Even if you weren’t the correct age in the mid-’90s for the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers TV show (that would be either a pre-teen or at university), it was hard to avoid them. Bold colours, spandex costumes, more than a hint of naffness — they didn’t even have the credible underground comic book origins of the Ninja Turtles. Saturday morning TV feels like their natural home. Still, there’s money that needs making and given recognisable characters are far less of a risk than new ones — they’re back. They’ve kept the bright colours, but now the costumes are slightly better. And now they also have Bryan Cranston.
Cranston is Zordon, the original Red Ranger who sacrificed himself to defeat rogue former Ranger Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), whose alliterative name betrays the franchise’s dopey origins. Sixty-five million years later, he acts as a mentor to the new team, his essence staying conscious as it’s attached to his spaceship’s Morphing Grid. Basically — he’s a big head on a screen.
But it’s the new team that are the focus. Jason Lee Scott is the leader, played by Dacre Montgomery — a budget Zac Efron with worse hair. A disgraced former high school quarterback, he’s been kicked off the team following a prank gone wrong and a run-in with the police. He’s angry, for some reason, telling his understandably disappointed dad, “Yeah, like you said, we’ll never understand each other.” It’s not clear from any of this why we’re supposed to root for him.
The Power Rangers get in the way of their own film.
Then there’s Kimberly Hart (Naomi Scott), a disgraced cheerleader, Billy Cranston (RJ Cyler) who’s been given autism in this iteration, Zack (Ludi Lin), who has to look after his dying mother and Trini (Becky G.) who’s gained most of the pre-release publicity for being an LGBT character. These changes to the characters of Billy and Trini could, in a different film, attempt to intelligently deal with real issues. Here, the autism is played for laughs, while Trini’s sexual persuasion is tossed away in a line and is used to explain why she’s so moody. Why waste time on those things when there’s morphin’ to be done?
And that’s one of the biggest problems. There’s the set-up here for a decent teen movie, but it’s derailed by training montages and CG vehicles shaped like dinosaurs, taking the place of any attempt at depth of characters. The Power Rangers get in the way in their own film.
There is fun to be had — Banks is delightfully over-the-top as gold-hunting villain Rita, and there’s the odd decent one-liner, while an extended product placement for Krispy Kreme (deliberately) bags the biggest laughs of all. But it essentially feels like an overlong, mega-budgeted episode of a Saturday-morning serial. Perhaps that’s where they should have remained.