Saturday, October 21, 2017

Hubri5Ween 2017, Day 16: Power Rangers (2017)


When Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers hit American television in the 1990s, it did so juuuuust when I was too old to immediately fall under its spell. I watched a handful of episodes and I thought some of the robots and monsters were cool, but I found the whole enterprise just too silly for a fourth grader like myself.

So I hadn't expected to care when a big budget, nostalgia-exploiting cash grab reboot hit the scene earlier this year. I mean, why should I care about a property that I had so little investment in?

And yet, I found myself getting angry at each new trailer or bit of news about the project. Rita Repulsa is no longer going to be played a Japanese (or even Asian) woman? The Zords not only look like hideous Michael Bay Transformers rip-offs, but the Mastodon looks like a bug? Goldar is now a huge monster literally made of molten gold? It's trying to play this whole thing as dead serious?

Still, I heard mixed things about the final film and my son had become something of a Power Rangers fan around this time. So I knew I would be watching it. However, what I didn't expect was that I would end up loving it and hating it, in near equal measure.

Confused? Well, you should be.

The film's opening sequence actually perfects sets the tone for my feelings on the film as a whole because of how it both annoys and delights me. It annoys me because it tells us we are on Earth in the "Cenozoic Era" and yet the first thing we see are Pteranodons in the sky, despite them having been extinct by that point. It delights me because, in this film's lore, Zordon (Bryan Cranston) was the Red Ranger who fell when the Green Ranger, Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) betrayed her fellow rangers.

"Look, we all know that anyone who gets ahold of a staff turns evil. It's inevitable!"
This is a nice bit of lore, and as far as I can tell is unique to this film, so that's a nice divergence they chose there. At any rate, now that all the rangers but Zordon are dead and he's currently dying, he buries their power coins and orders Alpha 5 (Bill Hader) to send a meteorite to his location. Unfortunately for Rita, she chose that location to gloat over Zordon and the blast shreds her armor and tosses her into the ocean.

Presumably this is supposed to have been the meteorite that killed the dinosaurs, in which case we were still in the Mesozoic in that prologue.

At any rate, in the present the film takes a strange turn by actually giving us "a group of teenagers with attitude" as the original show promised. Of course, it does this by effectively ripping off The Breakfast Club as most of the kids who will become our rangers meet in Saturday school detention. Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery) ends up there for a prank he pulled that destroyed school property, Kimberly Hart (Naomi Scott) ends up there for a bullying incident that won't be explained until later, and explicitly autistic nerd Billy Cranston (RJ Cyler) has gotten himself detention after accidentally blowing up his locker.

When Jason stands up for Billy against a bully who also got himself Saturday school, Billy invites Jason to his house with the promise of a way to disable his house arrest anklet. Of course, it turns out that Billy needs someone to drive him out to an old quarry where he is trying to dynamite the rock wall to find...well, something. Kimberly was already out there swimming in a nearby pond when Jason happened to find her, and Billy's explosion brings the attention of Zack (Ludi Lin) and Trini (Becky G) who were in the area for their own odd reasons.

To be fair, these "teenagers with attitude" will probably seem extra ridiculous in 20 years, too.
Sure enough, after a rock slide nearly kills poor Trini, they all find something: a weird wall of glass-like stone. Zack impulsively hammers at the wall and uncovers the power coins that Zordon had hidden. Everybody takes one, but they are forced to flee when mine security shows up. Yet the van crash that follows not only fails to kill them, but leaves them all discovering the next day that they seem to suddenly have inhuman strength and agility.

Unfortunately, those coins probably found their Rangers because they sensed the antagonist was returning. Jason's dad runs a crab boat and his crew unexpectedly recovers a mummified corpse of what they think is a woman. Naturally, it's none other than Rita Repulsa and her reanimated corpse quickly goes on a killing spree, both to revive her body and to retrieve large amounts of gold.

