” and also because of that, he’s the easiest to root for initially out of the whole team. Like I said, the movie benefits a lot from putting things from his perspective first.

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Billy/Blue Ranger

His initial appearance helps to show Jason’s conscience, but he quickly becomes not just the heart of the soul of the team, but really of the movie in general.

Yes, he breaks ground in being a superhero character explicitly with high-functioning autism, and – speaking as someone who has worked with autistic students – the movie does a good job of accurately showing the kind of mannerisms and habits of someone with Asperger’s. This element of his character also ties into Billy’s motivation on the team. He’s the first one to be able to transform into his Ranger suit simply because he’s the first of the group to see them all as friends, without caring about their mistakes, flaws or secrets. After living with quiet, awkward loneliness within the town, in part from his autism, but also in the wake of his father’s death in a mining accident, he’s thrilled to just be a part of a team.

Billy cares deeply about the team, and the audience comes to care about them the team as a group of friends because his investment first. Like I said, Billy is really the heart and soul of this movie, and the movie darn well knows it. The big emotional crisis that helps to finally unite the team and allows them to transform into Rangers revolves around Billy and his effect on all the other members in also getting them invested in the team.

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Kimberly/Pink Ranger

Getting the elephant out of the room first, yes, there is a revenge porn subplot that involves her character. But the “subplot” is Kimberly acknowledging that she’s done something horrifically awful to ruin someone else’s life and is eaten up by guilt over it. It’s handled appropriately, I think, and leads to an important centerpiece lesson for the team as a whole. They’ve all made mistakes and screwed up their own lives in various ways, but they have to learn how to move past that and accept those mistakes to grow from them.

Kimberly, Billy and Jason form the main core of the movie, and the other two Rangers aren’t as thoroughly developed, but are still important parts of the team.

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Zack/Black Ranger

He starts off portraying himself as a cheeky daredevil, but we later find out it’s because he’s terrified of losing his mom and doesn’t want to admit it. In doing so he tries to play himself off as harder and more callous than he really is.

Honestly, this is a character archetype that’s even simpler to understand than Jason’s “fearless leader” shtick, but it’s that simplicity that make him instantly likeable. Also credit to the actor, he sells the moment where that daredevil façade cracks really effectively.

This also factors into the other big emotional climax of the movie where the Rangers, now transformed, are prepared to die in order to “hold the line” against Rita’s animated Goldar monster. When Zack passes out from the exertion and the rest of the team realizes it, it’s a very effective moment to sell the stakes of the final battle. He’s tried so hard to bury his own pain and concerns under a devil-may-care attitude, that when he finally can’t go on, the others realize just how much they may have to sacrifice to see the world protected.

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Didi Trini/Yellow Ranger

I take it back, Trini’s character motivation is even more simple. “Gosh labels suck I hate my parents for being concerned about my well-being and disapproving of my life choices.”

Look, kid, I understand, but in comparison to all the other backstories, Trini comes off as actually the most clichéd of the group. Zack, Jason and Kimberly all carry tremendous amounts of guilt for what they’ve done and their feelings of responsibility for how awful their lives are, whether justified (Kim), unfounded but scary (Zack), or a little of both (Jason).

In general, I was a little disappointed with how the female characters were written in comparison to the male ones, because their primary character conflicts are centered more on how they are seen by others and their reputations. Zack and Jason are both characterized by how they handle being responsible for others, and so their struggles and failures are more sympathetic and weighty.

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The Team

Really what makes this movie so much fun to watch is seeing how the Rangers interact with each other as a team, and also seeing them grow from bickering strangers into a group of friends. It’s the point in the movie where they can move past worrying just about fighting effectively as a military unit, and actually see each other as friends that they’re finally able to transform into their Ranger suits.

Billy’s character is important because of the fact that he’s willing to sacrifice himself to protect the rest of the team. That moment convinces them that regardless of the mistakes they’ve made, they can accept each other because of that friendship, bolstered by his belief in them. This sacrifice also moves Zordon enough to give up on his original goal of being resurrected through the Morphing Grid, in order to revive Billy. This sacrifice on his part also allows him to accept his role as a mentor, acceding the position of leadership on the field to the new Red Ranger – Jason.

Zordon and Alpha-5

Alpha-5 has been stripped of all his grating “Ai-yi-yi” bumbling and is more a snarky butler. Okay for the role he plays in the movie for delivering some good punchlines, but not much to talk about.

Quite a bit to talk about for Zordon though, I actually didn’t like him much at all for most of the movie, as he spends much of the movie being a grumpy jerk. Granted, he’s a grumpy jerk for understandable reasons and eventually warms up to the rest of the team, but I guess I would’ve preferred more of a traditional mentor figure right from the start. If anything though, he provides some great contrast for Jason’s character (as Zordon was the former Red Ranger before Rita overran the team back during the Cretaceous period).  That conflict between their contrasting leadership styles leads to defining Jason’s leadership more concretely.

Rita

Look, she’s a LITERAL Saturday Morning super-villain. All she has to provide to the story is to be intimidating as hell and provide an urgent threat to unite the heroes. She does that effectively.

