Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Aye Yai Yai, It's Mighty Mediocre 'Power Rangers'!

When it was announced that a big-budget movie based on Mighty Morphin Power Rangers is in production, I was excited.  I like both Super Sentai and Power Rangers franchises; I like their iconic take on the tokusatsu genre, and I was much interested of seeing how such formula would look like in a big-budget film.  Most importantly, everyone of my generation grew up with Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and we adored it immensely.  It was our thing during our 90’s childhood.  Even those who outgrew their Power Rangers fandom have a soft spot in their heart for Mighty Morphin.  Hence, my initial excitement.  I personally preferred a canon reunion movie of sorts – with the original Rangers as adults – but I was also fine with a remake.

Then the promo images and trailers were released.  The reinvented character designs looked awful.  And the movie felt like it was devoid of flavor and vibrancy.  I was greatly turned off.  Hence, I couldn’t help but pre-loath the movie.  I was still going to see it, but with the intention of hate-watching it.  Of course, a part of me hoped to be wrong, that it would actually turn out good.  But the trailers and promo images just weren’t pointing out to that likelihood.
Power Rangers – also titled as Saban’s Power Rangers – is basically a reimagining of Mighty Morphin.  It borrows elements and names from the show, so it’s somewhat similar to its source material, but also uses these in a way that makes itself different.  Much, much different.  But not at all for the better.

It’s one of the core problems of the movie.  It makes changes that fail to improve the source material – or, at least, be an interesting “alternative version.”   For example, the backstory for Zordon and Rita Repulsa in which they were former Rangers.  It doesn’t enhance the lore and it’s utterly dumb.

But that’s just the thing: the movie is utterly dumb.  A lot of things don’t make sense.  That’s not necessarily a huge problem since the Power Rangers TV series has always been dumb.  But that means movie could only have worked if it had been dumb and fun.    That way, the fun distracts the audience from the dumb and ridiculous.  But this movie doesn’t want to commit to being completely dumb-and-fun.  It also wants to be gritty and deep.  This leads to a clash of tones.  Now, though it’s possible to blend these tones, this movie unfortunately doesn’t have the vision to pull it off.  Hence, through this fun-deficient mess of tones, its plot holes and pretentious BS are very noticeable.
A significant reason why Mighty Morphin Power Rangers worked is because it was self-aware of its ludicrous nature, committed to it, and made an effort to thrive in it – resulting to episode after episode of delightful campy entertainment.

This movie should have recognized that it’s incapable of living up to the complex task of being both campy and gritty.  It should have stuck with one or the other, but not both.  I personally prefer its original campy tone.  But a gritty movie in the vein of the “bootlegged” Power/Rangers short film could have also worked.

However, all throughout, it’s as if it’s awkwardly undecided what it wants its direction to be – struggling between referencing its inherently ludicrous source material and being a more “realistic” version of it.  It’s as if whenever it starts to go towards one direction, it abruptly changes its mind, halts, and move towards the other direction – and vice verse.  A scene that embodies this perfectly is when the Zords roll out after Rita and Goldar, and the original Mighty Morphin theme begins to play.  “Go Go Power Rangers…”  Then, instead of building that up into a gratifying moment, the music immediately stops.  It was as if it was afraid of becoming stirring.
Another problem I have with it is that it’s aesthetically bland.  Again, this is an issue that I had been aware coming into this movie, and the main reason I was prepared to hate it.  Rita’s “Putty” minions and Goldar are ugly.  The Rangers’ costume and Zords also look ugly, though I got used to them eventually.  Still, even then, they looked plain to my eyes.  But ugly or plain the Zords may be, they are a hundred times more badass and attractive when compared to how trashy and pathetic the Megazord look.

In addition to this, the actions scenes suck.  An integral part of the Power Rangers shows – by using footage from Super Sentai shows – is their entertaining, albeit sometimes absurd, martial arts fight scenes.  The movie totally neglected this aspect, as the Rangers’ fight scenes are minimal and unexciting.  And the “Zords/Megazord vs. Goldar” set piece, which is supposed to be the climax, is lackluster and subpar to the standards and flair of modern superhero movies.