"Hi, I'm an eldritch abomination from beyond the stars. Isn't this kooky?"
Why gold, you ask? Well, our rangers will get an answer when they all go back to the quarry and find a strange underground lake that hides a hidden chamber that seems to disobey the laws of physics--and an ancient spaceship, half-buried in the rock. Inside they meet Alpha 5, who first terrifies them before they realize he's actually pretty goofy, and then he introduces them to Zordon.

Zordon's intellect has been preserved in the ship's matrix, which translates to "now he's a huge talking head trapped in a wall." Zordon explains that they are the Power Rangers and they are here to stop Rita before she can rebuild the monster Goldar and destroy the Zeo Crystal. Said Zeo Crystal is buried somewhere under the town of Angel Grove, and if Rita destroys it she will destroy all life on Earth. Worse, they have only eleven days to stop her.

Because this is a movie from 2017 and, at some point, it was decided that every hero must be reluctant, the rangers say "fuck that" and go home.

However, they all find themselves drawn back and Zordon tries to get them to access the morphing grid in order to access their armor, but for plot reasons they can't. So it's training montage time, where Alpha 5 conjures holographic versions of Rita's minions, "Putties", for them to fight. It's actually a great montage, especially since it's set to "Hands Clap" by Fitz and The Tantrums.

It helps that Becky G is cute as hell. ...did I say that out loud?
And it must be said that the characters of the rangers are all genuinely engaging and the actors, despite being relative unknowns, are all great. Which is good, because aside from one moment when Billy accidentally turns on his Blue Ranger armor, the film will be well over 75% of the way over before we actually get to see our Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers actually do any damn morphin'.

However, this doesn't mean that we have to wait that long before they face Rita. Oh no, Rita confronts Trini in her bedroom in a scene that is uncomfortably close to sexual assault--especially given the film has already implied that Trini is bisexual--and, from what I can tell, was even worse in some of the deleted footage.

I'm sure many folks already "ship it," but people also want to fuck a killer clown demon so...
At any rate, Rita made her appearance to tell Trini to have the rangers to meet her in a shipyard. Which they do, with pipes and chains as their only weapons against an ancient being they already know killed off an entire squad of rangers who actually had their armor and much more than a week of training. Predictably, it goes bad. After Billy reveals that he has figured out that the Zeo Crystal is beneath Angel Grove's Krispy Kreme franchise to try and save Zack's life, Rita kills Billy and leaves the others to grieve.

Here's where the movie takes a turn for the bullshit--as it has done and will do several times--when they take Billy's body back to the ship. Zordon somehow has the chance to bring his essence back through the morphing grid to regain his body, but he decides instead to bring Billy back to life. This is bullshit because up to this point, the movie has done an excellent job of showing us that its Zordon is a selfish asshole who dislikes the new rangers and just wants a chance to get his body back. Then, suddenly, he shows a bit of selflessness that is utterly unearned.

Now it's finally time for the rangers to figure out how to morph and to pilot their Zords into battle, just in time since Rita has already formed Goldar and an army of Putties, and she is marching right into the heart of Angel Grove. To my delight, the film sets the Zords advancing on Rita to Kanye West's "Power", which is a genuinely clever idea in my opinion. Others might groan, of course.

Yes, that's Goldar. Yes, it's pretty ridiculous.
But here's another point where the film kind of fails. Angel Grove in the TV show was pretty obviously a cover for Tokyo or whichever major Japanese city the original effects footage is supposed to be taking place in. (I have seen a few episodes of Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger, but long enough ago that I have forgotten where they take place) So Angel Grove was actually a city, with tall buildings. Here it's a mostly flat town with not a single building taller than maybe three stories.

As a result, that renders the giant monster fight of the climax somewhat underwhelming, and in fact this climactic battle feels like nothing so much as the battle with the Destroyer in Thor. That really doesn't fit for a Power Rangers movie, if you ask me.