That is all.

The Fights

Normally I love the in-suit fights and skip past the Zord/Megazord parts of the battles in Power Rangers and Sentai episodes. In this movie, though, the Zord work is actually WAY better than the woefully short and isolated in-suit fight. There’s actual strategy that goes into how the Rangers pilot their respective vehicles and a clear progression to the fight.

That the in-suit fight is so boring in comparison is especially disappointing considering how much FUN the out-of-suit training montage was earlier in the movie (a kung-fu fork-fight over the last piece of cake between Kimberly and Trini was way more fun than it had any right to be). The only in-suit fight sequence we got was too short, as I said, and was so heavily constructed from CGI animation that the punches, kicks and acrobatic moves had no weight to them.

I’m a HUGE fan of toku in part because I absolutely love the fight choreography that accompanies the best examples of the genre. Even some of the Power Rangers series managed to encapsulate that style with some examples of original American-shot footage. With the stunt actors and fight directors you could afford with a big Hollywood budget, I wish they would’ve gone back to basics and done more with practical suits and effects in fights.

I was one of those people who whined about the Zord designs when originally revealed, but they actually look pretty good in motion. Bright colors in broad daylight helps, even if the lines are still awkwardly organic and don’t convey the appearance of their respective animals well.

One design I did defend before the movie’s premiere was the Megazord. It didn’t disappoint in context either, the reveal for it in the movie gave me LITERAL chills. It’s an amazing shot, rising out of the flames just as the Rangers were ready to accept their deaths in order to continue to fight against Rita’s forces.

(The feet still look dumb though.)

Sadly though, the actual fight for the Megazord was a real disappointment. It’s fun watching the Rangers try to figure out how to work together to get it to move and fight properly, but when I think “Megazord battle”, I think big flashy finish movies that cause everything to explode. I didn’t even realize that the fight was over after what was supposed to be the finishing blow, because I was expecting a beam spam or a running slash or SOMETHING that looked more like a special finishing move. Nope, just a stab, then Goldar starts melting.

Rita gets literally backhanded to the moon though, so that was cool.

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Everything Else

The tone was all over the place with this movie – but to be honest, I enjoy that to the movie’s credit. This movie’s script is built with plot points about Krispy Kreme donuts, goofy one-liners, in between legitimately serious subject material with the characters and their own personal dramas. I’m sure not everyone will see it in the same way, but I love the hectic hodge-podge of design and tone. It’s something that’s unique to Power Rangers, and really toku in general.

I’ve said multiple times in various places on the internet that most of my favorite toku series manage to balance both ridiculous aesthetics and styles with legitimately strong and emotional character and plot development. My current running series on Ex-Aid is a fantastic example of how to do both effectively, and against all odds, the Power Rangers movie strikes a pretty strong balance as well.

As I said at the beginning of this review, this movie is really scattershot and moves incredibly quickly. That’s to its benefit, to avoid dwelling on questions like “how did Alpha-5 learn English if they’ve been buried underground for 65 million years” and “how did the Zords copy the appearance of a Mastodon and a Sabre-Tooth Tiger if they haven’t been active since the Cretaceous”, or other things that superhero adaptations inevitably get hung up on in trying to make things more “realistic”. Even though they aim for more complex characterizations and designs, the plot at heart is very simple, and tells itself in a very straight-forward way. I like that a lot about it though, and makes it feel very authentic to Power Rangers and superhero narratives in general, even with all the other streamlined changes.

The best praise I can give for this movie after a few days of thought following my viewing, is that I would gladly watch a series that starred these characters and their great team dynamic on a week-to-week basis (and probably write recap articles to go with it!). If they get the same production team and actors back for a sequel, I will pre-order tickets immediately, I had a shocking amount of fun watching this movie.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

So, Boom! Studios, the same comic production company that has been publishing the comic re-imagining of the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers series, has also put out a one-shot title that explores the events immediately after the movie’s end, within its own little universe. Called “Aftershock”, it just dropped this week, and I was able to pick it up along with my normal pull from my friendly local comic book shop. Despite being written/drawn by a couple of “literally who”’s in the industry, the story winds up being pretty well done with good art. (Coloring needs a little polish work though.)

The plot of the comic deals with the Rangers mopping up Putties reanimated by the scattered remnants of Goldar, left behind after their defeat of the giant golden kaiju in the movie’s climax. To complicate matters, it turns out that multiple sides have been attracted to the aftermath of the conflict: two delinquent teenagers who wind up getting possessed by said remnants of Goldar, as well as a black-ops government task force looking to research and exploit the alien powers at play in Angel Grove.

There’s nothing that’s incredibly necessary laid down in the story, but it does a good job of hinting at potential directions for a sequel movie, and also shows how the team continues to develop after their first victory. Rather than immediately working as a perfect, well-oiled machine, we see Jason’s continued insecurity in his role as leader, how Trini works to motivate the other members of the team, and some hints of romance between Red and Pink (of course), among other things. I would recommend checking it out if you enjoyed the movie and want more of the characters and their team dynamic.

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