The new Power Rangers (opens in new tab) movie starts off with the end of the world. In a grim, dark and depressing, cold opening, Bryan Cranston’s Zordon sets up some classic Power Rangers lore, before all hope is lost. The villain wins, and Earth is never the same again.
It then immediately leads into a joke about masturbating a bull. No, really.
Behind the odd looking Iron Man redux armour, a noticeably more alien Alpha, and trailers purporting the new Rangers to be ‘damaged’, the new Power Rangers movie is one of the more life-affirming team superhero films around. So often in superhero tellings, the grit is put in place as an obstacle to the fun. Such and such cannot save the day until they deal with their deep, traumatic issues. When done well, with characters you enjoy, it’s a good B story. For example, in Spider-Man 2 Peter Parker finds himself unable to use his powers until he finally makes peace with the sacrifices he will have to make.
However, the problem with many a depressing superhero film is when they don’t spend long enough making their heroes enjoyable to be around while the grim, gritty depressing stuff is going on. If you have heroes you don’t empathise with, then rather than hoping they sort out their issues on their way to saving the world, you end up wishing they’d get on with it so you can see the bright CGI punching stuff you paid for.
The heart of the new film isn’t the traditional Power Rangers stuff. The new Power Rangers main strength isn’t even the impressive bit of stunt casting that allows Bryan Cranston to bring gravitas as Zordon or Elizabeth Banks to provide some storytelling spark with her hammy turn as the villainous Rita. Heck, the Power Rangers film barely focuses on Jason, the new Red Ranger. More so than any superhero film in recent times, Power Rangers works because it understands that if the heroes are boring out of the suits, no one will want to cheer for them when they are in them.
While promotional material sold the new Rangers as a bunch of damaged brooding outcasts, they’re all largely good-natured people who happen to come together after a few missteps. In fact, the film spends the bulk of its run time focusing on the Rangers out of the suits. A huge point is made of the fact the Rangers aren’t worthy of morphing into their armour because of ‘reasons’ so all the zords, armour, and punching stuff that you normally see in a Power Rangers episode only fills out about 30 minutes of the film. Instead Power Rangers forms a warm, sometimes corny story of a group of teenagers learning to love themselves, and each other, before they go off and save the world.
There’s a bit near the end of the film when Billy becomes the first Ranger to morph into his armour. He’s so wound up by Zack (the Black Ranger) and Jason fighting that he steps in. It’s a real fist pump moment because the film has spent the past 90 minutes building to it. Billy doesn’t morph for the first time because he needs to save the world, he does it because he wants to save his friends. And sometimes that’s just as important.
That’s why you can forgive Power Rangers for its occasional tonal missteps (Angel Grove is both a mining and a fishing town because they really want you to understand the Rangers are working class). By the time we do get to see the familiar parts of Power Rangers lore, we’re already on board because we have followed good natured people sort out their problems. Kimberly comes to forgive herself for doing a terrible thing. Zack comes to terms with his fear of losing his terminally ill mother. Trini opens up beyond her ‘cool’ exterior and more. All real, human problems, rather than needlessly dramatic darkness. When the Rangers all sit by a campfire and admit to each other they like each other it resonates, because that’s how many a real life friendship was forged - not by punching baddies, but by getting tipsy and admitting “Hey, I’m scared”.
That’s not to say there are no Rangers punching scenes. Power Rangers is anchored by some thoroughly entertaining bits of action. After our bull masturbating joke, the movie cuts to a brief car chase with Jason that - quite frankly - has no right being so delightful. Director Dean Israelite may wear his artistic influences on his sleeve, cherry picking from the best of martial arts and kaiju movies but ultimately it works. By the end, Power Rangers is having so much fun with its audience, it can make its product placement a nice story joke that the audience will accept, rather than disorientating bit of background radiation. I dare you to not grin ear to ear when the original Go Go Power Rangers theme hits. This whole thing could have coasted on nostalgia. Instead it gave a thoroughly entertaining update of something fans know and love.
Be it by accident or design, the promos for the new Power Rangers film have turned what should be a so-so origin story film into a deceptively clever superhero romp. The secret of which we have ruined by writing this post. Sorry. Go watch Power Rangers. Protect the Krispy Kreme.