At any rate, Goldar is too much for the rangers and their individual Zords--but the reveal that the Zords can form into a Megazord comes as a total surprise to the rangers. That's an odd choice, but not really much odder than making Goldar into a damn gold golem.

It wouldn't be Power Rangers if the Megazord didn't do a silly dance.
I'll be honest, of all the Zord designs in this film, the Megazord is the only one I actually liked when I first saw it and I still do. Even if, unlike the original series, there is no way of telling how the hell the Zords combined into this thing. It's also a little bit underwhelming that the final battle is resolved when the Megazord uses its wings as twin swords and stabs Goldar. Yes, somehow being stabbed kills a being that is composed of molten metal.

Oh, and then the Megazord slaps Rita into outer space. That's basically the end of it, aside from an ending reminding us that the studio is game for a sequel if we are (the box office for this film suggests we aren't), and also a mid-credits scene implies that a new Green Ranger is already in Angel Grove.

"I realize it's crucial that we keep our identities secret, but the audience wants to see our pretty faces!"
The biggest failing of this film, aside from the idea that the best way to create conflict is by having your characters be pricks to each other for no reason, is definitely the feeling that it has no idea who it was made for.

On the one hand, you have the sense that this is trying to follow the trend set by Michael Bay's Transformers of taking a property aimed at children and making it largely inappropriate for children to watch. For starters, Rita is literally a monster for most of the running time and is guaranteed to scare young children and possibly even older ones. More astoundingly, though, the first human characters we see in the film are part of an extended joke about someone jerking off a bull because he thought it was cow.

No, I'm not making that up.

On the other hand, this is also a very childish film. Alpha 5 is still played up as an excitable goofball, if a much less androgynous one. Rita is also a complete ham and, again, is defeated by being slapped into orbit.

There's also the fact that so much of the film seems calculated to piss off anyone who is a diehard fan of the original series, only to turn around and make references for the fans. Not only does the actual Power Rangers theme is played when the Zords first charge into battle, but there is a cameo from the original Pink and Green Rangers in a crowd scene.

As a result, the film is such a tonal mess that I was left unable to decide if I loved it or hated it. The truth, as I said earlier, is actually both. There is much of this film that is simply terrible, and there is also a huge percentage of it that I loved.

The biggest strength is definitely its cast. All of the rangers, as I said before, are genuinely engaging and as a result the film is genuinely at it's best during their character scenes. It's also great to see a genuine attempt at representation with these characters, in ways that aren't beholden to stereotypes. It's a sad statement on Hollywood that it's notable to have a diverse cast that doesn't feel like tokenism.

(Though, while I appreciate the film's attempt to get away from the inadvertently racist decision of the original series to make the black man the Black Ranger and the Asian woman the Yellow Ranger by shifting the ethnicities around a bit, it's still a tiny bit racist for the Latina to be the Yellow Ranger)

Bryan Cranston and Bill Hader do a fine enough job with their characters as well, but Elizabeth Banks is the real standout there. I still find it a bit awkward to have Rita played by a white woman, although if you must whitewash a character I'd rather it be the villain than the hero, but it must be said that Banks nearly steals the show in most scenes. That's not an easy task since the film is not quite sure what it wants Rita to be from scene to scene, but Banks manages to be just as silly and as intimidating as the script asks her to be, while also making sure to dial everything up to eleven.

In the end, it's a little bit sad that the film had only a lukewarm showing at the box office as I feel like a sequel might have been able to find its footing a bit better and really play up the good points of this film. At this stage, that's unlikely--though not impossible--so we have to make do with what we did get, I suppose.

Taken as a whole, then, I have to say that I actually kind of think Power Rangers is a good movie. Sure, it has some major flaws but once you're able to look past those you'll find it has some pleasant surprises in store. It's far from required viewing, but it's a perfect way to pass a Saturday afternoon.


Welcome to Day Sixteen of Hubri5Ween 2017, the fifth year of this nonsense! Click the banner above to see what everyone else did for P!

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