In 2017 Hasbro produced a live action, feature length, theatrical adaptation of the Power Rangers property, which has had about a million kids series and TV movies made of it. It's one of the goofiest things that refuses to get off of TV, and its cheesiness is legendary.
However, this movie was going to be a serious take on the Power Rangers, a film about five disparate teenagers with attitude coming together under the banner of an intergalactic oath to protect life itself, all while hashing out their own personal angst and figuring out how to become friends in a high school status quo that discourages them from coming together. This was not going to be the cheesy schlock that we're used to when we think of Power Rangers. As fun as all that is, this movie was going to be different. It was going to have drama, weight, and social relevance. It was going to mean something. It was going to matter.
And it was released. In theatres. And was featured on Amazon Prime. And here, on my parents' couch in my nasty sweatpants, two years later, I am faced with this one thought:
Why does no one remember this movie? This is the question I asked myself when I heard that this movie, which need I remind you, came out just two years ago, was being rebooted and recast by Hasbro. When I saw the news, I of course thought it was a little funny that Power Rangers was going to go through the Spider-Man treatment, but I was also a little sad, because I genuinely enjoyed certain parts of this movie, which we will get into. But when I went to share the news with my friends and the other pretentious dickhead college students in my film classes, I made a shocking discovery: apparently there has been some sort of mass amnesia, because not only am I somehow the only person in the US that watched this movie, but I am the only one that is even aware of its existence. What is happening? Have I been sucked into some backwards dimension where this movie went straight to video? I cannot be the only person who watched this movie. Who watched it, remembers it, and appreciates it for what it does differently from other superhero movies.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
If we're going to review this film, we've got to get one thing straight and be completely open and honest.
Is this movie amazing? Hell. No.
It's really not.
I apologize if I've misled you so far, but this movie is far from perfect and I can understand why it didn't plough through the box office. It's not your typical superhero film, both for good and for bad, and it suffers for its choices. My problem isn't that nobody loves and worships the Power Rangers movie like it deserves, because I can understand why this movie didn't wrangle in audiences in the same way that a huge Marvel blockbuster would. I get that. I do. My problem is that this movie has fallen into a blackhole of obscurity, soon to be overshadowed by whatever dumb new version of itself Hasbro will pump out, and nobody is even acknowledging it for what it does do right and commits to. BUT WE'LL GET TO THAT.
First, as a little disclaimer, we've got to talk about why this movie has been forgotten. We've got to get out of the way all the big things that it does forgettably. Then we can get to the good stuff.
So. Why does no one remember Saban's Power Rangers?
The Style. (-)
It has one. It's not particularly memorable, obviously. It's not ugly, I think. In fact, personally, I like the style of this film. There's this definite blue tone over everything, like the world is a little crushed and washed out, and I know that as unflattering as some people may find this, it's relevant to the messages of the film. The cinematographer is trying to project the perspective of these five kids as disillusioned with the world, struggling with their own individual issues, and weaker without each other. So the world begins as washed out and crushed with this monochromatic blue. It's when the Power Rangers come together that the film gains some color and light, and the filmmaker begins to do more dynamic things with tones and textures of the film. Granted, the whole color palette remains crushed and gritty for generally the whole film, which might leave a bad taste in your mouth, it's trying to depict drama visually, and I understand that this choice is something of an overcompensation for the fact that this serious movie is based off of one of the goofiest franchises in living memory.
Problem is, while I like the style and I can understand the visual choices behind this project, it's not particularly memorable. The crushed tones is a fairly common choice in serious dramas or movies that are attempting to have some kind of edge factor, and while I think it suits the film, it's hardly ever something that's discussed even among the select few people that do happen to remember this movie. But there are far bigger problems with this film that doomed it in the box office.
The Action. (-)
This is one of the things that really sunk this movie, because for a superhero movie, this film has almost no action. And what little action this film does have is a little bland. There's a lot of CGI and a good dose of slow motion. It's not bad, but it's a little played out, though the suit design for the movie is decent. Instead of these goofy spandex spank suits, the kids get to wear these cool alien-esque suits of armor that actually make sense in the context of the story. But when it comes to action, even I can admit that this movie doesn't necessarily blow you away with its fight sequences—which unfortunately is what big audiences migrate over to the theatre to see: big budget explosions and invincible super people punching things, along with some comedy and drama sprinkled in there and lovable heroes doing the punching. Of course, Marvel has got this down to a science, hiring very likeable people to slip into the shoes of powerful characters who have just enough nostalgia factor and character development to make us fleetingly care for them, even if you haven't necessarily seen their individual movies. In Marvel's billion dollar formula, the illusion of deep characterization and personal drama is just deep enough so that fans can fill in the gaps and connect with these goofy superpeople, yet so that movie studio execs and writers can keep the characters flexible enough for drama, betrayal, and surprise to come out of nowhere at the drop of a hat. This is not to disparage all superheroes and superhero movies, as there are some super characters that are truly well developed and genuinely win the audience's hearts.
