The Anticipated: Power Rangers

In All, Movies by David

Back again, as I continue to try and get The Anticipated back on track. This time we are going to a movie that came out much earlier in the year, Lionsgate’s Power Rangers. This is a film that probably made my list for more nostalgia reasons than anything, but let’s see if it was able to deliver anyhow.

Spoilers Ahead

Power Rangers (March 24th, 2017)

How was it? 

Fine. Though, it is also two movies: an uneven origin story of this group of Power Rangers, and a much better than it probably should be Breakfast Club-with-super-powers movie. The film struggles with all of the exposition and heavy lifting it has to do in order to establish the rules of its world and the specifics of its Power Ranger story. This often bogs down the movie as it tries to present all of this information in a way that is actually fun to watch on screen. Say what you will about the televisions versions of Power Rangers, but the shows realize that getting the intricate details out there was less important than getting their characters in costume and fighting monsters. Sure, the shows are remarkably simplistic and rarely are willing to really delve into anything deep or meaningful (except for Power Rangers RPM, but that show was bonkers and had very specific circumstances that allowed it to exist). But they also know how to have fun and just let the Rangers fight. Now, a big selling point of this movie was that it was going to go in a little bit darker direction, and in general that tone served the movie well, but when it came to world building it made things a real drag. When the Rangers are able to actual suit up or simply have fun with their powers, things work really well (okay, mostly well, it still suffers from mainstream movies battle syndrome where entire cities have to be destroyed, but at least you can actually tell what the hell is happening during the fighting), but the film’s need to establish rules for these powers was quite obnoxious.

Your young, diverse cast is your strength, film. If only you had leaned into that strength more.

The other half of this movie, though, was truly a delight, and that is because it took the tried and true formula of the aforementioned Breakfast Club, and added in some super powers for a bit of intrigue. The Rangers in this movie are all delightful, and the film does a good job of fleshing out each of them despite the very limited real estate the film has to do so. Watching the kids bond and get to know each other as they train to be Power Rangers and become the kind of friends each of them needs work exceptionally well. In fact, it is kind of ridiculous that this movie is able to mine some really emotional moments from the young actors, especially Trini (Becky G.). This makes the Rangers themselves work, which is ultimately why the movie works. The young actors keep you engaged until the film is ready to let them actually be Power Rangers. You actually want to spend more time with this group of high schoolers, which actually kind of proves that this series is probably better as a TV show, even if the movie allowed for the show to actually spend money on their special effects instead of relying on silly over-the-top looks like the show is forced to. The darker tone also pays off with the character work. Now that each Ranger can actually be fleshed out with families and real personal demons, and actually act like teenagers and not smiling robots that rarely ever show any real emotion, the characters are allowed to grow and develop in ways that Power Rangers has never really been known for.

Isn’t this based on…?

Umm, the show Power Rangers, which is itself just the American version of Super Sentei. So yeah, this is definitely based on some stuff.

Did it warrant its selection in The Anticipated?

Well… its inclusion was already kind of dubious, but it did scratch the nostalgia itch I was was hoping it would, and prove that a more serious take on this subject would be something worth exploring. At the same time, there were a lot of issues. The film started out with a nice $40+ million opening weekend, which seemed to suggest that it would be a nice success. Not the kind of success that would justified that insanely ridiculous six-film plan that no franchise should be trying to float before the first film is anything less than an overwhelmingly smashing success (though the audacity of such a plan is something to behold), but still the kind that would justify the making of a sequel and seeing what happens from there. Instead, Power Rangers couldn’t really maintain any real momentum at the box office, and then didn’t exactly have a stellar run internationally. Now, the film still ended up making $140+ million internationally, which at least meant it off-set its $100 million budget, but not in a way that inspires a ton of confidence, especially when you add in the additional advertising costs for the film. Considering the sky high expectations, this film will be considered a box office disappointment. This put the film firmly into the questionable range, where a sequel wouldn’t necessarily be a bad idea, but its upside now seems much lower.

I guess having this Goldar is better than no Goldar, even if, just like in the show, once you take the fights to the zords everything becomes a mess.

Of course, the film was still likely a net positive, and was at the very least not critically reviled (which may not sound like much, but honestly, the critical cycle for non-Marvel superhero films is a vicious blender of pain and hypocrisy, so achieving any degree of positivity is somewhat a plus). That would seem to make it a worthwhile gamble. Maybe not with a budget of 100 million again, but honestly, considering how the best parts of the movie where the parts not involving the special effects for the most part, it feels like they could get away with a smaller budget if need be. Then there is the high upside of its cast. Dacre Montgomery, the actor that played Jason, got a lot more national attention from his role in Stranger Things 2, and has gotten buzz as a possible contender to play Nightwing in a DC movie. The actress that plays Kimberly Naomi Scott has been cast as Jasmine in the live action Aladdin (admittedly that casting has been controversial). The actor that plays Billy RJ Cyler has been trending up for a while, and among other things is slated to star in the rebooted version of MTV’s Scream. The actor that plays Zack Ludi Lin is going to have a role in Aquaman. The aforementioned Becky G. is well, already a famous singer in her own right. Combine this with the imminent introduction of fan favorite Power Ranger Tommy (and whoever was cast to play him or her) for a movie about the Green Ranger arc, and there is a ton of potential to build off of in a possible sequel, especially now that the film doesn’t have to deal with the massive exposition dumps of the sort that can work in first episodes of TV shows, but are incredibly problematic in films.

Unfortunately, the idea of a sequel looks pretty bleak right now. A lot of this is because, well, the expectations for this franchise were already misguided, and created a unfair standard for this film to be held up to. The enthusiasm for another film just doesn’t seem to be there. Add in that the franchise seems to be having trademark issues, and the fact that its booming cast might end up being a problem as well, seeing as all of them may have become a bit too busy to make another one in a reasonable time frame going forward. This is disappointing, but that’s how things are. And honestly, the first film is flawed enough that it is debatable that it deserves a sequel, even if a second film has so much more potential. So ultimately, this film should have not made this list really by merit, but it kind of did earn its place as a good example of the the errors in big budget film making and the dangers that arise when expectations are far too high.

Would I recommend it to others?

If they like Power Rangers, sure. Hell, even if they just like a good teen movie. I mean, it is definitely more of a rental movie, or one you happen to come upon on television or streaming, but it is enjoyable for what it is.

How would I rate it?’

Look, I love Bryan Cranston as much as the next person, and it was noble to try and give a more emotional backstory to Zordon, but like none of this works and instead it actively hurts the movie.

So, how do we rate this film, then? This is a flawed super hero film that never knows how to use its darker tone to make its action work, but does know how to use it to make its young actors shine, despite giving them very limited material to work with. Still, this film is not the start of a new mega franchise, so that leaves it scoring a 6.5 morphin times out of 10 on our handy anticipation meter. This is still a fun movie that should have had a lower budget and significantly lower expectations so that it could have had a real chance to succeed, instead of the overblown expectations it had, which left it somewhat destined to fail.

For an actual rating:  This is one of those films a lot of critics were too harsh on, but at the same time the film probably still deserves something between 2.5 to 3 stars. On the other hand, I think it really managed to shine in a couple of places, and it was able to scratch my nostalgia itch, so I am going to be generous and give it 3 out of 4 stars. There is a real chance that this film might get a bit of a following now that it is in the on demand zone, especially if its young actors really do take off like it is looking like some, if not all of them, appear to be trending towards. There is a lot to make fun of in this film (like a lot of the dialogue), but there is still a lot to like in some places.

That’s it for this edition of The Anticipated. This train is now really rolling, so check back for more of these soon.

-David Robertson