Wednesday, March 29, 2017

It's Morphin' Time: A Review of the Power Rangers Film [Contributors: Chelsea and Jon]

This past weekend saw the release of yet another remake film in the form of the Power Rangers. Based on the 1993 television series (which itself is based on a long-running Japanese series), Power Rangers follows five outsider teens that find some magical coins that turns them into superheroes. Chelsea and Jon decided to do a roundtable review of the film. Read on for their thoughts!

What did you think when you heard the news of the remake?

Chelsea: This remake has faced an uphill battle from the beginning in its attempt to sell a more grounded rangers story, while not making it look like just another sequel/remake culture cash grab. As a fan of the super cheesy original 90s series, part of me was super jaded when I heard about this remake; but the other part of me was super pumped to see my first television obsession find new life. I unabashedly loved the show, and all my first TV crushes are from that series. It wasn’t until these last few weeks that I really started getting hyped for the film.

Jon: To start, I absolutely loved Power Rangers growing up. They were the first superheroes who ever came into my collective consciousness. The cheese of the show and how ridiculous it can get was all a part of the charm that also carried over to the original 1995 movie. That film took the mythology established in the show and expanded it on a massive scale (we're not going to talk about Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie).

The original series is known for being a kind of silly children’s show. What are your thoughts overall on the remake?

Jon: The new film is exactly what I imagined when I pictured a big-budget update of the classic series, and I mean that in the best way possible. Rather than attempt to recreate the original series' campy tone beat for beat, the film instead decides to take a decidedly more grounded approach for about 75% of the film's runtime. Here, the Rangers are given more layers and depth. There's actual reason as to why they're "five teenagers with attitude." They face everyday problems that normal teens face: social cliques, acceptance, trying to be your own individual and not someone who people simply want you to be. It's a message that rang true 24 years ago, and still rings true to the next generation today.

That being said, this film is not fully perfect. At times, some of the CGI could be a bit fake looking, particularly in the final battle. In addition, there were some questionable story choices that I took issue with, but those were few and in between. Finally, while I enjoyed Elizabeth Banks' scene-chewing performance, the nature in which she plays Rita completely offsets the tone that the movie is going for. If the film is going for a more serious tone, then Banks is trying to emulate the tone of the original show — something this movie seems to be actively trying to avoid.

Chelsea: I’m not even sure what I was expecting going into this film. Something just clicked in the last couple months that made me super excited to see it. Watching the teasers and physically seeing a diverse cast and the familiarity of those characters that I have loved for 24 years made me think this could be something fun, at the very least. I had heard that the Yellow Ranger was somewhere on the LGBTQ+ spectrum and it was confirmed in the movie — not just a marketing thing much like the new Beauty and the Beast (which I also thought did a good job, but could have been better at addressing its queer character). That ended up being a big draw for me in deciding to watch it opening weekend.

By the end of the film, I was just craving more of these characters and what their next adventure was going to be. I truly felt for these teens and how they are struggling with their various forms of loneliness. Their struggle in trusting one another and eventually coming together as a family was something I never got from other superhero films like The Avengers or even X-Men because they always feel like they’re fighting for the sake of fighting. Watching these kids grow and develop their skills and building their team really kept this film grounded in the journey of these characters. It’s the coming of age superhero film we deserved.

The film would benefit from a slightly bigger budget to help smooth out some of the rough CGI moments but I appreciate that they were having their big battle scenes in daylight, and I could follow a lot of the action scenes without getting lost. I do have to agree with the Elizabeth Banks of it all. She was so much fun and camp, but it did end up offsetting a lot of the tone. If there is a sequel, I think giving the rangers even more humor will help balance the weird camp of her character.

How was the casting? Did you connect with any of the characters or new characterizations of the Rangers?

