Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Power Rangers - Saban Grabs the Bull by the Horn

One thing remains consistent over time: Saban is all about coulda, not shoulda 
Five teenagers with attitude stumble upon an alien ship and are bestowed with Power Ranger armor and Zords that they don't use for 90 minutes. They must learn to hold hands and be multi-cultural friends under the guidance of Bryan Cranston's giant head to defeat Elizabeth Banks' sexy reboot of Goldmember. 

POWER RANGERS is a weird one, to say the least. I went in with rock bottom expectations of another grimdark reboot of a successful property from the past that ends up alienating both fans of the original series and younger audiences. Imagine my surprise when it was...fine. Not great, not amazing, but fine. It was a perfectly serviceable origin story to what will most likely be a franchise that never dies because as soon as one of the sequels fails to churn a profit, Saban will have the cast quietly executed and change the costumes and zords and sell it to fat kids (and also me) all over again. 

The weirdest part of POWER RANGERS by far is the inconsistent flips in tone. I'm fine with the movie taking itself a little seriously, and I was even fine with how it spent so much of its 2 hour (!) runtime desperately resisting the integral silliness of the Power Rangers property as hard as humanly possible. But then after all that white-knuckle tug of war, they let go of the proverbial rope, the teens morph, and "Go Go Power Rangers" plays as the Zords run across the screen. It felt like I was watching a coming of age movie about a group of teenagers and I fell asleep for a second and woke up in a different theater where a gigantic robot Tyrannosaurus Rex was stepping on clay monsters while Kanye West's "Power" blared over the speakers. It was off-putting, but I'd be lying if I said that's not the movie I wanted from the beginning. It's cool and all that director Dean Israelite chose to treat this like a character driven super hero origin story rather than a shoddily-made cash grab adaptation of an even more shoddily-made cash grab karate show for babies, but he also chose to have said movie begin with a guy admitting to accidentally jerking off a bull. 

I'm sure you know about that even if you haven't seen the movie, but it bears repeating. POWER RANGERS begins with a pre-credits sequence in the Cenozoic Era with evil Green Ranger Rita Repulsa killing off the other Rangers (including Red Ranger Zordon), then we smashcut to a dude jerking off a bull, which leads into about 100 minutes of self-serious teenage drama, then it slams on the breaks and goes into full on camp and fan-service. It is exactly as jarring and confusing as it sounds. I don't want to be the one to push his glasses up and say "uh this shouldn't be serious, it should be silly and over the top and bad like the show was," but you can't take yourself deadly seriously about all life on Earth being violently eradicated and then turn around and say "Rita Repulsa" 
with a straight face. 

I went into POWER RANGERS knowing it was going to basically be an entire movie runtime-wise before I actually got to see Power Rangers, so I had my expectations squarely in place (i.e. low). I was gonna give the movie the caveat that if I'm going to spend all this time with these tubular teens that they better at least have some character. And to my surprise, they did. It's not a high bar to say that every single one of them is better than their original counterpart, after all you can summarize them with a single word. I like the cast and they did a good job of potraying realistic and (mostly) likable teenagers. Let me pay POWER RANGERS the absolute highest compliment I could give a film like this: I liked the characters outside of the fact that they had cool robots and I want to see them again in future films. That may not sound like a lot, but I just rewatched ROGUE ONE a couple of nights ago and I could not have given less of a fuck if any of them made it out of that movie alive. 

It surprised me too, folks. I watched Mighty Morphin Power Rangers religiously as a child but if you asked me when in the show they replaced Jason, Trini, and Zack I would stare at you with my mouth agape letting out a colossal "uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh." But if you asked me when they changed Megazords I would take you to my room where the wall was plastered with pictures of Lord Zedd, Ninjor, and the White Tigerzord connected to one another with red string and I'd ramble incessantly about having to buy the Red Dragon Thunderzord separately from the other Zords until you shut my fat face up with a Happy Meal. 

That's not to say all five Rangers are fully fleshed out; in true Power Rangers fashion Jason and Kimberly are going to get much more screen time than the others. But even Zack, whose character consists of repeatedly saying "I'm crazy" but also deep down loving his dying mom, has more going on than literally anyone in SKULL ISLAND. All of them are dealing with something going wrong in their lives, whether it be throwing away a promising football career that would get them out of this shithole town, coming to terms with your sexuality, or autism. The weirdest backstory is Kimberly's, who is dealing with the fallout from sending nudes of her friend around Angel Grove High and asking said girl's boyfriend if that's the kind of girl he wants to take home to his parents. Wait, back the fuck up. Zack is watching his mom slowly waste away - knowing that no matter what Ranger abilities he gains he will be powerless to stop it - but Kimbo's personal crisis she's trying to work through is that fact that she ruined someone's life? Kimberly may have been my childhood crush, but if I was you guys I'd steer clear of this one. 

