‘Rangers’ reboot: teens fight monsters, feelings

by TYLER YORK//Online Editor

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In a world containing secret, ancient alien technology, the new “Power Rangers” movie spends a lot of time on far less interesting subjects.

Growing up in the late 1990s and early 2000s, “Power Rangers” was less of a blowout phenomenon than it was an understood part of after-school entertainment. It’s easy to look back now and see the show through a parent’s dismissive eye, with the nonsensical story and over-the-top antics. But “Power Rangers” were what the youth of the day held up as awesome heroes capable of anything.

For the 2017 reboot, I’m not sure newcomers to the franchise will have as much to draw them in as the original first did more than 20 years ago.

The film hinges on an unusual contradiction. Both the main complaint of weakness and the commendation of strength for the “Power Rangers” reboot is that it offers no more explanation for its plot than either the original series or movies did.

Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa still wants to destroy the Zeo Crystal, killing all life on Earth. Bryan Cranston as Zordon, the former Red Ranger, appears as a face stuck in a wall. When faced with finishing off an opponent, neither side does the smart thing, instead electing to either drag out a fight or start explaining their actions.

This sounds like a put-down, and, to an extent, it is. But what it means is the movie remains no less enjoyable and evocative of a similar nostalgia as the source materials were several decades ago.

The acting is better than expected for a group of unknowns. There is a sense of authenticity in seeing these young characters struggle with their identities, and it asks an interesting question: Is it harder to be a superhero, or just a regular teen? But these moments tend to get lost behind others when it’s unclear what emotion is attempting to be conveyed based on a general facial seriousness and a clenched jaw. It’s not readily apparent whether this is directing confusion or the actors’ inexperience. But it wouldn’t be surprising to see the raw materials present here turn up more refined in future films.

“Power Rangers” feels like it started to tread new ground in character diversity, but it lands short of that goal. The ensemble is racially diverse, but no more so than the show was. It also features a gay ranger, Trini, and even a ranger with a psychological disorder, Bobby.

This is a move in an admirable direction, and for kids on the autism spectrum, it’s easy to imagine that seeing a superhero with similar traits finding a place and making a difference is an empowering image.

But it toes a weak line, even failing to say the word “autism,” almost like it’s a dirty word, which ends up casting it back into the shadows of something to hide out of shame. It isn’t offensive whatsoever, but one could argue it’s two steps forward and a step back.

If you’re looking for action and visuals, this is what will bridge the gap between “Power Rangers” fans both old and new. There are plenty of dangerous cliff-dives. There are giant mechanized animal battles. The kids feel more super-powered and less like spandex-clad high school acrobats.

A sheen of metallic flares and modern Hollywood polish both provide a credibility that audiences tend to look for today. It helps make the movie feel, if not like a great superhero movie, at least like a solid action film that a new generation may or may not choose to care about. There are a wide variety of other superhero movies with better-reasoned plots and more relatable characters. But very few of those have giant robot battles, so only time will tell.

As an action movie, it checks a lot of the boxes for an enjoyable spectacle. As a fresh retelling of a childhood favorite, it does a lot of the job right there, too. If you’re in the mood for an easy watch that doesn’t ask for much in the way of brainpower, with a healthy hit of nostalgia on the side, “Power Rangers” should be a good fit.

I give “Power Rangers” 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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