The only proper way to deal with the existence of a new Power Rangers movie is to send two millennials—the Power Rangers generation—to see it and then chat about it. Their conversation is below.
Jeffrey Bloomer: Aye yai yai yai yai, Heather, we’ve just watched the Power Rangers reboot no one particularly wanted. We should talk about our shared history with this franchise, but first I feel obligated to report that the movie is … not bad? I actually had fun!
Heather Schwedel: Morphin’ time waits for no man! Which is to say, me too. But before we get to that, I must know about your pre-existing relationship with the Power Rangers.
Bloomer: Well, I was the Green Ranger, if that’s what you’re asking. Like many kids, I was very into the show when I was younger. That said, until this movie, I had forgotten almost every detail about it. Do we have collective Power Rangers amnesia?
Schwedel: Yes! For me it existed in a post–Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, pre–Nickelodeon period that I remember more than being a toddler but less than being an older elementary schooler. But I know I loved the 1993 show and that it was all the rage and that I was the Yellow Ranger. I think that relates back to why I wasn’t particularly into the idea of this movie: It was a show for such young kids that, unlike with Ghostbusters or other movie reboots, I can’t imagine who would actually be excited about the prospect of a reboot, you know?
Bloomer: I was alarmed to learn recently that there have been 20 (!) different Power Rangers TV series over the years, including one airing this year, and I suspect the billions in retail sales means Lionsgate executives are pretty excited. But that’s the strange thing: This should have been the most cynical, boring toy-selling gambit of the year, but I found myself more invested in it than I have been in any Marvel movie or “franchise reboot” in a long time. It’s not just competent—it’s actively charming. And it should be said that the row of rowdy teens in front of us in the theater were very much there for it.
Schwedel: I guess it’s like between-trilogies Star Wars that way in that it has been a stealth moneymaker this whole time, so there’s a logic to making a kids’ movie of it. And it very much was a kids’ movie—some of what I really appreciated about it was the way parts of it brought back that magic, inevitable feeling of watching a cheesy ’90s kids’ story.
Bloomer: Quickly, let’s get the plot out of the way: The new movie is an origin story, and it mostly follows beats that will be suddenly familiar to anyone who has seen the series (or the two little-loved ’90s movies). There are five rangers who, in various states of malaise, converge on an alien space ship, where they meet Alpha (Bill Hader) and Zordon (Bryan Cranston, for some reason) and get their mission to save their town from ancient hellbeast Rita Repulsa. It’s funny you mention Star Wars, because Alpha, the rangers’ lovable robot guide, has clearly been cute-ified for our post–BB-8 age.
Schwedel: Also Zordon’s soul (consciousness?) is trapped in the spaceship and he looks like an impression of a giant face in that novelty item that Google tells me is called a “pin impression toy.”
Bloomer: Yes, let it be said that the movie’s CGI budget puts the previous special effects, usually hand-me-downs from Japanese series, to shame. The spectacle is perhaps less charming, but it’s surprisingly strong.
If there is any major surprise (spoiler), it’s that the new Rangers takes care to introduce both an apparently gay member of the crew and another who is on the autism spectrum. Is it just me, or did the movie actually pull both of those off with minimal preach?
Schwedel: I liked the effort to diversify the rangers, imperfect though it was. Was Blue Ranger Billy’s autism kind of played for laughs/used as a one-size-fits-all plot device? It seemed like the movie was saying “Well, see, this kid is really into mining, because he’s autistic. And he talks out loud to his dead dad, because he’s autistic.”
The “gay” Yellow Ranger would more honestly be called “questioning,” which is totally appropriate for a movie about teens, but I don’t think the studio should earn points for paving the way for LGBT superheroes.
Bloomer: True. Billy seems to dislike people touching him until the plot requires him to, and the movie implies that’s something he can just move past. And certainly the Yellow Ranger, who the characters keep referring to as “crazy girl,” is not a trail-blazing queer superhero. But I thought the casual, unfussy way the movie treated both revelations felt refreshingly straightforward.
And on the subject of the studio’s would-be gold star, we should note that Power Rangers is still another $100+ million franchise handed over to an untested young male director, Dean Israelite, who is barely 30 and made one semi-stylish time-travel movie, Project Almanac, which wasn’t exactly a runaway success with critics or audiences. Alas.
