Are the Power Rangers mighty enough to stand up to the Avengers or the Justice League? Reviews of Saban’s Power Rangers, the new reboot of the popular ‘90s franchise, are trickling in this morning and so far the consensus is less favorable than fans would like. Critics who praise the film are surprised by its charm and modern sensibilities, while those giving it mediocre or negative reviews are off-put by the excess of CGI and its rote superhero origin story.
A sleek update to the toy and TV franchise that began in 1993, Power Rangers follows five troubled teenagers from the town of Angel Grove who are summoned by a wizard named Zordon (Bryan Cranston) to become dinosaur-powered superheroes to save their town, and the world, from the evil space witch Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks).
The Hollywood Reporter’s critic Justin Lowe’s review was among the first to hit the web, and Lowe wrote positively of the film’s updated story and atmosphere. “Screenwriter John Gatins succeeds in effectively distilling the Power Rangers’ sprawling mythology into a manageable scope and dialing back the campy humor and martial arts fixations that characterized the TV series and liberally informed the feature films,” he wrote. “The current version instead emphasizes more realistic dramatic situations by imbuing each Ranger with some type of personal issue,” he continued, praising director Dean Israelite’s approach.
Israelite, building on his experience with teen sci-fi feature Project Almanac, orchestrates a vastly more complex array of characters, action set pieces and technical resources for a combined effect that maintains dramatic tension even while teetering on the brink of excess. CGI characters and special effects sequences by Weta Workshop are seamlessly integrated and consistently thrilling.
Another mostly positive write-up came from Scott Mendelson of Forbes, who described Power Rangers as “an old college try at making a character drama where the payoff involves superhero spectacle and property-specific tropes. There are plenty of low-key laughs in the film, and the picture still works as (mostly) kid-friendly entertainment. This is an honest attempt to create a Power Rangers movie that takes place in a real and plausible Earth.”
The big challenge for this sort of revamp is whether the shift, where regular kids jump into superhero armor and start riding around in robotic dinosaurs, betrays the established tone and clashes with what came before. I would argue that it does to some degree. But there is enough goodwill, and the resulting payoff is appropriately spectacular, that it just barely works.
Not everyone is in love with teenagers with attitude, however. Owen Gleiberman of Variety wrote the move was “90 minutes of hip and hollow teen banter, woefully generic origin story, and molehill-posing-as-mountain-size triumph” and that the characters “have all the depth and idiosyncrasy of walking talking robo-teen action figures.”
Joelle Monique of Black Nerd Girls also isn’t impressed. Though Monique writes of the film’s impressive diversity and characterization, ultimately Monique feels as if the film didn’t do anything with its potential. “The film shows diversity but doesn’t explore what it means to be another in a diverse society,” she wrote. “No one had to adjust or learn how to be a good friend to Billy. Trini doesn’t question her sexuality. Jason, the white jock, is still at the helm of the team. The audience is told he’s a leader, but the only leadership skill we see is his ability to listen to his friends. Which is nice, but will not prepare a person for combat.”
Polygon writer Julia Alexander is mixed about the whole film, praising its cast — namely RJ Cyler (“Billy”) and Elizabeth Banks (“Rita Repulsa”) but calling the film “confused.”
Power Rangers is a series of bad decisions broken up with decent moments of adorable interactions between the Rangers and Banks’ Repulsa, but those moments are few and far in-between. Power Rangers had the chance to save itself from becoming the mess that it is, but Israelite needed to take the movie in a single, specific direction. It could have been a dumb, ridiculous movie in the same vein as Mighty Morphin Power Rangers or an origin story like Iron Man, but it ends up being none of those things.
Saban’s Power Rangers will be released on March 24.