Genre: Fantasy/Action
Director: Dean Israelite
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Becky G, Elizabeth Banks, Naomi Scotts, Dacre Montgomery, Ludi Lin, RJ Cyler, Bill Hader
Runtime: 2 hrs 3 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence)
Released By: Cathay-Keris Films 
Official Website: https://www.facebook.com/PowerRangersMovie/

Opening Day: 23 March 2017

Synopsis: POWER RANGERS follows five ordinary high school kids who must become something extraordinary when they learn that their small town of Angel Grove - and the world - is on the verge of being obliterated by an alien threat. Chosen by destiny, our heroes quickly discover that they are the only ones who can save the planet. But to do so they will have to overcome their real-life issues and band together as the Power Rangers before it is too late.

Movie Review #1:

I have a soft spot for the ‘Mighty Morphin Power Rangers’. I grew up with the Fox Kids’ series (I’m referring to the Haim Saban version adapted from the Japanese TV show), played with their toys, and counted the 1995 big-screen adaptation as my first time in the cinema without my parents. It is no secret that popular culture’s tastes have evolved significantly since then. Going by today’s standards of what’s cool and classy, you’re probably supposed to cringe at the unnatural dialogue, the amateur fight scenes and the sheer cheesiness of it all. You may say that was part of its charm, but then again, I suspect many fans – myself included – just loved it for what it was, not because it was supremely campy or ‘so bad it’s good’. It is with no small amount of trepidation that I greeted ‘Saban’s Power Rangers’, Lionsgate’s attempt to turn a 90s TV phenomenon into a modern-day superhero franchise – not simply because there will be inherently biased ‘haters’ out there who will use today’s standards to judge yesterday’s show and criticise this movie using that same yardstick, but also because it will inevitably be compared against the current crop of Marvel/ DC superhero movies and regarded as B- or worse C-grade.

The good news is that director Dean Israelite (who made a small teen-centric science-fiction adventure in 2015 called ‘Project Alamanac’ before he was offered this big-time gig) and his army of writers (five of them to be exact, including Oscar-nominated screenwriter John Gatins who gets screenwriting credit) have made a respectable attempt at a modern-day reboot. And by modern-day reboot, I mean that the Rangers are no longer anti-septic: Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery), a.k.a. the Red Ranger, a disillusioned star quarterback who’s lost his golden ticket after a prank involving a bull in a changing room goes wrong; Trini (Becky G), a.k.a. the Yellow Ranger, is angsting over her sexuality; Billy (RJ Cyler), a.k.a. the Blue Ranger is an outcast tech-whiz who is on the spectrum; Kimberly (Naomi Scott), a.k.a. the Pink Ranger, is a former popular cheerleader with a mean streak that has caused her to be ostracized by her friends; and last but not least Zack (Ludi Lin), a.k.a. the Black Ranger, is a school dropout who looks after his ailing mother in a trailer home.

A lot of time, detail and attention is spent sketching out their respective challenges they need to overcome within and without, in order – I suspect – so that it can claim to be character-driven and cannot be faulted for not being that. So serious is it about getting these five teenage misfits to resolve their issues that it denies them from ‘morphing’ (or plugging into the Morphin grid) until they learn to get over themselves, trust each other and bond as one family unit. As far as these characters are concerned, there’s no question that they are certainly much more fleshed out than they ever were before, such that their camaraderie is hard-won, even well-deserved and definitely a lot more genuine. But that also means they never don their armour or get into their Zords until right at the end, when they have to stare down their first real opponent – and the series’ recurring villain – Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), who is searching for Earth’s Zeo Crystal in order to augment her powers which she intends for no less than world domination.

Not that they don’t train – they do, under the mentorship of Zordon (played by Bryan Cranston in motion capture) and his loyal robot assistant Alpha-5 (voiced by Bill Hader), but just not in their suits or inside their mechanical dinosaurs. If ever anyone believed you learnt best in the field, well these Rangers would be a classic example, especially since it is in the heat of battle that they learn that their individual Zords can combine into something even bigger and more powerful, i.e. the Megazord, and how to control its arms, legs and swords. That’s the bad news unfortunately; indeed, for all the credibility the filmmakers build through grounding their characters, they cannot quite convince that the Rangers can accomplish all that within the span of taking down Rita with her green-crystal powered golden staff and gigantic monster Goldar. The third-act showdown is rushed to say the very least, and dissonant with the first hour-plus which tries strenuously (and which admittedly is quite successful) at injecting realism into the Rangers’ origin story.

