Film · Review

Saban’s Power Rangers: Chewing the cud

If Saban’s Power Rangers smacks of anything, it’s shame. Like, they can barely force the words Power Rangers out of their young actors’ straight faces. You know they gotta go on to say ‘Morphin” and ‘Megazord’ and all that other nonsense, at that point you’re scripting something impossible. John Gatins had what he must have thought was a genius idea when he was writing the script, let’s just take the piss out of it all. It’s desperate to be in on its own jokes, smirking and laughing and sayin’ ‘believe we used to like this shit you guys?!?!’ You just wonder, ‘Why make a Power Rangers movie if you hate it so much?’

I was never a fan of the original Power Rangers, it was before my time, and I know it sounds the worst to say there was a landmark difference between early nineties children’s programming and late nineties children’s programming, but I was a child then, and children are allowed strong opinions on these sorts of things. I remember it being arch, struggling to find a cohesive tone between the repurposed Super Sentai footage and the tastes of a western audience, hopeful and optimistic too, all clean sets and clean people.

There were so many directions this could have gone in, perhaps it’s the most fitting that it ended up a contradictory mess. Film opens with a bestiality joke, always a clear sign we’re in good hands. Our lead characters are then introduced as leches and scoundrels and we establish right off that one of them made a friend’s nudes public because… later when this is forgiven by one of the characters as nothing, ‘considering all the pictures going around.’ You realise this is a film told by dudes. But hey, at least they manage to canonise the manic pixie dream girl’s ambiguous queerness, so, you know, at least they’re hoping to clear the lowest bar imaginable.

These characters meet in detention, a setup so blindly and obviously cribbed from The Breakfast Club that one of them’s there for blowing up a locker. Which one? The nerd, who at least here gets to be, self admittingly, ‘on the spectrum’, but y’know, canonically this time, so it’s not a cheap excuse for jokes. I mean, his characterisation swings wildly from scene to scene as required, but hey, gotta clear that low bar, maybe someone will applaud you for trying.

So we got the nerd, blue ranger Billy (RJ Cyler) who wikipedia chooses to characterise as ‘autistic’. Then the outcast, black ranger Zack (Ludi Lin) who wikipedia chooses to characterise as ‘bilingual’. The weird girl, yellow ranger Trini (Becky G) who wikipedia chooses to characterise as ‘queer’. The popular girl, pink ranger Kimberley (Naomi Scott) who wikipedia chooses to characterise as ‘Jason’s love interest’. Finally the jock, red ranger Jason (Dacre Montgomery) cue wikipedia, ‘the leader’. I’d apologise for ruining these immaculately crafted characters for you but the fine editors of wiki seem to have put in as much effort as the screenwriters here.

I’m not even sure they were consciously trying to do it, but when you get to the scene where they’re sitting in a circle talking about the troubles of their life and bonding the similarities just crash down. They would have earlier if the characters had bothered differentiating themselves from the shared mould that all of them were poured into in the lab that formulated them. Who cares about interesting dialogue when you can just throw quips back and forth? ‘Just bants,’ the cry of those as insufferable as most of this flick’s dialogue which, may I remind you again, begins with a bestiality joke, a cow bestiality joke if you needed that specificity.

It immediately goes into a car chase scene, an incompetent one which for some reason they decided to shoot to appear as if a single take by a revolving camera in the back seat. It’s a dumb decision, but then so’s the other car chase which, while more conventional, is equally incomprehensible. Other action fares better but in Dean Isrealite we’ve a director who’s still unable to establish a clear geography in his combat. Becuase Hollywood loves giving their big budgets to white guys with ONE COMPLETED FEATURE to their name. Seriously, the trend is getting tiresome, only white dudes, only ever, Jesus.

It’s just a morass, hindered by the fact that it’s so slow, taking a feature to do what would have been a first act back in the seventies. Bryan Cranston is wasted, getting to employ none of his wit in a role that is essentially just a big serious face; Bill Hader is made to be the voice of the most annoying comic relief robot since Treasure Planet’s SAM; and budget Zac Efron and the rest of the crew struggle to enliven material that would be better off dead. I liked Ludi Lin, but I think it’s just because he’s hot.

Course everyone want to be talking about Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa. Wikipedia has far more to say about her for one, maybe it’s because she’s doing something here. Her confident, vampish, intergalactic space goddess may be from some weirder, campier, better film, trapped in this one. Perhaps she’s the only one who went back to the source material, or perhaps they saw the life in her, maybe it was the name that compelled them to put her in lingerie and kill people. Is it notable that she goes to visit the queer girl late at night who in turn rejects her for the patriarchal structure of the Power Rangers team? Seems that way. At least it’s a moment of thematic interest in an otherwise bland and unconvincing film, at least she’s a character of interest in an otherwise bland and unconvincing film.

A film which, if I can remind you once again, begins with a joke about wanking off a cow.

powerrangers
Image courtesy of Lionsgate

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