It’s Morphin Time!!
So often we see beloved television shows and characters – many times from those fun Saturday mornings cartoons and foreign imports that had us glued to the television screen in our youth – move to the big screen to less than stellar result. But every once in a while everything comes together and thanks to an innovative director and creative team, we are treated to a fun ride at the movies. And that’s exactly what we get with POWER RANGERS thanks to director Dean Israelite, screenwriter John Gatins and group of talented young actors who collectively morph into those multi-colored phenoms of days gone by, delivering a fun-filled ride of pure entertainment. And that’s the first word that comes to mind on watching POWER RANGERS – FUN!
Unsure of what to expect for this big screen reimagination of the 1993 tv show, and even its predecessor series from Japan which debuted in 1975, “Super Sentai”, I am the first to admit that I was blown away by what I saw on screen. Staying true to the tv series and the legions of POWER RANGER fans, all the core elements and mythology that made the series so beloved are intact, but the 21st century ramp-up is phenomenal.
For those unfamiliar with the legacy of the POWER RANGERS, this is the story of five ordinary teens who live in the small town of Angel Grove. Each somewhat of an outcast, facing difficulties at home and/or with their peers, they randomly come together and survive an event that gives each amazing powers. But as with all heroes, with power comes responsibility, and the responsibility of this group is to save the world from obliteration by Rita Repulsa, an alien threat resurrected after millions of years. Thanks to Destiny wielding its cosmic weight, Jason (Red Ranger), Kimberly (Pink Ranger), Billy (Blue Ranger), Trini (Yellow Ranger) and Zack (Black Ranger) are the new generation summoned for the task of saving the world. But, as with all teens, can they overcome their own differences and life problems to come together as one and unleash the morphing force of the POWER RANGERS.
Tweaking the mythos of the television series, screenwriter John Gaitins doesn’t have our heroes appear in full super hero form. Here they must earn the right to be POWER RANGERS. That one tweak then opens up the story for all of the issues that teens today are facing and upon which the bonding of this group of heroes begins – bullying, cyber bullying, rebellion, parental expectations, self-discovery. The unfolding of the “home life” of each Ranger is exceedingly well done through pacing and events, allowing not only the audience, but the individual Rangers to learn about themselves and each other. The ultimate moment when they are finally able to morph is hard-earned but well deserved and exhilarating to watch happen.
Scribe John Gatins and director Israelite takes no prisoners when it comes to the pop culture and cinematic zeitgeist. From amazing product placement that is worked into the dialogue and visuals to one-liners and visual references to other films they feed us one tasty treat after another. For example, “Sorry Bumblebee!” – a Transformers reference, piggy-backed with a black and yellow Mustang getting crushed; Blue Ranger Billy tries to use John McClane’s patented “Die Hard” tag, “Yippee Kayee – Mutha. . . .”, only to stop midway because the character can’t say a curse word. This send up works exceedingly well thanks to RJ Cyler’s hilarious performance. Thankfully, Israelite and Gatins don’t shy away from the obvious nod to Transformers as in a battle royale between the Goldar and the gigantic Power Ranger a la Transformers’ Optimus Prime and Megatron. And again, it’s all just so much fun!
Making the evolution and development of the Rangers as resonant and believable as it is, falls totally on casting. Exemplary. Already well familiar with RJ Cyler from “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”, as Billy/Blue Ranger he brings his already fine acting chops to the table, but ups the ante, making Billy the very heart of the Rangers, a young man who hasn’t a bad bone in his body. Cyler embodies that so deeply. Cyler draws one into the film with truth and raw emotion. Beautiful performance. Similarly, his ebullience when he becomes a full-fledged Might Morphin Power Ranger is how one imagines every kid in the world would feel if it happened to them. Over-the-top pure giddy glee!
