Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Ones Who Are Worthy - Review of "Power Rangers" (2017)


Seriously - there are going to be a TON of spoilers in this review post. Proceed at your own risk!




Enough of a buffer? Sure hope so.

Ahem - okay. Now to begin.


Yes, I have more coherent thoughts on this film. The most pithy of which is that movie was better than it had any right to be. That is not a criticism of the movie or the franchise as a whole. But let's deal with reality here - Power Rangers is the ultimate in '90s camp. It is cheestastic to the nth degree. If future generations ever want to understand what the 1990s were like, a good place to start would be the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers TV series.

It was never meant to be anything more than a low-budget, cheaply-made show to put on the Fox Network's after-school block of programming for kids. Probably sell some action figures and make some extra cash on the side. But a phenomenon? Twenty-plus seasons and several iterations of the series? Multiple feature-length films? Still going strong even when the initial target audience is well into adulthood and having their own kids? Puh-leaze...

And yet - here we are in 2017 and the franchise is getting a serious movie update. Not just an update, but the hopes that an entire movie universe could be built around it and maybe compete with big dogs like Marvel and Star Wars. Like, people working on this thing actually care about the property and want to see it succeed at the box office. Actual Characters and Actual Storylines are being developed with a keen attention to who these people are and why we should give a damn about any of it.

Oh yes - and add in technicolor superheroes with giant dinosaur robots that fight evil monsters terrorizing planet Earth.

This movie is an origin story. But it's more than "Here kids - you get superpowers now go fight evil." Nope. These five teenagers have to EARN their Zords. And they all have a long way to go. Each of them are screw-ups in their own way. Maybe they're not all intentionally rebellious, but you probably remember your teen years - trying to be an adult but failing miserably. Pretending like you don't care what people think of you, but you do. Even more, caving to peer pressure and realizing that you care what you think of yourself, even more than anyone else.

The kids in this movie are real kids. All trying to figure out their lives, even though some of them should have it figured out. At least, according to everyone around them.

What sucks for these guys and girls is that their powers are based on their connection to themselves. Which involves opening up to each other and accepting one another's faults and weaknesses - not posturing or posing or trying to look like anything other than what they are. And trusting the others not to use that as a weapon.

It's logical to start with Jason (since the movie does). Star high school quarterback, small town hero, has his ticket to his future basically punched. Then he pulls a really stupid prank, gets caught by the police, panics and causing untold amount of property damage, screws up his knee, and his football career (complete with college scholarships) is gone. Oh - and he gets to go to weekly detention with a bunch of losers and ne'er-do-wells. YAY.

And then there's Billy. Good grief - that boy is the innocent little puppy dog you want to take home and take care of and make sure none of the bigger, meaner dogs come after him. It's established earlier that Billy is autistic, so there's a lot that he doesn't understand from others and he encounters a lot of trouble because of it (through no fault of his own). But rather than be some stupid stereotype, the story plays with a lot of his character's strengths. And, man, does RJ Cyler knock the performance out of the freaking park! There is humor in his character, yes. But it's never mean-spirited or rude. It's endearing and heartfelt.

There's one point where Rita Repulsa refers to Billy as "the pure of heart" and, really, that's Billy's role for the team. He is the heart of this group. In fact (I told you there'd be spoilers), when Rita kills Billy, that's when the team fully gels. Sure, they'd been getting to that point and making good progress, but it was the loss of someone they all cared about (that they didn't realize how much they all cared) that pushed them into that team cohesion. It's like - Billy was fully on-board with this superhero thing from the beginning and his sacrifice was needed to inspire that in the others.

(Billy does get better. Through some space-alien technology thingummy - it all works out and he survives. Suffice it to say, as much as the Rangers team needed to learn to trust each other, Zordon also needed to learn to trust this new group of kids. Even he had a bit of a character arc, which was nice.)

Kimberly's an interesting one because you don't find out her story for a long time into the movie. And the whole time, you're thinking "Oh no - what could have happened to her to make her talk about running away or just not wanting to deal with it?" Don't know about anyone else, but my mind went to some pretty dark places. Her issue? She spread a nasty rumor about a friend and felt like the worst human being on the planet because of it. Compared to what some of the other Rangers confess to, that may seem tame. But I liked how that guilt weighed on Kimberly. Like, her trials wasn't because of difficulties with her family or bad circumstances or some misunderstanding. She made a mistake and she needed to learn to forgive herself for it. She was embarrassed by her actions, thinking that they made her a bad person.

Now, with the other two - Zack and Trini - there wasn't a whole lot of time spent on their backstories (it's kind of hard to balance a full story with five main characters). But we did get enough to understand where their characters were coming from (and they'll probably get more treatment in the sequels). Zack's mom is terminally ill and he has to take care of her. To the point that he doesn't always go to school, nor does he go home at night for fear of waking up and finding out his mom passed away in the night.

