(Originally posted 2nd April 2017)
Okay, let's just be clear that I have no great nostalgia for the original series and I'm also not eight years old, so I appreciate that this film has not been made for me. Hopes were appropriately low and in order to try and help me learn what the appeal of these films are, I went to the cinema with a young lad by the name of Calvin, who was going to be my control subject for the whole experience.
At first, it seemed as though my greatest fears were being filled. The main characters are introduced and they are the epitome of Hollywood teen nonsense. The dialogue is unnatural, the actions are unrealistic and the actors are poor. And this is before any of the alien superpower bullshit.
I'm already at the point of nausea and in my head I'm penning a scathing review of how the consistent level of banality and mediocrity in children's entertainment is going to destroy our society. But I look over to young Calvin and see wonder in his eyes. Half a jelly snake hangs from his mouth as he gapes in awe and anticipation of the spectacle to come (yeah, I got him pick and mix – I'm a weekend dad, I've got to spoil him or he won't love me anymore).
The characters are a curious mix of modernity and Hollywood conservatism. There's an autistic guy, and it seems like a forward thinking decision to put an autistic character in a major film like this. But, then he is that kind of autistic where he is just a bit awkward socially and makes up for it by being an academic genius. In this sense it falls into a long tradition of whacky mental illness as portrayed by the media and isn't exactly breaking boundaries or giving us any hard truths about living with disabilities. And of course they never actually use the word autistic or Asperger's or anything like that. Similarly, there is a spunky female character who is implied to be a lesbian, but this is only used as a way to make her feel like she doesn't fit in or something. It's not actually relevant to the plot and it feels like it's just being dropped in because its all very fashionable right now. Not that that would particularly be a problem if it felt like it was being done for reasons of inclusivity rather than a cynical attempt to appeal to the young people. And of course they don't use any words like lesbian or gay or anything crazy like that.
But am I being too judgemental? Little Calvin is too young to understand any of that anyway and maybe it will filter into his undeveloped mind that there are all types of people in the world and we can all get along. Does it have to be too specific when we're aiming at the younger generation?
Nevertheless, the film trudges on in the most predictable way and soon enough we've even had a training montage. Bryan Cranston (who has previous ties to the Power Rangers franchise) shows up as Zordon, the big-head-in-the-jar mentor to the young whippersnappers. Zordon has his doubts about these kids being the saviours of the world and I'm not too sure about Cranston either. Even though he is rendered only as moving pixels on a wall, he still manages to look ashamed of himself for being involved in this cinematic dreck.
But then a funny thing happens as I write the words “cinema is dead” in my notebook for the 47th time. The plot actually starts to get going and, taking into consideration the fantastical nature of the story world, it does basically make sense. Elizabeth Banks turns up as the bad guy Rita Repulsa and does an admirable job with what is a very silly concept. Young Calvin shifts uncomfortably in his seat and I foresee a future of infatuations with strong older women in his life. He's a bit of a weird kid, to be honest.
The action scenes are surprisingly muted at first and the teens can't even get the iconic costumes on until the final act. It seems like they were saving everything for one big push at the end as we're treated to a classic kaiju battle between a giant robot made up of Power Ranger dinosaur cars and a huge winged beast made out of gold. And if that's wrong then I don't want to be right. As usual we stick with the Hollywood tradition of ignoring the thousands of innocent civilians who would be killed in amongst all this destruction.
I hate to spoil the ending, but our plucky young heroes win the day and the world is saved. Not to mention they all learn some important life lessons about erm... it's cool to have superpowers? I don't know, I'm sure there was a moral journey in there somewhere.
So ultimately I got exactly what I expected from a Power Rangers movie. There's always a glimmer of hope that someone might be able to use the Hollywood formula but still inject something else worthwhile. But let's face it, this wasn't directed by the next Spielberg. He might not even be the next Joe Dante. It is the ultimate piece of child friendly fluff and it at least carries that off in a technically correct way. High praise indeed.
But this film isn't for me. What about little Calvin? I questioned him after the screening and he proudly declared it the best film he'd ever seen. But that's not saying much as I believe his previous viewing habits consist of watching Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs on a constant loop.
Solid but uninspiring. Come for the action, stay for the action.
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