The fundamental problem with films whose raison d’être is rooted in nostalgia is that, whether they serve their source material well or not, someone will always be dissatisfied. In the case of Power Rangers, that someone was me.
Having grown up alongside the 1990s TV original without ever counting myself among its fans, I found little inherent appeal to the prospect of revisiting its ridiculously campy world of teen superheroes fighting giant aliens in dinosaur-themed spaceships. While director Dean Israelite’s take on the material is somewhat more restrained in its level of campiness, it’s also every inch as absurd as its basis.
While director Dean Israelite’s take on the material is somewhat more restrained in its level of campiness, it’s also every inch as absurd as its basis. Somewhat surprisingly, when it comes to my disdain for this gritty reboot, I found myself in a minority among my fellow moviegoers, as this is one of the few films that I’ve attended in a professional capacity that elicited applause from the audience. Now, to be fair, I would not go so far as to call myself a populist when it comes to my cinematic tastes, but it was a distinctly odd feeling to be so out of step with the other people sharing the screening room with me.
Israelite (Project Almanac) may never have been on my short list of promising young directors to watch, but I thought he might at least deliver some compelling CG spectacle. I had not considered the possibility that someone might run the Michael Bay playbook more excruciatingly than the man himself — and yet, here is Israelite, reveling in his capacity to “blow stuff up real good” with little purpose or joy. His garish color palette, neck-breaking camera movements and affinity for GoPro shaky-cam hit all the aesthetic notes that depress me about contemporary action cinema. As such, there can be little question that he was the right man for this film in a number of ways, but such a statement rests on the presupposition that the film needed to be made in the first place — an idea with which I vehemently disagree.
Writer John Gatniss is clearly not a fan of characterization, instead favoring broad teenage tropes that were tired 30 years ago when they were populating slasher films instead of superhero movies. His is a film in which, unforgivably, the sole black character is designated as being on the autism spectrum, provides the sole comic relief, and is predictably the only character who dies (albeit briefly). The cast of relative unknowns comports themselves as well as can be expected, given their general lack of experience and the abysmal script they’ve been given to work with. Of particular note are RJ Cyler (Me, Earl and the Dying Girl), who at least tries to bring some shading to his thankless role, and Elizabeth Banks, almost unrecognizable under pounds of prosthetics and seeming to genuinely enjoy using her fake teeth to chew as much scenery as possible. Why is Bryan Cranston here? Presumably, so that he could lend his gravelly voiced gravitas to a film that didn’t need it in exchange for a quick paycheck.
The film’s plot requires no real summary to speak of, as it consists almost exclusively of stale, halfhearted moralizing about the meaning of friendship and acceptance or some such nonsense — all expressed through the lens of a bad Voltron ripoff. What can really be said about the narrative of a film in which your protagonists pilot robotic dinosaurs in a fight against a giant golden booger monster? So, if the direction plays something like a less visually coherent Transformers (a statement I can’t believe I just typed), the performances are a bit too staid for a film about superheroes wearing helmets with nonarticulated but anatomically accurate mouths, and the story is largely meaningless, why were so many people clapping? I will fully accept that I may be out of touch, but sometimes I can’t help but be baffled by the behavior of modern humanity. Those moviegoers of a certain age with an overwhelming desire to revisit their after-school routine of eating junk food and watching junk TV may well find themselves applauding this lackluster effort, but I will do my damnedest to avoid seeing the sequel. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, language, and for some crude humor.
Now Playing at Carmike 10, Carolina Cinemark, Regal Biltmore Grande, Epic of Hendersonville.