Jon: It's very rare to get casting so incredibly spot-on, but goodness does Saban's Power Rangers nail it on the head. The core five Rangers are all phenomenal, each getting their own time to shine. While the OG Rangers from the original show are still the best group, what the movie manages to do is take that core five (Jason, Kimberly, Trini, Zack, and Billy), and make them less a certain archetype and more relatable human beings. The campfire scene is a perfect example of this, as all five Rangers get to bare their souls and reveal their true selves to each other. This is not only a great scene because of character development, but also because the actors make this scene feel more natural due to their chemistry. They act more as a family as the film progresses to the point where, at the end, you want to cheer for them because you've been through so much with them.

I am someone who was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome at the age of three years old. Since then, I've come far in trying to overcome so many obstacles placed along the path that is my life. I'm also for any kind of representation of autism in different forms of media, as long as it's done correctly (see: NBC’s Parenthood). Power Rangers is the best representation I've seen of autism in a long time. I relate to Billy Cranston on a deep personal level because I know some of the things that he experiences: social awkwardness, not being able to pick up whether something is meant as a joke, sarcasm, or if they're being serious, and an INSANE and minute attention to detail and figuring out a puzzle. At first, I was nervous they were going to play this off as a punchline. Yet, as the film progresses, it's taken seriously and never really mentioned as much — which is something I could appreciate. Yes, that person may be different from you in terms of how he thinks, but that doesn't mean you won't be able to connect to him. Different, not less. Billy is the heart and soul of the team, and RJ Cyler does a fantastic job at getting not only the representation right, but bringing warmth to the team overall.

The film also does an amazing job at showcasing a friendship between someone with autism and someone who does not have it. Jason and Billy's friendship is something I felt a massive connection to, as I know my own friends go through the same things. Jason is patient and genuinely caring for Billy, being loyal through and through. It's a friendship I have with my own buddies from grade school, and that bond that I have felt mirrored on screen

Also, I'm a bit happy that it's the Blue Ranger because given that blue is the color for autism, I can now wear a Blue Ranger shirt during Autism Awareness Month.

Chelsea: I cannot agree more about the casting. Only one of the Rangers was a white person and they found actors with rich and different personalities. They had intersectional inclusive characters with the Blue Ranger being black and autistic and the Yellow Ranger being a queer lady of color without having that be their core issue. I didn’t even know the Blue Ranger was autistic until I was watching the film. At first I was worried that it was just going to be a joke like on The Big Bang Theory but then Jason and Billy have their moment and Jason just treats him like his friend, and it was something you don’t get in films. Trini had great moments of having to open up about being the military brat who has moved so much and has trouble connecting with people because she’s never in one spot too long. Zack is alone dealing with his sick parent and has nobody else in the world. These kids are dealing with real teenage issues without it turning into an after-school special.

Just beyond the positive representation, this cast did a great job with balancing the grounded realism with the cheese of the original series. I truly felt like they were a team and I was rooting for them in the climactic battle, even though I had an idea of where it was headed. The little things of Jason and Billy bonding, or Kimberly and Trini hanging out and training at the cafe, or Zack being a reckless daredevil and that friend that gets you into mischief made me feel like they were friends and were nice little character moments.

Did the new, somewhat darker tone of the film work for you or did it miss the mark?

Jon: To keep the original series' cheesy, at times downright laughable tone would have been a terrible mistake for this new adaptation. The film stays grounded by presenting real teenagers with real problems. We see themes of acceptance and individuality: Jason with not wanting to follow the plan laid out before him, Billy trying to be accepted amongst by well, anybody, Kimberly being ousted from her social clique, and Trini being LGBTQ and not following the conformity her parents want her to follow. Each of these teenagers becomes more relatable as time goes on, making them more relatable to today's current generation or anyone who has experienced these growing pains these teens deal with. In addition, they're thrust into a bigger responsibility than their own issues, which makes their bond with each other more believable.

There seems to be an influence from Joseph Kahn's Power/Rangers, a fan film that looked at the franchise in a way darker light than this. The themes of death and loss are present in this new film, such as with Zack and his mom. Zack is terrified of being on his own, and knows if his mom is gone, then he has nowhere to turn to. Being with the group acts as a coping mechanism, which isn't uncommon among those who have experienced loss.

