What’s old is new again…again. Following in the childhood-exhuming footsteps of Transformers, 21 Jump Street, and now CHIPS (or, if you’re old-school, CHiPs), comes Hollywood’s latest high-risk wager on low-brow nostalgia, Power Rangers. Set your expectations low enough and you might just be entertained. Back in the ‘90s, this squad of candy-colored teen superheroes became a kids TV hit on Fox despite its slightly schlocky production values and timelessly chipper theme of all-for-one-and-one-for-all teamwork. If you had asked me back then if anyone would want to resurrect the Power Rangers 20 years later or, frankly, even remember them, I would have laughed. But here we are.
The first thing to know about the new Power Rangers is that it’s no longer a cheapo proposition. It’s been given a spare-no-expense makeover replete with slick CGI effects and big-name stars giving the sort of broad performances that remind you that everyone has to work for a living. It’s still schlocky, but not intentionally so. It’s also essentially two movies in one. The first is a surprisingly fleshed-out team-assembles origin story that brings together five high school kids who are all troubled in their own way. There’s Dacre Montgomery’s Jason (Red Ranger), the school’s star quarterback with authority issues; Naomi Scott’s Kimberly (Pink Ranger), a repentant mean girl ex-cheerleader; RJ Cyler’s Billy (Blue Ranger), a picked-on brainiac who’s on the autism spectrum; Ludi Lin’s Zack (Black Ranger), a wild child with a soft chewy center and a dying mom at home; and Becky G.’s Trini (Yellow Ranger), the new-kid-in-school loner who fills the Ally Sheedy role. In fact they, all feel like teen archetypes lifted right out of The Breakfast Club. Not surprisingly, a few of them meet for the first time in weekend detention. All that’s missing is Simple Minds on the soundtrack.
Most movies like Power Rangers get the first-half Y.A. character stuff wrong and the second-half smashy-smashy action stuff right. This one does just the reverse. It takes its time (and then some, frankly) letting you get to know these kids as they cross paths, discover five color-coded power stones that give them superhuman powers, and come face to face with Zordon (a digitized Bryan Cranston), a 65-million-year-old alien who hands them their fate-of-the-universe mission. Did I mention he has a sassy robot lackey named Alpha 5 voiced by Bill Hader? As they work through their issues, they finally gain the ability to morph, which means that they get sausage-cased in spandex Power Ranger uniforms and Daft Punk helmets and are each handed their own dino-truck vehicle called “Zords.” For those scoring at home, the five Zords can be combined to form one giant Megazord. You’ll want to tuck this away for later.
Cranston’s Zordon tells the teens that an evil fallen Power Ranger (think Darth Vader) named Rita Repulsa has been reawakened from way back in the day and is about to destroy their peaceful seaside town of Angel Grove (and the rest of planet Earth) in her search for the coveted all-powerful Zeo Crystal. During her quest, she will summon a humongous gold beastie called Goldar. It’s all gibberish, really — blockbuster Mad Libs where you could easily substitute “Zeo Crystal” with “Infinity Stone” and “Goldar” with “Apocalypse” or “Kraken” or “LEGO Joker.” The only thing that makes this battle-heavy second half orgy of green-screen destruction remotely interesting is Elizabeth Banks’ Repulsa. A cackling sadistic crone with a sweet tooth for gold and insult comedy, Banks’ baddie gives the leaden fight scenes some adrenalin and winking humor. You can tell that she knows exactly what kind of film she’s signed up for and she’s decided to have a ball with it. Which, come to think of it, is pretty much how anyone should approach this movie if they want to have a good time. B–