Angel Grove’s star high school quarterback Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery) gets himself in some trouble with the law, has to wear an electronic ankle bracelet and is forced to serve Saturday detention at his high school. There he meets Billy (RJ Cyler), an autistic science genius that blew up his locker, and saves him from a bully. Also in detention is cheerleader Kimberly (Naomi Scott), new girl Trini (Becky G) and quiet but crazy Zack (Ludi Lin). The five have nothing in common but all wind up at the gold mine that provides most of Angel Grove’s jobs. There, Billy sets off an explosive that exposes a glassy rock face. Taking hammers to the glass the five find five glowing coins, each showing a different color. Mine security begins chasing the teens and they all get in Billy’s mom’s van. They try to get past a railroad crossing before the train gets there but mistime it and the van is struck dead center. The next morning, all the teens wake up in their own beds with no memory of how they got there and they all discover they have increased strength and speed. Returning to the mine they find an underground complex that begins to come to life as they enter it. They are soon approached by a robot calling itself Alpha-5 (voiced by Bill Hader) and he introduces the five to an alien whose essence has been encased in a computer allowing him to communicate with them via an interactive wall. The alien is named Zordon (Bryan Cranston) and he used to be the leader of a team of five heroes that travelled the universe to protect life from evil. Zordon explains that one of his team turned evil and decided to use her powers for her own gain. This evil creature is named Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) and she is somewhere on Earth regaining her strength and preparing to try and steal the Zeo crystal. Every planet with life on it has a Zeo crystal. If that is removed, all life on the planet will cease to exist. Zordon tells the five teens they most form a cohesive fighting team to protect the Zeo crystal from Rita and any other threat. They must become the Power Rangers.
“Saban’s Power Rangers” is a mashup of “The Breakfast Club” and “The Avengers.” It takes the basics of the cheesy Saturday morning “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” (and all its various spinoffs) and turns it into the movie equivalent of YA fiction. We get a diverse and appealing group of young, troubled characters that are directionless and looking for meaning in their lives. When the possibility of becoming superheroes is presented to them they fight it every step of the way and only become a team when faced with a massive crisis. “The Hunger Games,” “Divergent” and “The Maze Runner” all began their lives as YA novels and all have similar character arcs. With its start as a Japanese-turned-American kids show, “Saban’s Power Rangers” has a bigger hill to climb for audience credibility than these other properties and it doesn’t quite have enough steam to get over the top.
The effort to turn this show into something palatable for movie audiences gets hamstrung right from the start with the names of various entities: Rita Repulsa, Putties, Zords, Morphing, it all sounds like the kinds of things my friends and I would come up with in grade school for our made up space alien battles. Simply saying the names of some of these things with a straight face should be considered a victory by these actors.
The group gives it their best shot and tries to make the material as grown up as possible; however, the come-to-Jesus moments of the movie are a bit embarrassing. The campfire scene where they all (except Kimberly) confess their deepest fears and biggest flaws mostly belongs back on Saturday morning TV. While the scene is earnest it is also extremely sappy. The problems a few of these characters have are serious and relatable (ailing mother, no money, pressure from parents to succeed) but the rest is generic high school garbage that doesn’t rise to the level of meaningful drama.
This is also the scene where we learn Trini is a lesbian. She doesn’t say it herself as that is left to another character. Also, the word “lesbian” is never said. Trini is asked if her parents are constantly on her about “boy troubles.” Her reaction gets that amended to “girl troubles” and everyone understands what THAT means. That is the only reference to her sexuality in the whole film and it is never brought up again. We also never see Trini with anyone outside the team so the celebrations of having a LGBTQ superhero are a bit premature. Also, any protests or boycotts of the film over this are the very definition of overreaction as you almost have to figure out what they are implying to fully understand.
Adding to the overly earnest high school semi-drama nature of the story, there is a level of silliness and cheese left over from its Saturday morning beginnings that simply cannot be knocked off. While watching giant robots fight against giant monsters made of gold might sound exciting on paper, the execution left me a bit underwhelmed. There was a nice move that is a callback to an earlier training scene but otherwise it is unimpressive. Also, the level of destruction wrought by both the bad guys and the good guys might turn the townspeople of Angel Grove against their hometown heroes.
“Saban’s Power Rangers” is rated PG-13 for language, action and destruction, sequences of sci-fi violence and some crude humor. There are fights between the Power Rangers and holographic putties as well as real ones. The battle between the Megazord and Goldar causes a great deal of destruction of property but no obvious human injuries. A joke early on about a teenage boy milking a cow that was actually a bull becomes a bit graphic. There is scattered foul language but it is mild and infrequent.
The heroes of many people’s youth have been modernized and somewhat matured in “Saban’s Power Rangers.” They are facing more contemporary problems like discovering their sexual identity and dealing with peer pressure and over-exposure in social media. Despite all that effort, the characters still feel like they would be more at home in an after school special than on a movie screen. While it isn’t as bad as I was expecting, “Saban’s Power Rangers” needs more powerful and believable characters, problems and storytelling.
“Saban’s Power Rangers” gets three stars out of five.
Check out my review of the new sci-fi thriller “Life” at the WIMZ website:
This week, two new movies hope you’ve already seen “Beauty and the Beast.” I’ll see and review at least one of the following:
The Boss Baby—
Ghost in the Shell—
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