'Power Rangers' an Unexpected Gem

Dir. Dean Israelite (Lionsgate)—3 Stars

It’s morphin’ time! Or is it? Viewers of the new “Power Rangers” movie, directed by Dean Israelite, sit through a good two thirds of the film before they finally see the beloved heroes in their characteristic body armor. And it is safe to say that the costumes look as ridiculous as always.

Plot-wise, this is probably the most generic superhero blockbuster of the year. Five teenagers from a small town where nothing ever happens stumble upon some extraterrestrial artifacts buried in the ground. These provide them with super powers, specifically super strength. As it so happens, in this very moment the film’s villain, Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), rises from her million-year old grave. She is—surprise, surprise—a former Ranger who then got corrupted by her lust for power: The film characterizes her as “pure evil.” Her plan is to destroy all life on earth. Eventually, a fight over some other alien crystal, hidden in the heroes’ hometown, emerges, complete with Rita’s generic golem army and her personal favorite, an even bigger monster.

The newest installment of the “Power Rangers” franchise is set up for disappointment, but it actually delivers. What makes the film stand out is that it is less of a superhero movie than it is the tale of the emerging friendship between its protagonists. Initially, these five troubled and diverse teenagers have nothing in common: They are an African-American with autism spectrum disorder, a lesbian Latina, an Asian-American who lives in a trailer park and cares for his sick mother, a high-school star quarterback who has fallen from grace, and a former cheerleader who does not want to be defined by the things she did in the past. “Power Rangers” tells the touching story of these five coming together, forming a deep bond, and creating an effective team. It is their newfound friendship that eventually helps them overcome their personal problems.

Besides being touching, the film is simply hilarious. RJ Cyler provides a barrage of well-timed, well-delivered jokes in his role as Billy Cranston, the Blue Ranger. It is this distinct humor that makes the new “Power Rangers” movie quite memorable, and makes the protagonists relatable and lovable. Their fresh faces are something to look forward to in the next installments of the franchise (several more films will supposedly be released). The movie also manages the balance between exciting a new generation of kids and catering to audiences who grew up with the Rangers. Its violence, for instance, is more explicit than that of the original TV series, as there is some blood and Rita Repulsa is actually frightening. Unfortunately, the latter is more about the film’s excellent sound and CGI, seeing that Elizabeth Banks’s performance as Rita Repulsa is subpar.

Flaws like this do not take much from the overall enjoyment that “Power Rangers” brings its audience. Fans of the original series will definitely find their expectations satisfied, and even audiences not familiar with it may find themselves singing “Go, go, Power Rangers!” by the end of the film. It is pure popcorn cinema.

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