Born in the intersection of two popular blockbuster trends, Power Rangers doesn’t quite escape the conservative, middling space that its contemporaries occupy, and yet, some semblance of a soul makes this an origin story worth caring about. Much of the first half of the film is entrenched in the teenage drama that the five outcasts must face, akin to a X-Men or Fantastic Four origin story. The latter half leans into the pulpy action that defined the long-running show, even if it’s self-conscious nature replaces personality with grit on more than one occasion, a la Transformers.
Like Michael Bay’s revamp, Power Rangers seeks to be cool enough for the kids, but maintain a level of campiness and fun for the nostalgic kid-at-hearts. Director Dean Israelite–perhaps pulling from his experience helming the kid-friendly Project Almanac–does commendable work with the origin story aspects in the film. The team’s dynamics are fun, even if their banter and one-liners continuously veer into cringe-worthy territory. Naomi Scott and RJ Cyler, in particular, have stand-out performances, embodying complicated but believable characters.
Power Rangers features the first mainstream depiction of an LGBTQ and autistic superhero here, played by Becky G and RJ Cyler. Not to mention, the rest of the rangers are rounded out by all POC except the Red ranger. The treatment of their identities as subtle cues and even throwaway lines instead of major plot points is a refreshing change of pace, and a reminder that representation is less about parading diversity, and more about expanding the narrative to better reflect reality.
Power Rangers immediately struggles a lot more as it tries to tie together Power Rangers lore with its conception of modern sensibilities. The suit designs are acceptable, even if the edginess is hardly convincing. It’s Zordon, Rita and the Zords, generic shells of their original selves, that point towards a film too embarrassed to embrace their roots. Each of those aspects are updated to fit a clean sci-fi look that lacks characters. This works to undercut a lot of the genuinely well-placed surprises and reveals, easter eggs are spoiled because the end result is almost unrecognizable from the fun past.
This also causes disjointment, as the close bonding that’s being built up in the first half is literally obscured by a suit of CGI. Bland action and cliched sequences replace a more compelling drama. With that said, signs of distress were visible from the onset, Power Rangers has a severe pacing and tonal issue, uncertain or unwilling to commit to any specific beat.
These pains are all too common with reboots as they balance the need to appeal to mass audiences. What makes and breaks these new franchises are less about specific plot points or styles, but the soul at the core of their adaptation. It’s the sense that these characters are alive and their stories worth telling, their world reflects something significant and notable. Some moving and relatable performances, along with a genuine sense of connection, demonstrates that–even as its uninspired outer appearance and nonsensical narrative tries to prove otherwise. Power Rangers are not the heroes we deserve, nor the heroes we need, but they do just enough to prove their worthiness.