Chelsea: I think the “darker” tone worked well for this iteration because there was no way they could pull off the cheesy 90s tone in 2017. The world is way too cynical and memes are a part of culture now. It would have been ravaged. They kept a pretty well balanced tone and though Banks’ Rita was a bit much at first, I truly felt like they found her voice toward the end of the film and how to match it with the teens. They had more scenes together towards the end and keeping them more together in the sequel will help them be more consistent.

I know people were worried that Power Rangers was going to be too Dark Knight-like with giving the teens angsty backstories, and I said it a little above, but they really did feel like teens who were dealing with various forms of loneliness. You have the Mexican queer army brat dealing with her feelings for girls and growing up in an environment that makes it hard to open up about her identity and the confusion that comes with sorting those feelings. Plenty of students have had to take care of a sick or disabled parent and that makes you grow up too quick in the case of Zack. Having to be the provider and being that scared kids. Billy’s brain working differently than others and being bullied for his ticks. He’s never had friends before this but he really becomes the soul of the film and the heart of the team. They wrote all of these issues in the most respectful way and it was so refreshing to see that in a superhero film. 

Should this film get a sequel, is there anything you would like to see either created for the movie or anything pulled from the show?

Jon: The ending of the film definitely leaves desire to see the adventures of these Rangers continue after they SLAPPED Rita into space. Obviously, at the end of the film, we set up that Tommy Oliver, — the legendary Green Ranger — is ready to make an appearance should a sequel happen. There have been reports that Tommy would possibly be a female in the movie, though as of now that's only speculation. Personally, I think the idea would be a fascinating one, as it would not only even out the team, but give an interesting shakeup to the team dynamic we'd expect from Tommy when he arrives. Tommy is always meant to be a rival to Jason, so making him a member of the opposite sex would certainly change the dynamic a little bit and/or possibly provide fodder for another Ranger like Trini.

As for the villains, there's plenty from the original few seasons to pull from. When I say original seasons, I mean from Mighty Morphin to Space, which retained some of the original core five Rangers while adding new ones. There's Divatox, there's Rita's father, Master Vile, her brother, Rito Revolto, Pumpkin Rapper, and Ivan Ooze, to name a few (seriously, bring that villain BACK). However, there are reports that Lionsgate wishes to pursue a six movie arc. If that's the case, then the two biggest villains that could easily sustain that are Lord Zedd and King Mondo of the Machine Empire. Both of these villains played MAJOR roles throughout the course of the original series, so to see them realized within this new universe would be a blast to watch.

However, there's a certain way these two be presented. Let's take a look at Marvel for a moment: since the beginning, they've kept Thanos in the shadows for nearly six years, just now finally bringing him out to play. The Power Rangers franchise should pursue a similar route, hyping up Lord Zedd before having him come out to play at the end of the third movie... but then have Zedd warn of Mondo and the Machine Empire, ergo setting the stage for the next three films.

Chelsea: I want to be pleasantly surprised again. This was one of my most fun theater experiences in recent memory.

I’m down for a female Tommy Oliver/Green Ranger. I have a male and female Tom/Tommie on my cooking show this year, so bring on the gender-bending superhero!

  • Bill Hader and Bryan Cranston NAIL it as Zordon and Alpha 5, respectively. Zordon is much more complex this time around, given that he's a former Ranger himself and is driven to atone for his past mistakes. It pulls back the curtain on a figure we thought to have been all-powerful and all knowing, but instead has his own demons as well. 
  • I really want Krispy Kreme donuts after seeing this movie. 
  • If the kid who bullies Billy gets knocked out for trying to headbutt Billy, does that mean he'll be nicknamed Skull? And will he hire a bodyguard nicknamed Bulk? 
  • Hearing "Go Go Power Rangers" might have made me squeal in joy. 
  • Jason saying "It's morphin' time" DEFINITELY made me squeal with joy. 
  • The last 20 minutes pays so much homage to the original series, but with a sleek new coat. It's a blast to watch. 
  • Where's my Big Bad Beetleborgs solo and/or team up movie?


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