Hollywood, it sometimes seems, is little more than a questionably managed recycling plant, transforming old pop culture refuse into new pop culture refuse. That’s because many of these remakes, reboots and reimaginings we get nowadays contribute nothing to world at large except for new products, and not necessarily good ones. (I’m looking at you, every Fantastic Four movie.)
It was onto that particular junk pile that I think many of us expected to throw Power Rangers, the new reboot of a 1990s kids program about teenagers fighting monsters using the magic of re-purposed footage from Japanese superhero shows. But folks, I have something miraculous to report: Power Rangers doesn’t suck.
Not only does Power Rangers not suck, but Power Rangers is one of the most character-driven and appealing new superhero movies in a long while. It’s a story, much like the original, of a group of teenagers who fight monsters. But director Dean Israelite and his five (!) credited screenwriters have managed to produce a film that focuses instead on its ensemble cast of characters, a tapestry of fun and dynamic protagonists whose response to becoming superheroes is more human than we’re used to.
The plot begins back in the age of the dinosaurs, when the Red Ranger, Zordon (Bryan Cranston), orders a cataclysmic meteor strike on the planet Earth in order to stop the Green Ranger (Elizabeth Banks), because she’s already killed the entire Power Rangers team. Let’s start there. The sentence that begins this paragraph is awesome. All hail that sentence. They took an infamously goofy series and, in just one scene, made it overwhelmingly badass. Power Rangers is off to a great start.
From there we meet our new cast of characters, most of whom are stuck together in detention. There’s Jason (Dacre Montgomery), a popular jock bent on his own self-destruction, and Kimberly (Naomi Scott), a cheerleader in the throws of – we eventually learn – all-consuming shame. There’s Billy (RJ Cyler), an autistic savant with no friends and a tendency to blow things up. And at the local goldmine, where apparently all the cool kids hang out, they meet Zack (Ludi Lin), a loner who lives in fear of loneliness, and Trini (Becky G.), who has turned her social isolation into its own sort of superpower.
Together they find a clutch of magic coins that give them all color-coded abilities, and meet the giant floating head of Zordon and his surprisingly-not-annoying robot sidekick Alpha (Bill Hader). Together they learn that they will have to become “Power Rangers” to save the world from Rita Repulsa, the traitor who plans to destroy the planet to get her MacGuffin of choice. And together they eventually discover that “togetherness” is what matters most. In order to save the world they will have to overcome their own selfish obsessions and give more of a damn about other people than themselves.
Such a relatable coming-of-age story is being told here that it’s almost a disappointment when all the old Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers gimmicks show up in the third act. Giant monsters, little monsters, that goofy theme song, Power Rangers gets to all of it eventually. Fortunately the filmmakers seem to understand that these parts of the story are pretty ridiculous, so they spend most of the film making us love these characters so much that we’d probably follow them straight into the third act of The Garbage Pail Kids and be relatively forgiving.
Power Rangers should please fans of the original series, but not by way of overwhelming fealty. Dean Israelite’s film isolates what works about the Power Rangers concept and ignores everything that doesn’t, unless it’s absolutely vital to the premise. And when he can’t escape something kinda dumb he makes the most of it. Sometimes the world is a pretty weird place. You just have to accept the idea that sometimes you build meaningful relationships with the people around you, and sometimes you pilot an ancient reboot pteranodon and stop a gold leviathan from destroying the local Krispy Kreme. These things happen.
Let’s all congratulate the Hollywood recycling complex on getting it right this time. Power Rangers is better for having gone through the treatment. It’s smarter, funnier, more exciting and more meaningful than ever. Go. Go see Power Rangers.
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Top Photo: Lionsgate
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.