BUT generally, though, the character development in superhero movies is not stellar. Characters are written with these vague personality types like sexy badass bitch or goofy comedic relief, and we just roll with it while the real star of the show, the action, distracts us from these film's flimsy cinematic frameworks. A lot of people slip into the theatre for Big blowout battles. Boss fights. Faceless, forgettable goons being sliced, bitch slapped, and bashed into crumbs so the hero can flex their muscles for the audience. And unfortunately for the box office performance of Saban's Power Rangers, that's not what the writers wanted to focus on. Sure, there are lots of cool shots of the kids in their modernized suits in the trailers, kicking ass and slicing through generic rock monsters, but what really grounds this movie is something else entirely. WHICH WE WILL GET TO. But first:
The Acting. (-)
Okay, so maybe I'm being a little bit of a dick. The acting in this movie is honestly not bad at all. It's a little rough, a little awkward, but there's a lot of potential, and the cast is clearly trying. These are all clearly talented, though unseasoned young stars-to-be who are still getting their footing, but who have the potential to work very well both individually and together if given the chance to continue this property with future projects. I mean, in real life the cast has great chemistry and seem to get along very well and compliment one another, and some of this even bleeds nicely into the film, though some growth is admittedly needed to nurture these performers to their full potential, but we will get into that later. That being said, I can understand why the performances in this film, while generally well-received, were not enough to save it from falling out of the public memory. MOVING ON:
The Story. (-)
This is where we really start to get into the heart of why I value this movie and why I think it should be remembered, because this movie's story is not… spectacular. It's simple. Five kids with attitude stumble onto the Power Rangers base and have to learn to work together before the big bad gathers her forces and nabs the magical McGuffin that will destroy the world as we know it. It's very typical of this genre, if not outright cliche. And it doesn't add any particular pizzazz to hide the fact that it's playing off of this old superhero framework. It doesn't mask the formula with some globe-trotting spectacle or some presumption of pioneering something different and fresh about the world. The story just is what it is. It's swept under the rug. But that's kind of the point: because we're not supposed to care about the story, really. It's just a vehicle to start looking at something far more important, something grounded and relatable, something that WE ARE FINALLY GETTING TO:
Character over Action (+)
It's important to note that this movie was written as The Breakfast Club of superhero films. It very much toes the line between heroic origin story and ensemble drama, meaning that whereas most other superhero films place their worth in spectacle, action, and larger than life personas, this film deals with smaller and more nuanced issues. Namely, over action, CGI mech suits, and space aliens, it chooses to focus on: characters. Now, I kind of talked about this when I was describing the action of this movie, or rather its general lack thereof, but I think it's crucial to really emphasize how important the focus on character is for this movie, as this is the only was it can be properly appreciated and hopefully remembered for what it was trying to do differently from other superhero films in this oversaturated genre. And probably the best place to emphasize this point is in the opening sequence of the film, from the first scene to the title card. Like most superhero movies, it begins with a very dramatic and dark teaser to set up the stakes and reward the audience with a glimpse at the harrowing and epic journey to come. There's ash falling from the sky, the original pink ranger just rolls over and dies, Bryan Cranston in alien make-up is army crawling through this apocalyptic hellscape, and the entire exchange between him and Rita Repulsa ends with the extinction of the dinosaurs and the decimation of complex life on Earth, including the original Power Rangers, who fucking die. Jesus Christ.
But whereas a different film would have ended there, with some blaring title reveal, this film transitions smoothly into a continued opening scene. In this second scene, we follow the lead ranger, Jason as he's sneaking a cow into his football team's locker room as a prank. It sounds ridiculous, I know, but the scene actually comes off as light and funny, and it sets up one of main character's primary struggles throughout the film, which is dealing with his self-sabotaging complex with authority. He hates being controlled and resents the burden of other people depending and pressuring him, so he blows up and does reckless stunts like pulling off this prank, breaking parole, and almost stealing a car, but at the same time he himself is always being crowded into these positions of authority because as much as he just wants to be free and act like some edgy deviant, he cares about people and he makes a good leader. The opening sequence ends with Jason being chased by local police, and seemingly getting away with this petty crime, until, he crashes directly into a parked car and his car flips. Then the title card flips on with no music, no flashy lettering, nothing. Super plain, super simple, and super unlike what you might expect from a superhero opening. This sequence really sets the expectation for what the rest of the film will be like, with some perfunctory superhero action occasionally sprinkled in, but always bookended and trumped by a bigger focus on personal drama.