There is not a false note among any of the actors playing the Rangers. Each character is well-defined and spot on as an American teenager. Each actor slips into their respective character with believable comfort and ease. Dacre Montgomery, best known for “Stranger Things”, easily morphs into team leader Red Ranger/Jason with strength, confidence and, of course, a bit of cockiness. Naomi Scott puts her own spin on Pink Ranger/Kimberly while Becky G plays Yellow Ranger/Trini as a kick-ass no-nonsense girl from the hood. Ludi Lin, already a star in Asia and an accomplished Muay Thai artist, infuses a no-holds-barred, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants risk taking as Black Ranger/Zack. The chemistry among the five is beyond impressive and believable.
Bringing Rita Repulsa back to life as the sworn enemy of the POWER RANGERS is beyond cool and to have Elizabeth Banks embody the character is pure brilliance. Banks oozes pure golden evil. And her costuming as Rita is killer. Beyond entertaining is Bryan Cranston who is onboard as the disembodied Zordon. Fans of the POWER RANGERS will recall that Cranston did multiple character voicing in the original 1993 television series, “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers”. The blend of Cranston’s voice and the incredible VFX design to create Zordon’s kinetic inhabitancy with his alien space ship is surprisingly fueled with palpable emotion. However, hands down, the most entertaining and fun character in POWER RANGERS is the alien robot, Alpha 5. Voiced by Bill Hader, Alpha 5 is filled with emotion which is then complimented by the “animation” of Alpha 5 and physical movement that is extremely emotive and quite touching in certain scenes.
But the big ticket aspect of POWER RANGERS are the visuals. Incredible set pieces. Outrageous stunt work. Fight choreography soars – literally and figuratively. Meticulous and eye-popping blend of production design, CGI, VFX and SFX. The immersive nature of cinematographer Matthew Lloyd’s lensing puts the audience not only in the heat of battle, but allows us to feel the heat of emotion – from frustration and pain to exuberant joy. Shooting with both the Red Dragon and the Phantom, Lloyd and Israelite are able to get the camera in the middle of fight scenes, as well as use the 1000 frames per second of the Phantom shots to alter the visuals of speed. Technically challenging and very effective. The under water work is exquisite. Adding to the water work is that the actors did the bulk of it themselves.
And yes, everyone will want their own Dino Ranger, although it will be a tough choice between the stompin’ T-Rex model or flying Pterosaur. Decisions, decisions! Kudos to Legacy FX who created the creatures we see, new Zealand’s famed WETA who designed the POWER RANGER suits with a transparent skin-like quality and VFX Supervisor Sean Foden.
Andrew Menzies’ production design is glorious. Rich, textured. Futuristic, yet with a timeless look and feel. The creation of the hidden cavern where Zordon’s ship is hidden and the undulation of the rock face walls, mirrors undulation of the water and undulation of the evil Goldar and his fluid molten gold consistency. There is a yin and yang flow to the overall design of the film. Similarly, the costume design of not only Rita Repulsa but the Power Rangers suits are beyond cool.
Bryan Tyler’s score is a powerhouse that compliments the action and emotion, but surprisingly, falls to the background thanks to a well crafted story and engaging visuals, both of which command your attention. Music becomes an undercurrent, but for the signature POWER RANGERS theme song which pops up as the Dino Rangers charge! Unexpected but timed well so that it really makes you laugh.
Dean Israelite has directed POWER RANGERS to a fun-filled, emotionally satisfying, technically proficient and polished result. The technical intricacies of the lensing to create the visual tonal bandwidth is superbly designed and executed.
Boots-on-the-ground producers Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey show us once again why they are some of the go-to guys in terms of choices of project, freedom for creation, and delivering excellence, be it on something as quiet yet emotionally strong as a Nicholas Sparks adaptation or something like the “Twilight” and “Maze Runner” franchises. They have a strong grasp on the YA market and the elements which make it so popular – elements rooted in reality but which show the power each individual has within and the greater power and strength of connectivity and friendship. And they allow their director and creative team to expand those elements so as to appeal to adults as well. I am beyond impressed with that they have done to shepherd POWER RANGERS to the big screen.
Get ready to morph! Go, Go POWER RANGERS! Go!
Directed by Dean Israelite
Written by John Gatins
Cast: Elizabeth Banks, Bryan Cranston, Bill Hader, Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Becky G, Ludi Lin