How did a 21st century big-studio film – that has the advantage of the technology and budget of being such – manage to be visually inferior to a kid’s TV show that recycled footage from a Japanese TV show more than 20 years ago?  That has to require a special level of filmmaking incompetence.
The movie also makes an attempt at drama.  I admit that it does add a bit to the quality of the narrative, especially in making the characters more likable.  But amidst all the mess, it just comes off as cheesy and hackneyed.

Thankfully, the characters and the actors are the saving grace of this movie.  The Rangers are well-cast and enjoyably characterized.  They also have great chemistry with each other.  Hence, it was so easy to get invested on them, and since I hated the costumes in the first place, I actually liked them more when they weren’t in costume.  The two standouts, for me, are Billy and Kimberly.  Billy is this adorable dork who often does a weird clap and is oddly obsessed with explosives (I read that he’s supposed to be autistic, so maybe that’s the reason for these eccentric habits?).  Meanwhile, the actress for Kimberly is no Amy Jo Johnson, but she’s definitely chosen for the role to serve the character’s biggest draw – to be every boy’s ultimate crush.
Every single one of the new actors for Jason, Kimberly, Billy, Trini, and Zack, all relatively unknowns, are surprisingly good – not exactly in a “breakout” sort of way, but they definitely delivered solid performances.  So, at least, this movie didn’t disgrace the best quintet in fiction with its own spin on them.

Bryan Cranston as Zordon is a joy to watch – as you would expect from a floating, talking head of Walter White.  I appreciate that he got a role for this film, considering that he used to do voice work on Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and that Billy’s surname is based on his name.  However, for someone that is supposed to be the Rangers’ mentor, he does little mentoring.  Alpha 5 is actually the one who does most of it.

Speaking of Alpha 5, Bill Hader’s Alpha 5 s a bit annoying.  But since the character has always been so in the first place, it just means he was perfectly fine.
Meanwhile, I like Elizabeth Bank’s Rita Repulsa (though she was extremely hammy and I hated her ultimate costume).  I like how she starts out like a horror monster.  It’s also uncanny how the intonation of her screams is perfectly similar to the original Rita Repulsa’s voice.

Jason David Frank and Amy Jo Johnson, the respective original actors for Tommy Oliver and Kimberly Hart, have a brief cameo.  It was probably my most favorite moment of the movie (just showing how little I think of this movie), and it reminded me that I prefer a “reunion” movie.  (Side note: speaking of a “reunion” movie, I’m looking forward to watch The Order, an action movie that stars the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers actors for Jason, Billy, Zack, Rocky, Adam, Aisha, and Kat.  Coincidentally, they didn’t have a cameo for the Power Rangers movie, while those who did – Tommy and Kim – aren’t in The Order.  Hmmmm.)
To sum it up, Power Rangers is dumb, cheesy, and just moderately entertaining.  Objectively though, it isn’t as bad as 1995’s Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie or 1997’s Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie.  It’s also not a trainwreck of a film-adaptation-of-a-pop-culture-intellectual-property like 1993’s Super Mario Bros., 1997’s Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, and last year’s Max Steel, nor is it a complete bastardization of its source material like 2009’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and 2015’s Attack on Titan, but it’s nonetheless a failure of a reimagining of an iconic kid’s TV show that I apparently still feel strongly about.  At best, taking into consideration its few redeeming qualities, it merely succeeds in being mediocre.

I understand that the intention of all the changes made to the original formula was to be “different.”  But the problem isn’t necessarily the attempt to be “different”, but the movie botching it up.  I know for a fact that it’s possible to be “different” but still retain the spirit of Mighty Morphin.  I’ve seen plenty of splendid fan art that reference the original aesthetics of the show but has a distinctively gritty twist.  And I read the details of Max Landis’ script, which the studio turned down, that is absolutely superior to the movie’s eventual script, as it would have been “realistic” while still capturing the goofy and fun essence of the show.
But if the blatant, eyeroll-inducing Krispy Kreme product placement in this movie is any indication, it’s clear that the concern of the studio isn’t to make the best cinematic reimaging of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers possible, but – as usual – how much money they can get.  With such philosophy, the lack of effort and creativity comes as no surprise.

Which is a shame, since at least six (!) more movies are planned to be made – with the next one, as hinted by the mid-credit scene, introducing Tommy Oliver a.k.a. the Green Ranger – and it’s unlikely that they will be radically better.  It’s unfortunate that the studio is totally fine with making the next Transformers franchise instead of the next Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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