And this is really where the description of Breakfast-Club-esque origin story really kicks in. Because the five rangers are first introduced as literal cliches such as: popular pretty rich girl, reckless jock who doesn't want to play football, loveable and peace-seeking nerd with familial tragedy, edgy outsider in dark tones lacking a healthy father figure, and alienated weirdo who the others know very little about and struggle to even begin to understand. Like I said, it's all very cliche, but that's the point. The film's progression is tracked by an unfurling of these cookie cutter characters into deeper, more grounded versions of a common identity that they all share: that of confused, angry children boxed in by their individual social circumstances. Some aspects of this development come off as silly and ornamental, like the fact that Trini does death metal yoga and Billy loves country music, but these offhand tidbits of characterization can be fun, and other revelations about the characters can be genuinely tender.
Granted, I would hardly say that Saban's Power Rangers even approaches the depth and development of John Hughes' The Breakfast Club, but for a film situated within such an action and spectacle dominated genre, this choice to square in on character over action is a refreshing one, to say the least.
Representation (+)'Power Rangers' film premiere, Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 22 Mar 2017
Boom, we're moving on through. Now, I am not one to throw extra points at a film for just having representational tokens, like having a strong female lead or a cast of color. Personally, I look at these aspects critically, because I know that in most instances these choices are not made out of a drive for representation or an actual passion to depict stories of difference. Most of the time, a huge corporation or studio will rub their hands together and say, hey, you know what will make lots of money? And that's it. These sorry scraps of representation are often shallow and surface level. For example, say you're making a film where one of the representational hooks is the fact that it stars a strong female lead. Well, one very popular storytelling choice is to have said female lead act like an unstoppable badass, and there might, maybe be some throwaway line about women or progress or something of the like and then she'll go back to kicking ass either with her mind or her body, even if it's detrimental to her character development or even the socio-historical circumstances of the story.
Then, you have Racial and ethnic examples of representation, which are usually the most awkward, in the instances that they're acknowledged at all. Most of the time, a character of color is just dropped into a scenario and no one bats an eye, which in and of itself isn't problematic. I mean, is it relevant to just suddenly start talking about why xyz character is black when it has no hold on the plot?--no, of course not. But it becomes an issue when characters of difference are thrown into minor or side roles, clearly to just check a box off for the studio exec's inclusion checklist, without even a tiny acknowledgement of how they may be experiencing the main story differently from the other characters.
I think the worst genric example of this is probably romantic comedies, where you have the cute white female falling in love and whose always supported either by her gay or black friend, or sometimes even both. But superhero movies can also be very cringey and clumsy when they're handling these moving parts. This is probably because they've received the full big budget studio treatment and so they've been hypersanitized and vaguely approach things like race or gender so as to please a global audience. My point being, with maybe just one notable exception, people hardly walk into a Marvel movie expecting some stellar representation of race, gender, or any other identities of difference. It's just not something that has a track record of being done well in this corner of Hollywood.
But then you have Saban's Power Rangers, that weird mutant baby that sits somewhere between a teenage drama and a superhero origin movie. It might sound crazy but, based on this hype I've been building up, do you think they might've handled it differently? YES.
Kevin Feige, take notes. because this movie manages to tastefully balance the representation among its five main leads. Specifically, the film manages to display the normal, everyday functionality of these identities, both without being awkwardly overbearing and without just erasing them entirely. Specifically, the way that it handles the portrayal of Billy's autism is what impressed me the most.
Now, sadly enough, a few great scenes that show this side of Billy's identity ended up on the cutting room floor, because the studio wanted more punchy-smash action scenes and less character development, but I'm going to show these cut moments as well because the cast and crew of this film wrote, performed, shot, and even edited and color-corrected these scenes with the full intention of including them in the film, and I care more about what they have to say than the higher-ups who enforced these cuts.
Now, I'll shut up for a second and just let a few of these moments play out for you:
Now do you see what I'm talking about? Beautiful. Smooth. Slotted perfectly into the story and adding something unique and insightful about the characters that we are being told to care about. Representation in film is meant to do exactly this, enhancing the story that it's telling and actively enriching the cast of characters. It's not meant to just be tucked awkwardly in the back of the movie, like the weird quiet kid in a classroom. It's not meant to be shoved in the audience's face and demand respect and applause without really earning or saying anything unique. It's meant to be handled with care, nuance, and meaning, and though I might be way overselling this movie for the depth of its character development, among other titles in the superhero genre, it goes above and beyond the call of duty and presents us with something honestly worthwhile to consider, if a little rough around the edges.
