Saban’s Power Rangers (Lionsgate, PG-13)

This adaptation manages to entertain but also suffers from weird tonal shifts and egregious product placement.

Saban’s Power Rangers opens with a prehistoric prologue that details the fall of the Power Rangers to Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), who herself was a Ranger tested by power. Zordon (Bryan Cranston), the Red Ranger, buries crystals that will hopefully reveal the next in the line of Rangers. Sixty-five-million years later, the film follows five teenagers who live in the small town of Angel Grove: Jason (Dacre Montgomery), Kimberly (Naomi Scott), Billy (RJ Cyler), Trini (Becky G), and Zack (Ludi Lin). These five, who are familiar with each other but far from friends, are brought together at a mine site where an accident reveals the crystals to them. They find their strength and agility increased. Determined to look further into their unexplained powers, they stumble upon a spaceship that contains the uploaded memory of Zordon, as well as his robot companion Alpha 5 (Bill Hader). With their help, the newly formed Rangers must work to battle a revived Rita as she prepares to lay waste to the world with the help of a giant monster called Goldar.

Power Rangers was not the thinking man’s property. It is, by all accounts, a mixture of cool fight moves and unique costumes (to say the least). It was a combination of what made the 1990s so nostalgic. What director Dean Israelite does with his adaptation is update it in a way that still carries that aesthetic of campiness, while attempting to develop his Rangers into real teens with real problems. It does not always work from the script level, but what is consistent throughout is the performances of our title heroes. All five actors really dig into their roles without ever resorting to pettiness, childishness, or stupidity. Given what they can work with, the actors pull off a tricky feat. The standout is Cyler, who is just delightful throughout and who has a presence that other studios should keep a lookout for. Becky G and Lin are probably given the least to do, while Montgomery and Scott do well with what could have been generic roles.

If you are a fan of the campiness in the Power Rangers, you will not find that in these five actors. Have no fear, because Banks chews up every scene she is in. Her eyes go crazy, her head tilts in every single direction, her makeup and hair are disheveled, and her delivery is just a treat to endure. Cranston commits himself to the role of Zordon, especially when it comes to a film as goofy as this, and Bill Hader is a reliable comedic performer as Alpha 5.

Israelite definitely shows himself to be a fan through both the on-screen talent and the production values. One thing that may or may not drive someone crazy is his and cinematographer Matthew J. Lloyd’s resistance to a tripod. All camera movements are done where it can be told that a human is moving the camera on their own without the help of a tripod. Even conversations between characters can never stay perfectly still. This can sometimes play into the grounded nature of the film, but just becomes distracting after a while when you realize that the film does not know how to transition between its many tones. Martin Bernfeld and Dody Dorn managed to keep a brisk pace with the editing. Composer Brian Tyler delivers a suitably heroic score, and the special effects are impressive throughout (Zordon’s appearance as just a memory is a standout).

Unfortunately, what also hampers the film is the fact that it is suffering from an identity crisis. It does not really feel like a Power Rangers movie until its explosive finale. Before then, it dabbles in Breakfast Club-style teen drama, flirts with images of horror during the early scenes of Rita (some post-apocalyptic visions may scare kids). In fact, the first two-thirds feels like the film is ashamed of the source it comes from. As great as Banks is in her role, her character’s cartoon-baddie mannerisms do not mix with some of the gruesome and murderous things she does throughout. Tone is inconsistent, sometimes confusingly so. It makes you wonder who this will appeal to outside of those who are fans of the property.

Also, I am not a fool when it comes to product placement. I understand that this type of thing in blockbusters is not new and will continue. But, this film really crosses a line when a particular brand becomes an important plot point, in one of the stupidest reveal scenes I have seen in a long time that I had to keep myself from bursting out with laughter. You’ll know it when you see it.

Saban’s Power Rangers is definitely a fun time at the movies. The only question is how memorable it will be for those long after they leave the theater. A lot of heart and wit can sometimes overcome the glaring in-your-face inconsistencies. | Bill Loellke

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