As for everyone else? Bryan Cranston is, like the movie itself, fine. Just...fine. He's a giant floating head yelling at teenagers and he did it admirably. Bill Hader is pretty good as Alpha, even if he looks like a prehistoric alien from a Clive Barker novel that wants to burrow itself in your skin. The one actress in the movie I want to highlight is Elizabeth Banks. Shout out to her for seeing that she was playing the supervillain in a karate movie for babies named Rita Repulsa and made the choice to switch between a variety of nonsensical accents while chewing every piece of scenery around her. God bless her. Banks switched from creepy and sort of scary (you know, for kids. It's Power Rangers after all) to hamming it up to her heart's content. It's weirdly off-putting with the serious tone of the rest of the movie, but her name is Rita Repulsa. Chew up every last piece of scenery you can until the cows come home. She embraced this nonsense with arms wide open and gladly ate gold necklaces, because that was a thing her character had to do for some reason. Don't worry about it. If POWER RANGERS accomplishes one thing above all else, it succeeds in giving countless preteen boys awkward boners in the theater with their family. You think I'm joking, but if you were 12 and you went with your folks to see a silly movie about robot dinosaurs and next thing you knew Elizabeth Banks is throwing a teenage girl around a bedroom and saying "show me yours and I'll show you mine" you're gonna be all horned up and real happy you didn't wear basketbull shorts.

I've been heaping nothing but praise onto a movie I had no strong feelings towards one way or another after leaving the cinema, so this is your warning. Prepare yourself for "fat guy complains that a movie isn't the same as a bad show from 24 years ago." The biggest problem a majority of people have is how long it takes to morph. You've heard that from everyone, I'm not gonna harp on it. No, I'm going to get significantly angrier about other aspects of this silly adaptation of something that was bad in the first place. I'm about to get hella bullish about a giant gold monster and an equally giant robot. 

Goldar looks like absolute dogshit. What was once a mainstay of the entire 145 episode run of Mighty Morphin. He is now a faceless, voiceless, emotionless, giant gold monster. Bull fucking shit. It's not just the fact that he's an iconic character, but how do you have a Power Rangers villain without a personality? You take a giant winged, sword-wielding dog monster that growls about appeasing Lord Zedd's carnal desires and you turn him into this?

Look, the only good pics I can find right now are toys. Just work with me.

I didn't leave my house to watch teenagers with attitude fight a monster that isn't a giant rubber accordion that speaks backwards Yiddish riddles. Fucking keep it. It takes two to tango, and as bad as Goldar is, I hate the Megazord just as much, if not more. The individual Zords themselves all look like shit. Half of them don't even resemble the animal they're named after. In what universe is this a mastodon?

But whatever, I can grit my teeth and look past it because even in the series they barely fought as standalone Zords. It's actually kind of a blessing in disguise because that means there are 5 less toys I have to buy with money I don't have. Then they become the Megazord. I'd say spoilers, but come on now. This isn't your first rodeo, and if it is then you're not seeing this movie anyways.
The moment I've been waiting for arrives and the grand reveal happens as it emerges from a rad explosion and it looks...well...

Would it have been that hard to add 5 bright ass colors to it instead of it being a grey mess?

It looks like shit. My biggest problem with the design above all else is it doesn't look like the Zords combined. That's the best part of the show. In every single series from Mighty Morphin to whatever is on the air when you read this (because I will die before Power Rangers does), you can take one look at the Megazord and see where each Zord fits. That makes for the best toys as a kid because you get to combine all of them yourself into a big ass robot that fights your Godzilla toys while your parents argue downstairs and you pretend you can't hear them with your door shut bu-

This looks like Lionsgate was halfway through an Evangelion reboot before it was scrapped and they dumped five different colors on Unit-01 and called it a day. If Saban learns one thing from this (hahahahahahahaha) it should be to throw this Megazord in the trash where it belongs and get a new one for the sequel. Power Rangers went through 5 sets of Zords before we even got to Zeo, so fuck it. Bring on the Unicorn Zord. 

