‘Power Rangers’ Takes As Long to Find Its Identity As Its Teens Take to Morph

Originally posted on thedistantcloseup.com (Apr. 3rd, 2017)

So, this is what it feels like to be a generational target, not just a key demographic, for movie studios. Considering the previous failures of both Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie and Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie, this latest feature-length iteration of the teenage superhero saga seems to have been produced and released at the only time it could have been considered a financially viable project. Anyone who either grew up watching the various television series or just recognized the name will display at least a modicum of interest, but is that really enough to drive a film towards a fair profit margin?

The budget seems modest compared to other blockbusters today, but even now Power Rangers is struggling in this competitive market. Currently sitting on close to $98 million after two weekends at the box office, the film may be in some trouble unless it gets a handy assist from the international sphere, because with some decently sized ventures, like The Circle, and the veritable Goliath that is the Fast & Furious franchise coming later this month, it’ll have some issues getting to a respectable revenue amount. Bear in mind, the producers already have a six-movie arc planned for this fledgling franchise.

And, let’s not forget that this new superhero option has a certain legacy to live up to, and it’s not exactly the greatest one. With television series variations including titles like Wild Force and Ninja Storm, Power Rangers has been synonymous with all that is gloriously campy, especially its high-flying martial arts and ridiculous video game-like villains, since the first episode of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers in 1993. This film had to go with one of two options: either commit to the tone that the series has been living on for over two decades, or move on from its past and mold itself after the serious-minded superhero films of today – as best it can, anyway.

Arguably the biggest problem with this ‘first’ Power Rangers film is that it can’t decide between either. One second, the film will flaunt its unabashedly self-aware side during an entertainingly overlong scene of jumping across a wide ravine, complete with one of the more rocking selections from its soundtrack, and on the drop of a dime, the narrative will switch to other intentionally dramatic exposition sequences, or scenes that are altogether melodramatic. Tonal inconsistencies that this progression creates notwithstanding, it gives the impression that both the producers and filmmakers weren’t exactly sure who to market this film towards.

Sure, if the film was made and advertised as the campy T.V. show members of the Millennial crowd grew up with, there was always the chance that it would rise on its self-reflexive strengths partially thanks to viewers outside of that demographic, as well. But, considering this particular property is known and celebrated mostly by Millennials, it needed to reconcile its past with the popular superhero trends of the present to reel in a wider audience. While the final act is a firm indication of the direction the franchise is heading toward, the conflicting tones prior to this climactic transition undercut each other in the process.

Despite that, it’s easy to understand why Power Rangers was written and made in the form it takes. The film’s more level-headed moments don’t always work behind writing that perhaps tries a little too hard appealing to younger viewers, but when they do work, it’s usually during scenes of character development and backstory that do a decent job of marking the Rangers as unique individuals who together are better representative of the teenage audience they’re partially aiming for. Considering each successive season of the television series usually completely switched out each Ranger for new faces, it was especially important that we get to know who these teens are and where they come from considering they will potentially be this franchise’s figureheads.

To be fair, though their motivations for coming together and fighting for a greatest cause are surface deep at best and slightly borrow from the common tropes of popular teen and superhero movies, they do effectively ground these kids in reality and will hopefully be further fleshed out in future sequels. Some have complained that it was all at the expense of the kids morphing for the first time, and yes, the second act is greatly muddled and sluggish because of the time it takes, but it was with a greater vision in mind for the series, and how fantastic is it to see a superhero flick with such a diverse and inclusive array of protagonists?

Successive films will require some greatly improved writing and a little less reliance on genre conventions to make the franchise stand out, but on its own terms, Power Rangers is an acceptable first step forward. And though the rating you will find at the bottom may not make me appear genuine when I say this, I am sincerely rooting for this franchise to succeed. This opener is a foundation at its most basic, but it’s sturdy enough that with some simple improvements, it could be a strong competitor and alternative to the Marvel’s and DC’s of the marketplace.

Go, go, Power Rangers!

2.5/5

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