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Power Rangers (Blu-ray Review)

3 Jul, 2017 By: John Latchem

Box Office $85.36 million
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $42.99 UHD BD
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, language, and for some crude humor.
Stars Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Ludi Lin, Becky G., Elizabeth Banks, Bryan Cranston, Bill Hader.

There’s a lot to unpack in Power Rangers, a big-budget reboot of the famed kiddie sci-fi franchise that kicked off in 1993. The film retells the origin of the team introduced in “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,” the first of successive “Power Rangers” shows that brought in new casts, new villains and new storylines.

Of course, the show was famously cobbled together by Saban Entertainment using a mix of stock footage from Japanese adventure shows and new footage with American actors. This wasn’t an unheard of concept, as cartoons such as “Voltron” and “Robotech” repackaged 1980s anime for American audiences. “Power Rangers” was practically a live-action version of “Voltron,” centered on a team of heroes who commanded large ships that combined into a giant robot to fight monsters.

In this case, the heroes were teenagers and the show’s storylines involved alien bad guys attacking their city with a new bizarre monster each week. The Japanese footage involved the costumed version of the characters fighting smaller versions of the monsters, and the larger robots fighting giant monsters, which in the great tradition of Japanese monster movies were obviously guys in rubber suits.

The show, being little more than a cartoon in live-action form, was undoubtedly cheesy, but it was a massive hit with kids, and the formula has carried the show for decades up to and including its current iteration.

Two movies based on the “Mighty Morphin” original were released in the 1990s, but those were essentially just extensions of the show using the same cast (the first movie, bizarrely, was an alternate version of the characters getting new powers and vehicles than was seen on the show a few months later).

The original show tended to feel funky simply by how it had to transition between its American and Japanese DNA. This new film doesn’t have to worry about any of that because it was designed from the start as a re-imagining of the Americanized mythology of the franchise with state-of-the-art visual effects.

The tone is also much darker, befitting a ‘PG-13’ rating that might have limited its appeal to the franchise’s core kiddie constituency. After a bit of backstory about how the Power Ranger power coins ended up on Earth 65 million years ago (in a battle that apparently is responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs), the film spends most of its first act as an earnest teen drama in which the five main characters are delinquents who run into each other at a quarry engaged in some mischief that leads them to discover the ancient spaceship of Zordon (Bryan Cranston, who provided voices for some of the monsters in the original show) buried beneath the rock.

At this same moment, a fishing boat run by one of the kids’ fathers just happens to find the body of Zordon’s ancient enemy Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) in the ocean. Removed from the sea, she awakens from a deep slumber and resumes a quest to dig up an ancient crystal that is the key to life on Earth.

The film’s screenplay makes a heartfelt effort to deal with such subjects as cyberbullying, autism and teen sexuality. This attempt at a character study gives short shrift to the mythology elements the audience is ostensibly here to see, leaving the film to rely almost too much on fan recognition of familiar story beats (or clever twists on them) to carry viewers through the movie. Ironically, the attempt to modernize the material almost makes it as cheesy as the original show, just in a different way.

The show was never afraid to embrace its cheesiness, which added to the fun. It was easy to mock, but carefree about it, which made it charming in its own way. It wasn’t meant to be taken seriously.

The new movie doesn’t make much of an effort to ground the classic franchise elements in any believable way, other then to just present them and expect the characters to take them seriously. All we are really left to think as an audience is that these characters were destined to become superheroes, and then things just happened. So, while the filmmakers might have hoped to appeal to the nostalgia of older fans who were kids when the show was first on, those ambitions are completely undercut by an inconsistent tone that ensnares the film in a catch-22 — too mature for kids and too cheesy for adults (one need only look at the recent Spider-Man: Homecoming for an example of how these elements can be balanced effectively).

What’s especially interesting about this approach is that the filmmakers are aware of it. There are references to deleted scenes in the behind-the-scenes featurettes and the filmmaker commentaries in which the characters themselves remark about how absurd the sci-fi stuff is. That this didn’t end up in the final movie may be to its detriment.

The final film is still fascinating to watch for the performances of Banks and Cranston (who appears in alien makeup in the prologue), not to mention the voice of Bill Hader as Alpha-5, hamming it up as Zordon’s robot assistant and a primary source of exposition. And the film’s final act, when the story finally sheds its pretense of teen drama and just focuses on a having a Power Rangers adventure, is pretty fun.

There are also more references to the TV show that are in place to set up a sequel, and maybe toy sales will justify one if the box office does not.

Director Dean Israelite (Project Almanac) joins writer John Gatins (Real Steel, Kong: Skull Island) in the full-length commentary, and also provides a voiceover for the film’s trailer. I can’t recall seeing the director provide commentary for a film’s trailer on the Blu-ray before.

Also included are nine behind-the-scenes featurettes that collectively run almost two-and-a-half hours, so fans are certainly getting their money’s worth with this Blu-ray.

Finally, the disc offers outtakes and a few deleted scenes that expand on the character motivations and fill in a few plot holes.

About the Author: John Latchem

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