Trini doesn't fit in with her "perfect" family and is point-blank rebelling against their normal life. And she just doesn't want to let anyone in - she does her own thing and nobody's going to tell her what to do. She's the most reluctant of the Rangers, it seems. It gets to the point where Rita offers to spare her life if she tells Rita where the Zeo Crystal is (the source of all life on planets and Rita wants it because, evil). I half-expected Trini to accept Rita's offer and be the snake in the grass. But she actually goes to the team and tells them what Rita's plans are and warns them that Rita is going to destroy the world the next day. So, consider that a trope averted.

There's just a lot of heart in this movie. So much that, when this group of strangers actually starts coming together as close-knit friends, I actually felt a little teary-eyed at it. Keep in mind, this is freaking Power Rangers. That campy, corny show that kept me mindlessly entertained in my childhood. The one with all the silly catchphrases and 90s-isms. And - yep - they made it emotional and serious.

That's not to say there is no humor in this movie. Nope. The training montage where Alpha 5 tries to teach them how to fight has its share of comedy of errors. Zack hijacking the Mastodon Zord before he's morphed was pretty funny (the van full of nuns he almost ran over was hilarious). Like I said, a lot of Billy's moments were just pure joy and heart. And there's a moment where Trini and Kimberly are in the Krispy Kreme (yes, Krispy Kreme - we'll get to that) and they're "fighting" over the last bit of donut. For all of Trini's standoffishness, you can see that the two girls are starting to become friends.

After all the heaviness of the kids coming together as the team - it's after they learn to morph and get the Zords and take off after Rita that the fun begins. And I was LAUGHING throughout that whole sequence. Not because it was unintentionally funny or that I was making fun of it - I was just amazed at how much FUN I was having watching these new Rangers take on Rita's Putties and Goldar. It was like - we had the big, weighty stuff. Now we needed the payoff of all that work this team put into becoming a team. And once they were through those obstacles, everything else seemed easy (even when Goldar had them burning up inside their giant mechs and they all almost died in the Zeo Crystal - but that just made a giant Megazord. Or, as Billy almost called it, Mamazord. I would have liked Mamazord, actually).

Okay - the Krispy Kreme thing. Much has be said about the obvious product placement. Honestly, after the fuss so many people made about it, I thought there'd be more to it than there was. I think there were three scenes where "Krispy Kreme" was shoved in at every turn and corner, but after that - nothing. In fact, Jared said that he wasn't quite sure if it was product placement, or just a joke (to be sure, he knew it was product placement. But it was done in such a way that it was corny enough in a Power Rangers movie not to be product placement. If that makes sense).

And, yes, there was plenty of cornball camp to remind us what we were watching, exactly. Not so much that it overpowered the rest of the movie. But the sudden inclusion of the original "Go Go Power Rangers" theme - like, full-on the TV theme, not redone or rebooted with some modern-day rock group doing vocals - as the team was heading out with their Zords to fight Rita. Also, the part when they've formed the Megazord and the thing falls flat on its face because they haven't figured out how to control it. And even the prank Jason pulls with the cow at the beginning of the movie.

Yes, folks. There is camp in this movie. Just enough to make it work.

I also must make mention of the cameos. Because how could you have a Power Rangers reboot without throwing in one or two cameos? I wasn't sure who would show up, exactly. I did see that most of the original cast had gone to the movie premiere and that was pretty cool. But I kept an eye out for who they could have put in the movie. And I full-on applauded in the movie theater when, at the end of the big battle when the citizens of Angel Grove were coming out to survey the damage, none other than Jason David Frank and Amy Jo Johnson were front and center of the crowd, taking pictures of the Megazord with their cell phones and grinning at each other like they were still Tommy and Kimberly of twenty years ago.

In fact, I'm headcanoning it that they WERE an older Tommy and Kimberly who were still together after all this time.

Will make things interesting in the sequel *cough, cough, mid-credit-scene, cough*

I know I've gushed at length about this movie. And I'm sure that after some time, I'll think of flaws and things to nit-pick about it (I do with they'd given us more backstory on Zack and Trini, but like I said - sequels!) But for a first-watch of a movie that I had no idea what I was going to to get, I was pleasantly surprised how much FUN I had watching this movie. And that's what I've felt has been lacking in movies lately. There's been so much focus on "diversity" and checking off census ticky boxes to make Tumblr happy, that the stories have suffered because writers have been focusing on the wrong things (it's like we have to have crappy social preaching before we can be entertained. If the entertainment ever gets there, that is). And much has been made of Power Rangers's diverse cast. But I was more interested in the characters as presented, because the story made them interesting (and the actors each made those characters interesting as well).

Character and story first, then worry about their genetic makeup and what-have-you afterward. And really, I think they got it with this one.

Now they've done such a good job with one movie, the pressure's on to do a repeat. And if they're going the direction that I think they're going to go with the next, there is SO MUCH potential for good storytelling and characters. The pieces are there - they just need to be in the hands of competent creators and entertaining storytellers.

Go, go Power Rangers writers. You've got this.

(I am so sorry for that pun. But I had to.)

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