Monday, 27 March 2017

Power Rangers (2017) (Review)


Power Rangers is the next hopeful cinematic property dug up from the 80s to front a new film franchise. Lionsgate, with no Hunger Games entries in the foreseeable future and Divergent on life support, the studio is obviously inspired by the initial success of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and are banking on a reboot of Haim Saban's superhero series to begin their next big-budget tentpole, after the success of their smaller releases - including La La Land, Hacksaw Ridge, John Wick: Chapter 2 and Nerve - over the past year. With no connection to the series and no prior knowledge of the property beyond the obvious, what does a first timer think of this reboot?

After the Green Ranger, Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), betrays the Power Rangers she is seemingly killed along with the others after Zordon buries the Power Coins to protect the world from her wrath. Years later, five teenagers discover the Coins and realise their new-found superpowers require them to protect the world from a revived Rita who goes about collecting gold to raise her minion, Goldar. Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery), Kimberly Hart (Naomi Scott), Billy Cranston (RJ Tyler), Trini Kwan (Becky G) and Zack Taylor (Ludi Lin) becomes the Red, Pink, Blue, Yellow and Black Rangers to stop the alien threat led by Repulsa. Is this new Power Rangers worth morphin' your hard earned money into a cinema ticket?

It is absolutely refreshing to see such diversity amongst the cast and characters of this superhero film, willing to change and experiment with different dynamics with an individual crop of recruits, including a queer character, one on the autism spectrum and a variety of races and ethnicities. Rather than becoming a novelty, the film really does benefit from a liberal outlook and inclusivity that earns the film some goodwill going forward. Power Rangers aims admirably high in this regard and does attempt to break the superhero mould with a more kid-friendly outlook on the genre, with just a few moments of bleakness in an otherwise relatively colourful spectacle. We see a committed cast of Rangers, with special mentions to Montgomery (who is basically the love child of Zac Efron and Chris Pine) and Tyler for their charming turns, with the two females delivering effective performances too; I'm yet to be sold on Lin's Zack and was easily the most unlikeable of the bunch and the hardest to root for. However, Elizabeth Banks steals the show (and is arguably the only reason I turned up at all), with a honourably camp and exciting performance as the film's villain, reminiscent of Charlize Theron's role in The Huntsman. She's over the top and joyful to watch and my interest in a sequel will depend entirely on her involvement.

Trouble is, Power Rangers takes too long to get going, is completely preposterous and not that easy to love, struggling to shake off the fact that it feels like a desperate, washed-up attempt at a new franchise, rather than an invigorating revival of one. The script is witty and apparently nods back to the original series with care but the screenwriters take way too long to launch us into action, essentially bifurcating the film into two halves that are both obviously flawed. Director Dean Israelite props up some of the scenes with colour and imagery, with a great underwater sequence crafted in act one, but he cannot handle the action set pieces effectively and they are poorly-executed; by the time the action set piece are delivered, its easy to understand the screenwriters reluctancy and delays, as they are so haphazard and energised with little oomph and balance outside of the performers. The character drama is solid but greatly sags in the middle, failing to use its time (a good hour and a half, that is) to develop all five of the leads fairly, placing Yellow and Black firmly on the peripheral. All of this results in a uneven and unbalanced tonal mess that means the blockbuster struggles to feel cohesive and is unable to decide what its wants to identify as, unsure on how to infuse genre effectively; the film desperately wants to keep its options open for future instalments, depending on which side of the story is more favoured by general audiences. Both are deeply flawed with a few sparks of greatness that it needs to harness for a successful franchise moving forward.

We're only three months into this year but if anything overtakes Power Rangers as the film with the most shameless, ludicrous product placing, I will be floored; my god, could they fit any more references or shots of Krispy Kreme in if they tried?! Our villain literally takes a donut break in the middle of all the chaos of the third act (and believe me, it is chaotic). It only serves to reinforce the notion that the reboot feels entirely like a cash-grab rather than a natural revival of the series, alongside the soundtrack that is designed entirely as a second revenue stream with its track-list bursting with some of the biggest pop tunes of the last few years. It makes some weak narrative choices, including the use of Goldar who is utterly unnecessary - a stronger focus on Banks' Rita would have benefitted the story, not only because she is underused but because the CGI used to craft the monster in this final third is rather woeful. These third act effects are glaringly bad, with this creature and the presence of molten gold shockingly amateur, even though the CGI is serviceable for the rest of the runtime. Oh, and like most blockbuster, it could do with a time trim in order to alleviate that enfeeble middle act that drags it down a little.

With lowered expectations, you will be able to find some enjoyment in this whirlwind of CGI but 'leaving your brain at the door' is hardly the way you want to proceed into a film, particularly with so much competition in the cinemas at the moment - most noticeably, Beauty & The Beast. It's serviceable and not nearly as bad as I was expecting for a first-timer but it's nothing to sing and dance about and doesn't leave me with a lot of promise for the franchise moving forward. The cast are all decent, we have some thrills, some genuinely great character beats and thankfully the misplaced joke about 'milking' a male cow doesn't set the tone for the entire piece - but it's not too far off either. There's a charm about Power Rangers that I didn't really expect and it feels more squarely aimed at kids than any other superhero film in the past year or so, so I'm hardly the demographic in mind. The diversity of the cast and heroes is terrific and really efficient in helping the film forge a vision of its own, with Montgomery, Tyler and Banks particularly deserving praise. Power Rangers isn't the dead on arrival flop expected but will require a lot of attention if Lionsgate continue with the further instalments, as they have made abundantly clear as their goal.

(5/10)

Summary: Power Rangers is a mixed bag; it forges its own vision with an inclusive cast, unique characters and decent performances but that only occasionally distracts from a terribly uneven story, weak CGI and awfully distracting product placement.

Highlight: Respected actresses going gaga for a superhero/fantasy film is one of my favourite things. Elizabeth Banks has so much fun here.

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