REVIEW: Power Rangers (2017)

powerrangers_posterIt is easy to simply glance at a film like Power Rangers and skip over it completely, and in all honesty there is nothing wrong with that plan. It is a remake of a television series adaptation of another television series, none of which was ever really aimed at doing anything except entertaining young children and encouraging them to buy action figures.

It turns out that Power Rangers is better than I expected. I do not mean to damn with faint praise either; if an all-audiences, engaging, and upbeat superhero team film is the sort of thing you are seeking, Power Rangers does a fairly neat job. It avoids the grim and relentlessly miserable tone in much of Warner Bros’ DC Comics adaptations, plus it is self-contained and thus free of the complicated back story issues that plague any casual viewer of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Nothing is being reinvented or radically transformed here – it is simply a film that understands its job and achieves it efficiently. Some days that is honestly enough.

In Power Rangers five teenagers in small-town America uncover an alien spacecraft buried underground millions of years ago. Their discovery coincides with the resurrection of intergalactic villain Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), forcing them to train as super-powered ‘rangers’ in order to challenge and defeat her before she can destroy the Earth. It is all very straight-forward and by-the-numbers stuff, and it plays out largely in the way one would expect it to. Where it excels is in the way it makes it characters a little more likeable than usual, with a little more depth and an unexpected amount of common sense.

The film is well-cast too. The five rangers all manage a solid combination of earnest heroism and humour, and the A-listers brought in the play supporting roles are lively yet smartly keep themselves secondary to the leads. Bryan Cranston plays Zordon in a wonderfully old-fashioned and overly-dramatic way. Bill Hader manages to make his robot sidekick amusing without being irritating (a rare feat). Elizabeth Banks is clearly having a whale of a time as the villainous Rita, and her enjoyment is infectious.

Power Rangers is also nicely representative in making one of the rangers mildly autistic. In terms of characterisation and scripting it broadly reflects my experience of young men on the spectrum, and it is a positive move to insert the character into a film largely aimed at children. Unfortunately the actor R.J. Cyler, while clearly talented and attentive to the responsibility, does not appear to be neurodivergent himself. Representation on screen requires participation to be completely valid; failing to cast an actor with autism is a misstep that could easily have been avoided. It is not the film-breaking debacle that is Sia’s Music (2020), but it is a symptom of a production culture that fails to respect diversity. I am going to note these failures in every relevant review like a broken record if I have to.

Power Rangers will not set your world on fire, but given its target audience and intent it is a strong example of a film that does everything right and very little wrong. It is fun, enjoyable, and tidy. You know already, I suspect, if this is the sort of movie for you. It does what it says on the tin and does it efficiently. No more, no less.

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