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Friday, March 24, 2017

Power Rangers

POWER RANGERS

** SPOILERS **

"Different colors. Different kids. Different colored kids!" remarks the trusty little robot Alpha-5 (voiced by Bill Hader) when he meets the five teenagers who are destined to become the Power Rangers. He's a little disappointed. After all, Alpha-5 waited 65,000 years for these kids to come along, claim the colorful Power Coins, and become the new team of heroic warriors destined to protect the universe. They don't seem to be up for the challenge, and they're not. How the five teenagers get there and earn the right to be called Power Rangers is at the root of why Power Rangers, the big budget feature film reboot of the long-running television series directed by Dean Israelite, works. 

Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery) has the entire town of Angel Grove in his hands. The star high school quarterback, he's a natural leader and a good friend, but he has an absurdly self-destructive streak - the kind that has him running from two police chases in the first 20 minutes of the movie. Jason is kinda like Jim Kirk from JJ Abrams' Star Trek, and the references to other movies don't stop there: Fitted with an ankle bracelet and forced to attend detention every Saturday if he wishes to graduate, Jason meets - a la The Breakfast Club - Billy Cranston (RJ Cyler), a brilliant autistic kid, and Kimberly Hart (Naomi Scott), the hottest and most troubled girl in school. Through wild coincidence (or contrivance, take your pick), the three find themselves at the local quarry and run into two more delinquents: Zack (Ludi Lin), a braggadocio who secretly tends to his poor old sick mother at home, and Trini (Becky G.), the new kid in school who's been there a year but no one ever remembers her. The five discover glowing colored coins and the next day - a la Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man - they all wake up transformed: they're super strong, tough as nails, and can leap over Springfield Gorge in a single bound in a way Homer Simpson could only dream of.

What does this all mean? The answer, of course, (like it did for Henry Cavill's Man of Steel) lies in a space ship buried deep in the quarry, which has been there since the Cretaceous Period. A war fought in the stars came to pre-historic Earth, where Zordon (Bryan Cranston), the Red Ranger of the Power Rangers, buried the precious Neo Crystal - capable of creating and destroying life - deep in the Earth to keep it from his adversary, the evil Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks, having a ball even though in most of her scenes, she's all by her lonesome). Reawakened as a face in the wall of his space ship, a frustrated Zordon finds the five human teenagers who inherited his Power Coins wanting. He'd like his body back, please. But the only way is if these five screw ups can learn to work together, trust one another, and become a team - become the Power Rangers. Time's running out because Rita Repulsa has reawakened (found by a fishing boat a la The Perfect Storm), and she plans to create a giant golden monster called Goldar to dig up the Neo Crystal. It's buried underneath the local Krispy Kreme.

All of that sounds utterly ridiculous, or makes perfect sense if you grew up watching any or all of the 23 seasons of Power Rangers on TV. That show, adapted from the long-running Japanese Super Sentai series, was aimed squarely at very young children. This Power Rangers movie, however, skews a bit older. Power Rangers is steeped in the growing pains and struggles of Millennial teens and has bold ideas and ambitions: they're actually trying to be a good movie. One with something to say. Power Rangers comes with a timely and even poignant message of inclusiveness, of five teens of different colors (and sexual orientation - Trini is the first Power Ranger to be LGBTQ) who are strangers coming together to find commonality. Trust and acceptance, of each other and of themselves, is the beating heart of Power Rangers. To become the Power Rangers, the five need to Morph into their armor, and for a long time, Jason, Kimberly, Billy, Zack, and Trini can't find it in themselves to become, respectively, the Red, Pink, Blue, Black, and Yellow Rangers. And yet, for all of its goofiness, Power Rangers wears its colors with pride, and the five Rangers are far more interesting and even endearing without their armor. 

To the movie's credit, when they finally don their color-coded gear, each looking like a Crayola box Iron Man, and pilot their robot dinosaur vehicles called Zords, Power Rangers wisely removes their masks so we can see the actors' faces. Their expressive faces tell the whole story; the fear, the panic at the mortal peril they face, and the exhilaration they feel, especially when they finally learn how to combine their Zords into the gigantic Megazord, and work together to defeat Rita and Goldar. It's big, fun robot-slamming action like Pacific Rim gave us a few years ago and the Transformers franchise (a yellow Dodge Charger is destroyed with a shout out to Bumblebee) won't stop giving us. If there isn't quite enough of the giant robot-on-giant monster action, that's in a way a compliment. Power Rangers actually leaves us wanting more. For about ten minutes in the third act, when the Rangers are in full costume, the movie morphs into the old TV show complete with the original "Go Go" theme song, tons of chop-socky karate fighting with hordes of Puddy monsters, and even welcome cameos from Jason David Frank and Amy Jo Johnson, the original Green and Pink Ranger. But then Power Rangers morphs right back to being the surprisingly pretty good movie it was all along.

Power Rangers clears a very low bar as the Best Power Rangers Movie Ever, but it does so by leaps and bounds. Clunky and uneven in spots, Power Rangers is good fun overall. There's a pleasing sincerity throughout and the five Rangers win the day in more ways than one. Even without the colorful armor and giant robot dinosaurs, we find we are on the Rangers' side: Zack playing chess with his ailing mother. Kimberly learning to live with betraying her former friends and questioning what kind of person she is. Trini struggling to be understood by her family, and finding the camaraderie she has always longed for among her new friends. Jason standing up for Billy against the school bully, and Billy gaining the backbone to stand up for himself. And Jason bringing his team together to earn Zordon's respect as a leader. Five different kids, of different colors, joining as one, stronger together. That's worth more than all the gold in Goldar and all the Power Coins in existence.

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