Power Rangers (2017)
One of my first days of preschool, I came home visibly upset.
My two best friends, who were aptly name Zach and Kimberly, wanted to play Power Rangers during recess. Zach had chosen the Blue Ranger, and Kimberly and I were in a tense battle over who would be the Pink Ranger. Kimberly claimed she should get to be the Pink Ranger because they had the same name.
But I was in love with the Pink Ranger. I didn't have the words for it at five years old, but whether I wanted to be the Pink Ranger or wanted to marry the Pink Ranger was all mixed up in my mind. I was fascinated by her. Obsessed.
When we couldn't agree on who should get to be her, I stormed off. I spent all of five minutes sitting underneath the slide by myself, before coming back and agreeing to be the Yellow Ranger instead.
I knew the Pink Ranger, everything about her. At some point in those five minutes, I decided I wasn't worthy to be her. I held onto that frustration, that disappointment in myself until I got off the bus that afternoon and cried to my mom that I would never be a Power Ranger.
At 25 years old, I sat in the theatre at 3:35 on a Monday afternoon. The opening scene from “Power Rangers” features a dying Zordon, burying power coins, the source of the rangers' power, in the ground. With a strangled voice, he tells them, “Seek only those who are worthy.”
This is immediately different than the Power Rangers who came before. In the 90s, Zordon told the Alpha 5 android to find “five teenagers with attitude” to become the new group of Earth's defenders against Rita Repulsa. Those were the only qualifications. With that, Alpha 5 tracked down five pretty, smart, and popular high school students.
It was a light superhero show for kids, meant to be more flash than substance. The original Power Rangers were never the underdogs. You never had a reason to not like the Power Rangers, but you never really had a reason to want them to win, either.
Liongate's “Power Rangers” brings these characters into 2017.
Jason isn't the most popular guy in school anymore. He was, at some point, but after sneaking a cow into the school locker room and crashing his truck fleeing the crime scene, Jason finds himself kicked off the football team, on house arrest, and in permanent Saturday detention. Billy Cranston, the tech junkie who is still somehow friends with the popular kids, is autistic and has an extensive history of being bullied in this incarnation.
Zack Taylor's mother is his best friend. Trini Kwan is a lesbian whose family doesn't accept anything about her, so she keeps entirely to herself. Kimberly Hart, the girl of my childhood dreams, was once the popular cheerleader she was in the original series, but lost it all because deep down, she's a mean person and lashes out against people.
These kids would never have been chosen on the merits of being “teenagers with attitude.”
But somehow, the power coins deem them worthy.
Sixty five million years after Zordon buries the power coins in the ground, this group of five digs them out. At this point, they're little more than strangers to each other. That same night, Rita Repulsa is pulled up from the ocean on a fishing boat and immediately begins her quest to bring back her minion Goldar and claim the power crystal buried somewhere in Angel Grove that will help her destroy Earth. These new Power Rangers have 11 days to come together, learn how to use and control their new powers, and defeat Rita.
It's “Breakfast Club”, meets “Spiderman”, meets “The Avengers”, meets “Transformers”, meets the year 2017. This isn't the Power Rangers of your childhood.
For starters, these guys are bad at being heroes. Sure, they've got a little bit of alien tech helping them out, but they are plain not good at using their new powers, even as far as into the final battle. They don't learn everything, despite the most feel-good training montage I've ever seen.
Being Rangers doesn't fix things. They make mistakes. Kimberly keeps her guard up, unwilling to admit the awful ways she's treated her former group of friends, and it keeps the Rangers from being able to morph into their armor. Near the start of the film, Jason refuses to snitch on the people who helped him sneak the cow into the school. That unwavering desire to put others first has real consequences in the film.
What makes this film is the small details. Billy's openness about his autism, Zack cluelessly flirting with Trini (and being gentle with her when he pieces together that she's a lesbian) and Kimberly hinting she had suicidal ideation.
When Jason rallies them to fight Rita, he asks for a show of hands, and Zack raises a fist. The original series was relatively diverse for its time, but “Power Rangers” takes that task on ten-fold, bringing layers of diversity to each of the rangers, only one of whom is a straight white male.
All of this, while not a single minute of this film was wasted on a romantic subplot. They did the superhero genre right.
Elizabeth Banks makes Rita Repulsa terrifying, something the original series always failed to do. She was never scary, you never really believed she was going to win. This Rita is a fallen Ranger, with full control of her powers and the monster, Goldar. Early in the film she tells the Rangers, “You're not ready to kill me. You're not worthy,” and you believe her.
In the final battle, when Rita and the Rangers come to a head, you want her to be wrong. The Power Rangers stumble, only able to form the iconic Megazoid when they believe they're about to meet their end. What comes after that is giant monster versus giant robot duel that is satisfying in the most primal way possible.
After all is said and done, Rita leaves the rangers with this: “I know I am worthy.”
These five kids never really believed in their own worth and look what they accomplished. Rita is no longer an unpredictable sorceress, whose motivations are murky at best. With this film, she becomes a cautionary tale.
The film has some pacing issues. There's emotional payoff, but the backstories feel rushed. That aside, the relationships developed between the characters feel real. When Trini asks, “When all this is over, are we Power Rangers or are we friends?” you're still unsure, but by the end of the film, you know the answer.
This isn't the Power Rangers of your childhood because it's better.
Let it leave no more preschoolers feeling unworthy of joining their ranks.