Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Not just the fashion of the Nineties is returning to style – hot TV properties are too! One of those which affected pop culture zeitgeist in innumerable ways was THE MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS TV series. And those characters are back in fabulously reconditioned, fine form in director Dean Isrealite’s POWER RANGERS. Playing like a cross between THE BREAKFAST CLUB – or, more apropos, LEMONADE MOUTH – and CHRONICLE, this cinematic origin story retains the syndicated series’ sentiments while retrofitting a more polished narrative for a whole new generation.
In this iteration, Red Ranger Jason (Dacre Montgomery), Pink Ranger Kimberly (Naomi Scott), Blue Ranger Billy (RJ Cyler), Yellow Ranger Trini (Becky G) and Black Ranger Zack (Ludi Lin) are forced to harness their newfound power and fight against recently unfrozen baddie Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), who’s on a quest to destroy Earth’s life force.
With a wealth of resources to look to for insight into their characters, most in the cast chose to let John Gatins’ script speak to them. Montgomery, speaking at the film’s recent Los Angeles press conference, stated,
There was a huge incentive from the creatives to add our own touch. That’s pretty fortunate. We’re lucky to have the opportunity to put our own little spice into the roles.
Becky G elaborated,
We made it a conscious decision not to revisit those things. I wanted to take that impression that it first made on me and how it’s inspired me and stuck with me and then build off of that. What intrigued me the most when I first had the conversation about the script and my character, with Dean, was that although these names may sound familiar, you are meeting our characters for the first time. It’s taking place in 2017 with really relevant and current issues which a lot of kids can identify themselves with and somehow relate to our characters in some kind of way.
One of those refreshing changes is that Cyler’s character is on the spectrum. It’s a small, but epically fantastic change for modern audiences to see and find representation within.
It challenged me to learn something I had no idea about. It was starting school over again. It rekindled a relationship from my high school years. I called my friend Andre, who’s on the spectrum, but one of the most brilliant minds that I’ve ever come into contact with. It was cool to do that role justice. It’s something that a lot of us don’t understand, but we’re all affected by it, in some way.
The need to start anew was integral to Scott’s process.
For me, I wanted to start fresh.
My responsibility is to just do the character justice. When I got the script, it was just going, ‘Who is Kimberly and what is she going through?’ She’s not perfect – she does something she regrets, but it’s about how does she learn from that mistake. These aren’t perfect kids. They are all going through things. We’re not all one stereotype. We have things going on.
Lin, who grew up a fan of the series, mentioned that returning to the Japanese series helped bring about a strength in his character motivations.
It struck me as an origin story of these kids and we get to go deeper into their background. In the TV series, people had a lot of time to grow to love these characters through each episode, when, in the script, you really have to dig deep to make people fall in love and relate to the characters within this movie.
I didn’t go back to the original American series, but I did go back to watch a few episodes of the original super sentai series from the Japanese TV show. It just inspired me to think of how different things could be. It gave me a lot of motivation to put my own creativity into these characters rather than follow a memory.
However, when it comes to the biggest character change, it would have to do with Banks’ version of Rita Repulsa. Controversy (that she stated she didn’t read any of) aside, Repulsa is shown as a commanding, intimidating presence – one in a slinky costume. Becky G vibed with this.
This is this sexiest we’ve ever seen Rita Repulsa, I have to say. I think that’s dope.
Bill Hader, who voices android Alpha 5, ribbed Banks,
So we’re supposed to be scared of her?
We concede of this character in a really modern way. She was so campy in the past. I loved the Rita Repulsa of the MIGHTY MORPHIN’ POWER RANGERS because she’s so larger than life. She’s got this crazy, insane laugh and I wanted to preserve some of the energy in that character, but also we deal with what was on the page in front of me. It was really important that these guys felt like they were up against real stakes. That she really was threatening and didn’t give a crap about humanity. She’s an alien. She’s 65 million years old!
Banks went so far as to learning “Alterian,” the fake language featured in the film.
I Skype’d with the woman who created our language, whose entire job was to come up with a fake language. I only did it because I was told – and this might now be true – that Bryan Cranston learned the language.
No stranger to donning over-the-top costumes and spending hours in the makeup chair, Banks said the physical transformation had an effect on how she played Rita.
I wear prosthetics in this movie, which I’ve never done before – and may never do again. I love to sleep in the makeup chair. I’m there for four hours. So that by the time I wake up and look in the mirror, there’s a totally different person sitting there. I never feel like the character until I’m walking in their boots. All of it changes your body language and how you’re perceived in the world. It also made my ass look really good.
But perhaps what works best about this reboot is that it helps propel the notion that representation matters – and does so in a subtle and subversive way. Becky G. said,
This movie is so diverse in so many different ways. First off, the colors of our skin and where we come from is very different and that isn’t even mentioned in the movie because it doesn’t matter. We’re all equal. Not only that, we’re diverse as far as genders go. We have two female leads in the Power Rangers, who are working with three make leads. There’s going to be young women watching this and saying, ‘Hey. She looks like me,’ or, ‘I can do that too!’ We deal with identity issues, cyber-bullying, Billy being on the spectrum… I think that’s all we can do is share with people a positive message like that. We need that now more than ever.
POWER RANGERS opens on March 24.