It doesn’t help that the climax is messy, poorly choreographed and badly shot. Not only is there no pace or rhythm to the mayhem, there is also no order – one moment we see Pink swooping down from her Pterodactyl, another we see Red on the ground on his Tyrannosaurus; and yet another we see Yellow pouncing along in her Sabertooth. That also speaks to the choreography, which doesn’t give enough time for the individual Rangers or Zords to establish themselves in the field before moving on to the next or even a satisfying one-on-one between Megazord and Goldar. It doesn’t help that Matthew J. Lloyd’s cinematography is stuck on medium shots and close-ups, such that we never feel the sense of scale watching these outsized Zords fighting Goldar nor the awesomeness of the Megazord when it finally does make its grand – and too brief – appearance. Accomplished though the visual effects (by no less than four studios, including Weta Digital) may be, they are ultimately undermined by Israelite’s inability to direct a big-scale action sequence, so much so that the stakes are never felt and any thrill or even excitement barely present.

In truth, this reboot is probably only just good enough to revive interest in a property that is best remembered with nostalgia. You can tell the filmmakers tried hard to make sure that it is attuned to the sensibilities of a modern-day audience, even giving Zordon greater depth by creating a dilemma where he could choose to be selfish or selfless. Yet with Banks’ over-the-top rendition of Rita, the token ‘Go, go, Power Rangers’ theme song and the obligatory battle spectacle at the end, ‘Saban’s Power Rangers’ just flounders trying to find the right balance between gravitas and campiness, coming off as an odd and somewhat awkward combination of both. If only they had gotten the big climax right, I suspect fans of the old TV series and audiences discovering this for the first time will probably both find something to like about it. As it is, it barely powers up, and that is something no amount of character work can save – not when the point of it all was to watch the Rangers morphing into battle, get into their Zords and ‘go, go!’ 

Movie Rating:

(Not the train wreck that some are expecting this to be, and yet not enough of a shot in the arm to make this into the next superhero franchise, this modern-day reboot has plenty of character work but lacks a thrilling action-packed payoff)

Review by Gabriel Chong


Movie Review #2:

Nostalgia has become a commodity – just look how franchises from the ‘90s are getting ‘reboots’ (‘reimaginings’, ‘retellings’ or any other word that goes down well with academics) on the big screen. Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, RoboCop and the recent Beauty and the Beast: are fans getting spoilt for choice? How do filmmakers straddle between pleasing fans of the original, and getting millennials excited?

Oh, we haven’t even gone into the countless ‘collector’s edition’ merchandise, action figures, social media campaigns and by products that spawn from these reboots.

The latest franchise to join the club is Power Rangers, an American entertainment and merchandising franchise built around a live action superhero television series. First produced by Saban Entertainment, the television series takes much of its footage from the Japanese drama Super Sentai produced by Toei Company. Power Rangers first debuted in 1993 as Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and made its way into popular culture along with a line hot selling toys by Bandai.

More than two decades later, Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Becky G, Ludi Lin play high school students who are recruited by Zordon (for those who aren’t fans of the original series, Zordon is a mentor like character who operates from a Command Centre situated in a desert) to become Power Rangers. This five teenagers are not part of the popular gang in school: one of them is autistic, one of them questions her sexual orientation, while another is having problems with a ‘sexting’ scandal.

Yup, these are real issues teenagers are facing today and the filmmakers have decided to incorporate them into the storyline. Director Dean Israelite (Project Almanac) and screenwriter John Gatins (Flight) do a decent job of making a movie about teenagers and the challenges they are facing in their world, based on the beloved ‘90s kids series. And this move isn’t too bad an idea, because the concept of a group of young people morphing into superheroes does feel dated and can easily become unintentionally hilarious. This reboot also features a diverse cast (there are some funny gags between the Blue and Black Rangers about skin colour), and it is a commendable effort.

Bryan Cranston provides the voice and motion capture of Zordon, Bill Hader delivers another impressive voicing job as Zordon’s robot assistant Alpha 5, while Elizabeth Banks has a campy and fun time playing the Power Rangers’ alien invader enemy Rita Repulsa.

A good two thirds of the 123 minute movie is spent on what some refer to as ‘character development’, and fans who are eagerly anticipating cool sequences of morphing rangers and the appearance of the dinozords may be slightly disappointed. When these scenes eventually take place, you may not be swept off your feet (frankly, how excitingly different can movie CGIbe these days?) – but when the much loved TV jingle comes on (Go Go Power Rangers!), the fan in you will want to cheer in glee.     

Fans will point out that the team is lacking Tommy Oliver, the Green Ranger. The mid credits scene suggests that he will be making his appearance in the next instalment of this reboot franchise. Reports have also been surfacing online that there are five sequels planned. Will the movies get better? Only time will tell. 

Movie Rating:

(This reboot of Power Rangers isn’t as campy or fun like the much loved ‘90s kids series, but it does add a nice touch on the issues faced by teenagers today)    

Review by John Li


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