I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Connor Bynum // Film Critic
I feel that it is necessary to lay it out there that I have never seen a single episode of the original television series or other films in the POWER RANGERS franchise. I’m a kid of the ’90s but I just never got into it. With that in mind, I felt I should go into the latest iteration of POWER RANGERS completely free of nostalgic bias to see how this film holds up for audiences unfamiliar with Angel Grove’s teenagers with attitude.
Our story begins with Angel Grove football star Jason (Dacre Montgomery) receiving an indefinite amount of Saturday detention after an elaborate prank involving a cow, because high school. While serving his time, he befriends a rather defenseless nerd named Billy (RJ Cyler) and is snubbed by former popular girl Kimberly (Naomi Scott). After detention, Jason learns that Billy has a talent for tech and a love for explosives.
Through a series of somewhat convenient coincidences, the three of them all find themselves in a goldmine just outside of town. It is, at this point, that the remaining two teenagers Zack (Ludi Lin) and Trini (Becky G.) are, somewhat, rushed in their introductions. Zack apparently likes to spend his time hanging out by abandoned train cars watching Trini practice yoga from afar. The two of them are drawn to the rest of the group after Billy causes an explosion on the side of the cliff, unearthing five different colored coins.
After they discover that these coins have given them superhuman strength, they decide to return to the mine where they unearth a long hidden secret lair of Zordon (Bryan Cranston), a former Ranger. Zordon’s consciousness now lives in the computer of the base and communicates through a giant talking head on a wall. (You have no idea how hard that was to write out.) Zordon informs the group that they are the new Power Rangers and it is up to them to come together as a team to stop the evil Rital Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) from becoming the master of the universe. But before they can don the iconic colorful suits of armor, they must first come together not only as a team, but also as friends.
Earlier in the film when Zack is watching Trini, he utters to himself, “Who are you?” Rather than dive straight into the action scenes fans are eager to behold, the film spends most of its runtime asking the same question about each of the titular Rangers. This mostly works well, but it is easy to notice that Jason, Billy, and Kimberly are given much more to work with in terms of character development than Zack and Trini. Jason doesn’t like having responsibility forced on him, whether from Zordon or his father. Kimberly struggles with being the popular girl in school without any real friends. Billy openly struggles with being on the autistic spectrum and his desire for social acceptance is portrayed with genuine likability throughout the film. Zack and Trini simply seem to struggle to keep up with the rest of the group. Zack has a sick mother at home, but covers up his emotions with being the wild card of the team, while Trini is the misunderstood bad girl who hates opening up to others.
Elizabeth Banks goes all in with her portrayal of the iconic villain, Rita Repulsa, and is clearly having the time of her life in every scene. Cranston gives a committed performance as Zordon that offers a surprising amount of emotional weight to a character that is essentially a talking wall.
When the Rangers finally do earn their suits, the action filled final act is indeed enjoyable; although, in some ways, it plays it a little too safe. Without giving too much away, most of the Rangers’ time is spent piloting their Zords (giant mechanical dinosaurs) rather than fighting hand to hand on the ground. That being said, the Zords are pretty awesome and their extended screen time is definitely appreciated.
When tasked with rebooting yet another popular franchise from the ’90s, it’s easy to understand that the most dangerous target audience for said reboot is the fans of said franchise. Up-and-coming director Dean Israelite (PROJECT ALMANAC) gives an honest attempt to show his potential in this endeavor. While his choices in cinematography can sometimes feel distracting, it’s clear that he is approaching this film with an artistic perspective and isn’t afraid to let a big studio get in the way of his vision. He manages his cast with mostly positive results and shows that he has a loving respect for the series.
Aside from a muddled second act and a truly nauseating use of product placement (Krispy Kreme of all things), POWER RANGERS succeeds in reimagining the iconic franchise for old and new audiences alike.
Is the film completely ridiculous? Of course it is, but it’s not like the source material was grounded in reality either. Let’s just hope we see more of the Rangers in action in the inevitable sequel(s).
POWER RANGERS releases nationwide on Friday, Mar. 24, with special showings on Thursday evening. Check out our alternate video interview with the cast below: