Movie Review: Power Rangers (2017)

Before I even get into this review, there’s a few things I need to explain. First and foremost, Power Rangers or what many now know as Super Sentai, is a very famous style of TV and movie genre in Japan. Much on the level of kaiju films like Godzilla, there were also sentai films. The genre’s arguably oldest character Ultraman, still manages to make an apperance throughout many nuances. There have been well over thirty instances of Super Sentai throughout the years with the Power Rangers adaptation taking place during the sixteenth season of the series. Yes, it’s been around for that long. I don’t know what it is about people in spandex suits fighting people in mosnter suits with plastic weapons and toy robots, but it’s been a staple of Japanese culture for several decades now – and the US too, in it’s many nuanced versions. Haim Saban and Shuki Levy actually gained the rights to some of that sentai during the Zyuranger series which sould have done much better than the previous Jetman series, which featured bird-rangers and might not have hit as hard as the dinosaur edge of Zyuranger. In the fifst season of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, a great deal of footage from the Zyuranger series was used, mostly during the fight scenes which were overdubbed in English.

What we have here is essentially a rebirth of the Zyuranger series, which is still hailed as one of the best – and best of all, this adaptation sticks true to the sentai franchise roots, not the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers roots. Sentai fans have taken notice and fully embrace the film. That’s a good sign. In any case, the sentai series was a bit more adult as one might see scenes not found in the child-friendly version. Characters cursed and rather profusely, there was tobacco usage, scenes of blood and situations where victims were put into predicaments that would get them killed, not just captured or poked at, like in the Power Rangers adaptation. In short, the original Power Rangers watered down the franchise heavily. Here, that isn’t the case. Power Rangers contains harsh language, adult situations, scenes of death and the word “kill” used instead of “defeat”or “beat” as one might find in the child version. As much as one wanted to believe there was a real threat from Rita Repulsa or Lord Zedd, it just didn’t feel like either of these two wanted to do anything more than to conquer Earth – even though, let’s face it – Lord Zedd was a frightening looking character for a childrens series, even today. Believe it or not, the designer of that very costume wound up in a Face Off competition, which surprised the hell out of me. The man who designed Lord Zedd should not be broke, looking for work and exposure. He just shouldn’t be. But I’ll save that for another time.

Throughout the film, we are introduced to the Power Rangers as not the pillars of society, but a bunch of moral of delinquents who meet each other in Detention Hall. Jason, the leader of the Power Rangers was once a high school football star who apparently destroyed his opportunity at a major scholarship by doing something rather ridiculous. Well, haven’t we all at some point? In any case, this sort of deliquency among rangers brings about some interesting inner conflicts, which of course were not apparent in the original television series. For the most part, they all got along at the Gym and Juice Bar. Yeah, juice bar – because the old school Power Rangers didn’t drink. But I’ll bet that these ones might. In any case, seeing their many disputes (even with Zordon himself) makes for an entertaining experience. Now, before you start throwing in the buzzwords “edgy” and “pretentious” let’s examine Super Sentai. I’ve been watching Jetman which premiered right before Zyuranger and let me tell you that it’s like night and day compared to what we remember. For instance, the black ranger is an absolute rebel that tells the red ranger he’s going to break his neck if he ever sees him again. He has no desire to fight for justice and believes that the world is not worth saving. It takes a lot of convincing on the red ranger’s part for him to finally join the team by the third or fourth episode. So this rivarly among rangers is nothing new or edgy for the sake of edgy – it’s actually closer to the series roots. Also, the fact that the teens have their powers after exploring a cave, finding some odd stones and winding up in a very intense car crash (they tried to beat a freight train across the tracks) which they later awake from, is NOT out of the ordinary for this series. Commenters online have posted statements like, “they only had their powers when they were in their suits” and “this is too much like Chronicle” even though half of these people aren’t even aware of sentai and how the original rangers got their powers. Yes, powers – as in, they did not need the suits to perform herculean feats. In Jetman, each was struck with a bolt of lightning. In Power Rangers, just by having the stones they were given remarkable abilities of strength and stamina. For instance, they could jump off a cliff (and do) with no fear in hitting the bottom. It sounds a bit silly, but sentai had it’s cheese and we’ll not deny that. It’s part of the fun after all.

While metal might be a heavily praised style of music here at The Grim Tower, and while Mighty Morphin Power Rangers exposed me to what I consider power/thrash in the vein of Ron Wasserman’s compositions, none of those appear here. Yes, most of the music used is either the hit single of the day, or some kind of weird electro wave music that sounds rather odd during a battle. Gone are the hard-hitting guitars and only a mere segment of the Power Rangers theme is utilized during the entire film. Only the chorus is uttered, with none of Ron Wasserman’s lyrics (yes, “Go Go Power Rangers” as silly as it sounds, is a full length heavy metal piece, complete with guitar solo and all the trimmings) featured due to a settlement which I may have explained beforehand. For those of you who want to tell me, “But Revocation…” I’ll see that response with mine being the sad cold truth that Revocation are only featured for five full seconds in the entire film, being an act that the yellow ranger is listening to while she’s standing on top of a cliff. Yep, there’s your Revocation. If I were in that band, I’d be kind of upset about such a cocktease. But money is money, after all. Maybe if we’re lucky, we’ll get to hear more rock and metal in the green ranger film, which is next on the list.

