‘Power Rangers’: Why It’s the Most Important Disappointment of 2017
The superhero genre has entered into an interesting phase in its evolution in 2017. Studios can no longer put out the same old origin stories and expect them to succeed both critically and financially. With the onslaught of comic book movies from virtually every major studio, audiences are beginning to pick and choose what they want to spend their money on. Enter Power Rangers, a movie designed to launch yet another superhero franchise by building on a beloved property from the ’90s.
The reboot effort comes with a ton of baggage in tow. Today, many of the kids who grew up watching the original TV series are parents themselves. And as the core fanbase has grown up, the question becomes whether Power Rangers managed to grow up too. So how did it fare when it was all said and done? The answer: sort of OK, but also while carrying some deeply evident flaws. Let’s dig in.
1. A grab-bag of superhero movie tropes
If you’ve seen a superhero movie in the last 10 years, then Power Rangers will feel all too familiar to you. The premise: A group of misfit teens stumble on an alien crash site, gain superpowers, reluctantly accept their newfound responsibilities as heroes, and must overcome their differences in order to come together as a team. Thematically, it’s essentially the blueprint for the first Avengers movie, without the benefit of four years worth of standalone origin stories for context. In terms of the actual content, think Chronicle only without all the murder.
2. Power Rangers is largely a paint-by-numbers story
If you’re looking for a groundbreaking, original blockbuster, Power Rangers might not be the best use of your time. That said, most of the paint-by-numbers story beats work just fine. A hefty special effects budget helps make it so it’s always fun to look at, and it’s easy to forgive a narrative that most audiences can recite in their sleep. Even so, in 2017, it’s difficult to stand a cut above the rest of the superhero genre if you’re not doing something different thematically, and that’s where Power Rangers struggles the most.
3. The importance of Power Rangers‘ diverse cast can’t be understated
While that 2012 Avengers movie that Power Rangers elicits comparisons to became the gold standard for team-up superhero movies, it was also staggeringly white and male. Those five original Avengers were all decidedly white, with just one woman (who incidentally still hasn’t got her own movie). Fast-forward to Power Rangers, and it’s a crash course in what Hollywood representation should be in 2017. While the Red Ranger is white, the rest of the cast features a Chinese Black Ranger, an African-American Blue Ranger (whose character is on the autism spectrum), an LBGT Yellow Ranger (who incidentally is also Mexican-American), and a half-Indian Pink Ranger.
At some point down the line, it shouldn’t be a big deal when a big-budget tentpole makes an effort to get out of its racial comfort zone. But given Hollywood’s rampant problems with diversity, Power Rangers represents an important shift in the right direction.
4. That diversity makes it that much more disappointing to see the story fall flat
Any time a movie bucks conventions with its casting, you can bet the rest of the industry is watching. If Power Rangers falls flat and doesn’t make money, the main takeaway (no matter how wrongheaded it might be) is that people don’t want to see diversity. Just look at what happened to female-led superhero movies following Catwoman and Elektra in 2004 and 2005 respectively. After both films flopped (because they were terrible, independent of the gender of their leads), Hollywood waited until this year to give a woman another standalone superhero movie. In the meantime, Marvel Studios still hasn’t caught up, a trend that won’t end until Captain Marvel hits theaters in 2019.
All that being so, it’s more than a little disappointing to see Power Rangers phoning in its story. The hope is that the built-in fanbase will be enough to help it at the box office, but if Deadpool and Guardians of the Galaxy proved anything, it’s that people will spend money on well-crafted, unique superhero movies.
5. Power Rangers can’t quite decide who its audience actually is
There’s little doubt as to what demographic the best superhero movies cater to. Odds are you wouldn’t take your 7-year-old to Logan, just like you’d probably wait until your kid was a little older before introducing them to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Power Rangers is a movie constantly at odds with itself in terms of who it’s trying to appeal to. At times, it attempts to dive into some more adult themes, and then gives you whiplash as it snaps back to a child-centric focus. It tries to have it both ways, and in the end spreads itself far too thin as a result.
6. We already know what a full-on ‘dark and gritty’ treatment would look like, and it’s awesome
Two years ago, an unauthorized Power Rangers short film from Joseph Kahn showed up on YouTube, depicting the Rangers in a distant, brutally violent future. It was the R-rated version we never knew we needed, and with James Van Der Beek and Katee Sackhoff in starring roles, it was a 15-minute absolute thrill-ride. The officially authorized Power Rangers reboot exists in stark contrast to this, with a confused tone that has us wanting the intense focus of Kahn’s “dark and gritty” treatment.
7. The problem with fan service
Power Rangers makes a concerted effort to frequently reference the original series, from throwaway lines, to cameos we won’t spoil for you here. The aesthetic is of course updated for modern audiences, but some of those classic Power Rangers moments don’t exactly age well, leading to a healthy dose of awkward cheese interspersed among the action. Fan service is a delicate art, and is the easiest way to get your built-in audience on your side. But when it doesn’t mesh well with the already scattered tone of your story, it can stick out like a sore thumb.
8. Given what they had to work with, the young cast still does a stellar job
Power Rangers doesn’t exactly have the cleverest dialogue, but its young cast does a wonderful job all the same. Their on-screen chemistry shines, and it’s not hard to see why they were each chosen for the film. Even some of the cheesier jokes land well thanks entirely to the delivery. And sure, it may not be enough to excuse a rote narrative, but it still makes Power Rangers an easy-to-watch experience.
9. Where it fits in the greater world of superhero movies
Given the massive head start the rest of Hollywood has right now in the superhero genre, you couldn’t blame Power Rangers for going with a tried and true origin narrative. But it’s that lack of originality that puts it at an immediate handicap to its contemporaries in the genre. While the rest of the industry is moving forward and forging ahead with new and exciting ways to tell a superhero story, Power Rangers is stuck in neutral. Perhaps its greatest problem is simply that it wasn’t made 10 years ago, when we hadn’t seen this all before.
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