Power Rangers Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler. Directed by Dean Israelite. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday citywide.
Modern superhero movies and TV series spend far too much time dragging out the origins of their protagonists, devoting entire feature films just to putting characters into a place where they can don a costume, use their superpowers and fight crime. So it’s not entirely surprising that the first 90 minutes of Power Rangers keeps its five main characters out of costume (aside from one brief glimpse), maddeningly teasing the moment when the Power Rangers will actually become the Power Rangers. It is, however, incredibly tedious and annoying, especially since the interpersonal drama and mounting global threats that lead up to the characters finally debuting as the candy-colored heroes everyone knows they will be are so poorly constructed and laughable.
The source material for Power Rangers, primarily the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers kids’ TV series from the ’90s, was also poorly constructed and laughable, but at least it had an excuse: All of the various Power Rangers TV series have combined existing footage from several different, unrelated Japanese series with new footage of American actors inserted to create new storylines. It’s the kind of cost-cutting measure that makes sense for churning out cheap entertainment for children (there have been 839 episodes of Power Rangers since 1993), but those excuses don’t really cut it for a $100 million-plus blockbuster film.
Power Rangers wants both to represent a dark, gritty take on the source material for the childhood fans who are now (allegedly) mature adults and to recapture the cheesy, campy tone of the original show, with garish costumes, over-the-top villains and a goofy earworm of a theme song (“Go, go Power Rangers!”). The balance here is way off, though, and the movie is far too silly to be taken seriously and yet takes itself far too seriously to be any fun. The teen stars give performances that range from underwhelming to terrible, and their characters are completely one-note.
The meticulously diverse group of teens coincidentally comes together at a mining site outside their small town, where they discover mysterious coins that give them superpowers. The movie starts with a Breakfast Club vibe, as three of the teens meet during Saturday detention, and then emulates Chronicle for a little while, as the characters exploit their powers to assert themselves at school and at home. But eventually they end up inside an ancient buried spaceship where they meet up with goofy robot Alpha 5 (voiced by Bill Hader) and the giant projected face of Zordon (Bryan Cranston, way too good for this nonsense), who tells them that they have been chosen to save the world from the evil Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks).
Before they can do that, though, they have to work through their generic angst (“Are we Power Rangers, or are we friends?”), which takes far too long and severely taxes the acting abilities of the main cast. Director Dean Israelite similarly combined teen drama and sci-fi in his dopey found-footage time-travel thriller Project Almanac, and he hasn’t gotten any better at depicting relationships among young people (none of the five credited screenwriters can write any believable dialogue).
Finally the Rangers confront Rita in a rushed climax that fully embraces the cheesiness (complete with a theme-song reprise), but it isn’t rousing or exciting, and the special effects on Rita’s giant monster Goldar (literally made of gold) and the Rangers’ Voltron-like Megazord are unimpressive. Banks goes for broke as Rita, relishing lines like “Let’s kill everyone!,” but her performance seems like it belongs in an entirely different movie. Maybe that movie would have had a coherent vision or tone or purpose, rather than just spending tens of millions of dollars to remind stunted, immature adults of their childhoods.