The Cast (+)
Okay, so I had begun to mention this when I was talking about the acting in this film, which I would argue is generally pretty solid. It's not stellar or out of this world. I'm not going to fly off the handle and tell you that Naomi Scott as the Pink Ranger is reminiscent of Meryl Streep, but these actors are young and doing their best, and for what it is this film's performances are far better than they could have been, and include some actual hints at exceptional talent just waiting to be realized with a bit more work and experience.
Take Dacre Montgomery, who plays Jason Scott, the red ranger. Now, apparently Montgomery was plucked practically fresh out of drama school to be in this film. Of course, he had played minor roles in other, small projects before, but these hardly could have prepared him for the demands of playing the Red Ranger, the leading role of this film. Understandably, he's a little shaky with both his attempted American accent, and a few other moments in his performance. But this is pretty expected, considering that he's being thrown headfirst into the starring role of a major Hollywood production straight out of school. With some exceptions.
That being said, clearly Montgomery was chosen for a reason, because there are glimmers of raw, though rough, talent even in this goofy context.
For example, while Power Rangers was released at the beginning of 2017, at the end of 2017 Montgomery played the role of Billy Hargrove in Stranger Things season 2, and even with just some months' worth of a gap between these two projects, the actor had noticeably grown and gave a memorable performance with a greatly improved emotional range and a far more believable American accent.
And that's not even to mention the third season of Stranger Things, where he absolutely kills it and steals the season right out from under a cast of great talent.
And this is just in reference to this one actor, among the main five. Every single one of these kids puts on a decent show, even Becky G, who's not even a fucking actor by trade. And since this project, every one of these guys has gone on to take part in huge projects and have really started to refine their skills as performers. Ludi Lin scored a leading role in the fifth season of Black Mirror with the episode Striking Vipers, RJ Cyler was in Sierra Burgess is a Loser, Becky G's musical career has continued to grow and her stage and screen presence is constantly being coached, and Naomi Scott has been taking Hollywood by storm by nabbing the role of Jasmine in this year's live action Aladdin remake and The Charlie's Angels reboot, where she plays side-by-side with Kristen Stewart and Elizabeth Banks. Now, that's not to say that I love every one of these projects, because honestly I have a problem with a couple of them, but it's undeniable that the main five chosen to helm this movie are very well-selected and put their hearts into this shaky but earnest take on a tricky concept to pull off: a serious Power Rangers movie. Guys, cut them a little slack.
And all of this is just in reference to their on screen performances. In marketing and interviews together, these five have great chemistry. They each bring a different perspective of the entertainment industry to the table. Their cast chemistry is the stuff of dreams for other films, where interviews can be stilted or boring at best, and the cast's relationship has remained solid even after all this time, with the performers collaborating in each other's projects and keeping in touch despite their diverging schedules.
And maybe with a little bit of time, faith, and funding, these more-matured performers could've pulled off something heartwarming and resonant and great in the sequel that Hasbro had promised was on the way.
But I guess that's not gonna happen now. Because a reboot is now in development, with a whole new cast, an entirely new story, and no credence given to this film in the slightest. To Hasbro and to Hollywood, Saban's Power Rangers is dead and gone. Forgotten. A weird character-driven drama hybrid superbaby lost in a sea of failed corporate endeavors.
But that doesn't mean that we have to forget this movie, or how it fought the system by trying to do something different and unique, when it could've easily just given us spectacle with no substance. NO, I say we fight back with the simple and easy strategy of just remembering that it was here. Please, memorialize this movie in your mind, not because it's amazing or life-changing or even excellent, but because it stands apart and defies the typical genric formula of what it had been born into.
In an age where superhero blockbusters and terrible comedies dominate the box office, I hope that we can make a little room in our hearts for a movie with a heart of its own. Please, as Disney Plus launches and we continue drowning in these endless superhero movies, don't forget about the Power Rangers (2017). We salute you, Saban's Power Rangers, and we will never, ever forget you.
- $500 DKMH Music Contest, “Nightmares,” and “In Vitro” ›
- The Future Of Power Rangers: Cheesy Or Gritty ›
- Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (TV Series 1993–1999) - IMDb ›
- Power Rangers ›
- Power Rangers - Wikipedia ›
- Saban's POWER RANGERS - Official Movie Site - Now On Digital ... ›
- Power Rangers (2017 Movie) All-Star Trailer - YouTube ›
- Superhero TV Show Trailers, Games, & Apps - Power Rangers ›
- Power Rangers (2017) - IMDb ›
- Power Rangers (2017 Movie) Official Trailer – It's Morphin Time ... ›