I don't want to overreact, but if they fuck this up I'll kill myself

But you wanna know what really chaps my hide? I can live with a bad final battle in which two CGI monstrosities lock horns because I've seen any Summer blockbuster made in the last 15 years. I'm numb to that. What really steams my clams is that there is no Bulk or Skull. Are you SHITTING me, movie? I don't care about saving things for the sequel, I will die on this hill. A 2 hour runtime, 90 minutes of which are Ranger-less, and we couldn't conjure up one god damned dessert for these doddering delinquents to dive into? There's a fucking Krispy Kreme subplot and you're gonna tell me Bulk didn't wake up in a cold sweat at the mere thought of it being destroyed? There is nary a Bulkmeier nor Skullovitch to be found but Freddy Five Fingers is milking a bull clean of its nut butter before the title card has left the screen. 2017 is truly the darkest timeline.

All in all, POWER RANGERS is aggressively ok. It's a just a movie. It's not great, it's not garbage, it simply is. It exists and it will spawn at least 5 sequels. I was mostly apathetic leaving the theater, but as I've looked back I've leaned slightly more towards the positive. I wish it had more Ranger stuff and stood on its own better as a one-off movie and not the genesis of a franchise, but that's not how movies work anymore. Because of people like me. Am I part of the problem for giving it a pass? Yep. I will never stop sucking at the teets of these cash cows. 

Here's a hot take: this is the best Power Rangers movie by a comfortable margin. You can read Samurai Karasu and I's thoughts on the first one and sooner or later we'll get to Turbo, unless the Lord mercifully removes me from this plane of existence first. Here's another scorcher for you: Power Rangers was always bad and this is the most competently made adaptation made under that name. I grew up with Power Rangers. I loved it and part of me always will. I still have all of my toys to this day and the desk I'm writing on at this very moment has too many Power Rangers toys for a man of my age any age to proudly display. That doesn't change the fact that the show is garbage. Luckily I'm human trash so we were made for each other. 

I wanted more Rangers but I'll get them in two years because it's a franchise and every single thing that comes out with a 100+ million dollar budget is one episode in a series, because Hollywood is a nightmare and my life is an agonizing exercise in giving every studio 13 second chances to give me the movie I wanted the first time. Looking at POWER RANGERS as a standalone, and going in knowing I was going to get an entire runtime of CHRONICLE before it was finally morphin time, I was pleasantly surprised both by how well the movie was paced and how realistic the teenagers and their dialogue were. For a 2 hour movie that is mostly "hey we need to become best friends so we can use robot dinosaurs," I barely felt any lag in the story. I'm hoping for future installments they pivot a bit and bring more of the light tone from the final act into the rest of the movie.

What impressed me most about this is that above all else it has a vision. It isn't a hastily slapped together cash-grab to sell toys, an idea which spits in the face of everything I've ever known Power Rangers to be about. I fully expected this to be a tonal mess and to come off as if even the director didn't know who this movie was for. It's confidently made and targeted for a teenage audience, but it's peppered with callbacks and nostalgia that manage to be cheesy but not cringe inducing (for the most part) for the fat guys in their late 20's and early 30's (aka me) that were going to watch it regardless. For a movie that could have been standard paint by numbers garbage, it really felt like a lot of care was put into building this world. It developed its characters and the mythos around the Rangers and told the story they wanted to tell. I know this shouldn't be that impressive, but you have to remember that Power Rangers is the same franchise that fired 3 of its 6 actors because they wanted to get paid more than minimum wage to work 17 hour days. The concept of caring about this franchise beyond Scrooge McDucking into a vault of Power Coins is beyond me. 

The more I think back on POWER RANGERS the more I like it. It's a middling movie that teeters a bit further to recommend than not. I wouldn't go out of your way, but it's definitely worth a watch when it's streaming somewhere. I can confidently say I will watch this again before I ever rewatch any of the Michael Bay TRANSFORMERS or TMNT movies. Even as disappointing as many aspects of the climactic fight are, I can close my eyes and remember that a Megazord suplexed Goldar, and nobody can take that away from me. But I'm done dwelling on the past. I'm looking at the future of this franchise and the subtle hints buried deep in this movie. No, not the post-credits scene, we all know that sacred cow is cumming sooner rather than later. I'm going deeper. What's the first thing you hear about in Angel Grove? That's right, jerking off a bull. Making that bovine bust. What is the MacGuffin of the movie - the one thing that if Rita gets her hands on will destroy all life as we know it? The Zeo Crystal. Now riddle me this: When we got to Power Rangers Zeo and they were given new Zords, what was Adam's?


1 comment:

  1. I'm going to take that conclusion as a "JO Crystal" joke.