The new “Power Rangers” film arrives some 24 years after the pilot for the original “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” aired in 1993. While the old show was something of a thinly veiled, 20-minute marketing scheme to sell toys, this film iteration seems dedicated to character development and exploring the team’s experience as teenagers; their superhero status is something of an afterthought.
The new “Power Rangers” film is a character study first and an impeccably good one at that. In a world where every film revolving around teens seems to be poorly acted or an unintentional farce, it is refreshing to have a director (Dean Israelite of “Project Almanac” fame) give so much credence to the lives of the heroes themselves. The rangers benefit from a strong display of diversity. In particular, this “Power Rangers” film features an open member of the LGBTQ+ community, as well as a ranger who is on the autism spectrum. The two actors who utilize these elements in their portrayal, Becky G and RJ Cyler, respectively, scratch the surface of their characters’ identities, though fall short of completely immersing themselves. It seemed as if the film was testing how such elements would play to audiences and were cautious to completely commit. Due to the financial success of the film thus far and the warm audience reception to the film, it is plausible a sequel would delve deeper into such issues.
The rest of the rangers, played by Dacre Montgomery (Jason), Naomi Scott (Kimberly) and Ludi Lin (Zack) are considerably less interesting, perhaps because they are so conventional. Their backstories are ones we have seen before: the football “golden boy” who lost everything, the self-absorbed cheerleader with a revenge plot and the edgy, carefree dropout who is good at heart though suffers from life traumas (in this case a sick mother). In this way the film borrows heavily from the 1980s classic-turned-millennial-appropriation “The Breakfast Club,” complete with a detention-bonding scene. While the film takes narrative avenues the audience has prior experience with, the strong work of the cast and script make the film feel unique.
Very little of the “Power Rangers” film deals with battling evil, in this case Rita Repulsa (played oddly by Elizabeth Banks) and her “army” of CGI stone figures. In fact, the team doesn’t morph into their superhero counterparts until the last act of the film, which makes the intention of the film somewhat ambiguous. Unlike the show, the film iteration cares deeply about the characters, and would rather devote its time to their personal lives than their lives as superheroes. There is no flaw in this narrative structure, as long as the human characters continue to be interesting.
Provided the film makes back its budget and then some, the sequel will most likely feel more like a “Power Rangers” property, and less like an “I Am Number Four” meets “The Breakfast Club” homage.