Schwedel: Were you disappointed that the explicit leader of the five turned out to be the only straight, white male of the bunch, the Red Ranger?
Bloomer: It crossed my mind, but I appreciated what a weak crybaby he was—this wasn’t a movie that uncritically champions male bravado. He’s a dummy and gets people killed.
Schwedel: It would have been nice for the movie to make a low-key statement by choosing one of the other kids. They were doing a bit of a Breakfast Club thing with how the kids came together, which I liked. But then instead of meeting at Saturday detention, two of the kids were wandering around the woods/an abandoned mine, as if that’s a totally normal thing to do. I think the movie made a lot of choices like that, where if you think about them, they make no sense whatsoever, but they somehow worked anyway. The Pink Ranger is part of a revenge porn plot thread that completely whizzes by! (Also, what was up with the harness/choker bras she wears in every scene? This movie really does not know what to do with boobs.)
Bloomer: I forgot about that! It is fair to call the movie character-driven, as bizarre as that sounds. It’s not subtle about the John Hughes influence. We should circle back and talk about the movie’s weirdest creative sideshow: Elizabeth Banks as Rita Repulsa, the series’ longtime villain. With her ice-blue contacts and glamour-trash manicure, it felt like she was in a different movie, but I was kind of loving it.
Schwedel: Elizabeth Banks can’t resist the call of crazy costumes and makeup after four Hunger Games movies. I think she and Bryan Cranston’s voice gave some nice heft to this. Without the two of them, you’ve basically got five kids you’ve never heard of and Roy from The Office.
Bloomer: It’s true: All the strangely high-wattage stars here took a back seat to a cast of unknown teens (who are probably in their 30s).
Schwedel: Becky G. was born in 1997!
Bloomer: Fine, I take it back. I expected much worse from the younger actors, which seems to be the theme for the day. When the rangers eventually did figure out how to morph and the theater erupted into applause, I felt an uncanny happiness. The movie did the most unlikely thing of all: It made me excited about the Power Rangers again. Take that, Kong: Skull Island.
Schwedel: Though it was preceded by a horrible “Go, go Power Rangers” song, the final action sequence set to Kanye West’s “Power” was decent. It really hit all the beats of: They’re not gonna be able to do it. Or will they? Now Rita’s down. Or is she? etc.
Bloomer: Yes, no particular kudos to that overlong final bit, which played like Transformers lite, though Israelite is much better at keeping his camera still than Michael Bay. At least we could see what was happening.
Schwedel: That’s also the point where Krispy Kreme took on an outsize role in the plot. We should have been ready for this, because as you’ll recall, we sampled the special Power Rangers Krispy Kreme doughnuts a publicist sent us beforehand. We take our role as journalists very seriously.
Bloomer: Oh yes, how could I forget? I am becoming a bit of a Power Rangers apologist, I realize, but I found the Krispy Kreme placement funny and inoffensive, in the way the entire movie has a shoulder-shrugging, spunky wit that makes its stupidity seem breezy and fun.
Schwedel: For all the running around yelling about Krispy Kreme, I don’t think Rita Repulsa ever found the crystal that was supposedly hidden in the rangers’ hometown doughnut shop? She just ate some glazed doughnuts.
Bloomer: That brings me to my favorite moment of all, when a certain old group cameos in the movie’s final moments. Heather, you practically jumped out of your seat and whisper-yelled, “AMY JO JOHNSON!”
Schwedel: What can I say? I loved Felicity.
Bloomer: In truth, I have no idea what happened in the end. I’m also not sure it matters, since there was of course the obligatory tease of a sequel. Would you return to these new rangers if your job doesn’t make you?
Schwedel: I was reading the Wikipedia summary of the show’s first season last night, and honestly, the sixth ranger plotline sounds pretty awesome for the type of kids’ show that usually has no continuity whatsoever. Betrayal, brainwashing, martial arts! I’m into it.
Bloomer: Yes, I neglected to mention that the sequel tease involves my long-lost love. I had forgotten he existed, but Power Rangers 2017 reminded me I am Green Ranger Tommy forever. I’m going to morph out of here for now, but it’s good to know another ranger has my back.