Now, onto the colors. In Super Sentai, every single ranger is yellow-skinned (and I’ve looked at a lot of box covers from each series) but in Power Rangers each one represents a different race. In the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Trini was of latin descent, not asian. After the pilot, she was changed. That is totally different here, with Trini being of latin descent once again. (Of course, the original Trini is no longer with us and the second red ranger is a known murderer – so it hasn’t always been so great for these actors.) In addition to that, Billy is now a black man. It works though, as he’s brainy and a bit awkward – just like the original caucasian Billy from the classic series. The part is nailed quite well and I can’t wait to see it reprised. Obviously, he is now the blue ranger instead of the black ranger. Zack is now asian and takes the role of you guessed it – the black ranger. There’s a funny scene in the film where the five hit water and colors emanate from their bodies, each one corresponding to their ranger color. I chuckled a bit as Zack said, “I’m black!” and of course Billy proclaims “No, you’re not.” Way to racebait, Lionsgate. But you saw it coming from liberal Hollywood. Rita Repulsa is British now, but that also doesn’t bother me. Obviously, her original actor (and she was beautiful – don’t let that dress, the silly makeup and those pointy horns fool you) is long deceased, but I feel that the role was done well enough – especially when she goes from “that ugly looking thing found on the ship” to an “incredibly attractive, yet undeniably evil, green ranger mishap.” Keep in mind, Zordon was the original red ranger in this mythology, with Rita being the green one. It makes sense in Super Sentai mythology as there are several generations of rangers that protect Japan from evil forces. More or less, everything has been switched around in someway or another to appeal to the current demographic – and it worked. Rita actually comes off quite insidious, as she doesn’t mind killing Billy and lets him drown to death when the rangers attempt to face her unprepared and without armor. Because none of them could get along, the morphing grid would not activate and they could not use the power of their suits.

As for the rest of Rita’s army, it’s not much. She kind of looks like a sleazy hooker that found her way into an occult shop and walked out with this creepy gold staff, which she uses to resurrect Goldar which is now a giant monster made of molten gold. Okay, it works. He’s not quite as silly as the original, even though I definitely respect the original. Other than that, she has putties – not the kind that make noise and jiggle around like jello. These putties actually look like a sort of golem and are easily beaten by the rangers with their superpowers, both in suit and out. Other than Goldar, she doesn’t have much. Instead of fighting a powerful sorceress with a moon base, the rangers are fighting this homeless crazy woman who’s looking for the core of the earth which is located in a Kripsy Kreme, where she actually stops in to get a donut before destroying the world. I can’t make this shit up. The Megazord does manage to finish her off in a very sentai-esque fashion as well, which consists of hitting her with a fist that flies her out into the depths of space. Yes, it’s definitely a cheese ball finish, but it works – because the series keeps in mind it’s dentai roots after all these years. I guess I should talk about the weird, sadomasochistic lesbian(?) scene between Kimberly and Rita that occurs (oddly – I found it out of place) in the film, but I’ll just leave you to make up your own opinion there.

I do need to mention that unfortunately, the bullshit music that Kanye West makes (or samples from other artists and raps over, more like) feature prominently in the film’s main fight scene. It’s that dumb track you hear in the film trailers. This is the piece where he rips off King Crimson and should be beaten profusely for such treason. There’s also a piece where he rips off Depeche Mode as well. I don’t think the man considers anything sacred and it’s only a matter of time before he disgraces David Bowie or The Beatles with his horrible raps. So once again, there is no real rock music to be found in this film – at all. What was once proclaimed by many to have the heaviest soundtrack of all time in a childrens show, has had a successor where the most rock we’ll hear is in one section of the film where the zords first appear and one section of the credits towards the latter half of the scroll where you’ll hear about as much of the film as you’re going to get. You see, Shuki Levy tried to claim ownership of many tracks that he did not have the rights to and several musicians were not happy and decided to take him to court. Well, the disagreements were settled completely out of court – and this gave Mighty Morphin Power Rangers composer and vocalist Ron Wasserman the rights back to all of his songs. In 2012, he re-recorded all of them in a piece called Power Rangers Redux which is still available on Bandcamp. Due to having re-recorded this music, he now retains copyrights to it. So, the most you’ll ever hear from this franchise is the chorus to the theme. Saban and Levy don’t even have the rights to the lyrics! Please keep in mind that this also occurred with other musicians who performed the themes for other childrens shows throughout the years that Levy tried to claim. If you hit up Shuki Levy’s page, you’ll see an immense amount of work, but I doubt that he’s composed all of it himself and only claims “Go, Go Power Rangers!” as his composition for this particular series. Even if he did help to compose pieces of the song, he did not perform “Call The 541” “Go, Green Ranger Go!” or “We Need a Hero” (which is still a mainstay in my personal music list) among several others. I’m still wondering if he’s to be fully credited for the X-Men theme, if you want me to be brutally honest.

In the end, this is what you’re getting: A tale that features delinquent rangers who do not get along at first, nearly end up killed, (unless you go with some fan theory about how they all died in the train crash and this a dream) feature color swaps, have trouble morphing, battle some crazy homeless woman and a giant golden blob while fighting to the background of electronic music and Kanye West rap. It is what it is, folks – and it’s not terrible. It’s a fresh start, comes off much better than I would have ever expected and should be even better once the thrilling green anger story is adapted with Lord Zedd at the villain helm (he’s in talks for the sequel). I loved the film so much that I actually went out and bought a copy of it. At least it’s close to the adult tone of Japanese sentai and contains just as much cheese. If you know what you’re getting, you’ll love it too.

(124 Minutes)

8/10

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