Saban’s ‘Power Rangers’ is an adaptation of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, the first and most famous series of the long-running Power Rangers TV show. In contrast to the show, which famously uses a combination of Japanese sentai footage and original American footage, the movie is an entirely American production.
Concerning the basic story beats, the movie’s plot is similar to that of the introductory episode of the show: a powerful extraterrestrial being known as Zordon, along with his robot assistant Alpha 5, assemble a group of five human teenagers to fight a villain known as Rita Repulsa. After some initial resistance, the five teens eventually use their power coins to transform into the power rangers and defeat Goldar, one of Rita’s henchmen.
The movie strikes a tricky balance between honoring the original TV series and creating a standalone work with merits separate from that of the work that inspired it. There are many homages to the original show, though they are largely cosmetic in nature. For instance, the rangers all inherit the first names of the original cast of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, but they are otherwise completely different characters who share only superficial similarities with their original counterparts. Zordon and Rita also differ considerably from their TV show versions, particularly in regards to their backstories.
Another notable difference is that this adaptation features “civilian powers”, which gifts the rangers with superhuman abilities even when they are not donning their armor. This was a concept introduced in later seasons of the TV show, and one that is sometimes criticized for cheapening the effectiveness of their abilities when in full costume. However, I’d argue that the civilian powers work in the context of this movie. It allows the cast to spend more time outside of their armor and to relate to each other as humans first, superheroes second.
On the whole, each member of the main cast was given stronger characterization than I was initially expecting. Each one had quirks unique to them and each were given opportunities to distinguish themselves from the rest of the group.
Billy was the biggest surprise. It is established in an early scene that he is on the autism spectrum. I cannot comment on the accuracy of the representation, but I can commend the movie in avoiding the pitfall of portraying Billy as a walking joke. Though he is one of the most comedic characters of the cast, his condition itself is not treated as a punchline, and refreshingly, he emerges as the most overall heroic member of the team.
Kimberly’s character arc is likely to be the most controversial, largely in that some of her actions and statements paint her as more petty and lacking in remorse than one might expect. In addition, Zack is unfortunately one of the less developed cast members. However, it is worth mentioning that he does receive a few nice (albeit short) scenes with his family, all of which are in Mandarin with English subtitles.
Understandably, Trini’s characterization will be a disappointment to many. Yes, there is an implication that she is attracted to other girls, but it is open-ended enough that those who wish to vehemently deny her sexual orientation will find the wiggle room to do so. That said, it is a considerable improvement over the supposedly gay character in live-action Beauty and the Beast; even if it is only implied, Trini’s sexual orientation is a topic that is at least treated with respect, and it is a detail that lends real-world weight to her sense of alienation and her generally closed-off nature. It’s a step in the right direction, particularly for a franchise that famously mistreated an openly-gay member of the original cast. Still, I would have much preferred if there were more explicit confirmation of her attraction to girls. I hope the planned future installments rectify this and take the time to further explore this aspect of her character.
Though the movie consciously attempts to improve upon the original work, it ultimately constrains itself from straying too far from its source. In paying tribute to the TV show, Power Rangers also inherits some of its flaws, particularly in that the narrative is unevenly split between its five characters. A disproportionate amount of screentime is dedicated to the character Jason, the red ranger and arbitrarily designated leader of the group, who happens to be the only white male character of the main cast. This continues an unfortunate trend of many seasons of the TV show, where the most developed characters tended to be white men, despite the overall diversity of the casts.
Another of the less successful aspects of the movie is the villain, Rita Repulsa. She falls somewhere between seriousness and camp, and is neither as amusingly endearing as the TV show depiction of Rita nor is she menacing enough to be seen as a serious threat.
Admittedly, the fighting is also somewhat disappointing; considering that this is a Power Rangers adaptation that is finally free of the constraints of a tight budget, as well as the demands of adhering to sentai footage, the fight scenes are surprisingly underwhelming, largely due to the unremarkable fight choreography.
To my own surprise, the most enjoyable aspects of the movie existed outside of the action scenes. Simply put, ‘Power Rangers’ is at its best when the characters are just talking to each other. The dialogue is often funny, and there’s a sense of wonder and joy throughout, which shines through even in the story’s darker moments.
In the end, ‘Power Rangers’ surprised me. Though it is by no means a perfect adaptation — and diehard fans of the show will undoubtedly find something to dislike — it is still an enjoyable movie that manages to succeed both as a stand-alone work and as a tribute to the TV series.
Author: Helen from Overlooked
Editor: Han Angus