2017’s Power Rangers surprised critics by delivering an enjoyable teen superhero flick, complete with nostalgia-bait action sequences, an updated reach for diversification, and the best CGI the franchise has ever used. One fact, however, doesn’t stand the time of time, and that’s Jason the Red Ranger (Dacre Montgomery) acting as the team’s de facto leader.
Spoilers for Saban’s The Power Rangers follow.
In the film, Alpha 5 and Zordon hand off the Rangers’ leadership position to Jason for no real reason, telling him repeatedly that he was “born” to do it. When the film begins, we see Jason as a disgraced former local football star who’s landed himself on house arrest. He’s a delinquent without a cause, and before his father drops him off for detention, Jason says, “I guess we just don’t understand each other.” That’s all well and good for the two characters, but the thing is, the viewer never really understands Jason either. Why was he involved in petty crime? Why does he hate Angel Grove? What evidence do Alpha 5 and Zordon have to support Jason leading the Rangers, no matter what?
Fans and franchise purists will insist that the red power coin was drawn to Jason for reasons we’re not supposed to understand, but that argument supposes that movies are pre-written according to canon. That’s a concept both boring and too rigid for our changing zeitgeist. Consider for a moment if Power Rangers was committed to shaking up the franchise enough to ruffle feathers. Why, after all, should the only white guy on the Rangers team be a shoo-in for the leader position? Jason doesn’t exhibit any behaviors or experience that make him any better for the role than the other Rangers, and in fact, Billy’s the only one who actually does anything useful in the first film.
He’s the Only One Who Stays Calm Under Pressure
Think about how many petty arguments occur between the Rangers in the film, and then consider that Billy is involved in, uh, none of them. Zack fights with Jason and Trini, Trini and Kimberly argue, and everybody drags their feet when Jason tries to, as Zack says, “act like the leader.” However, whenever Billy offers up an opinion or new information, it’s always integral to the plot. He never leads the group astray emotionally or in practice.
He Could immediately Read the Swirly Information in the Command Center
When the Rangers first entered the command center, everyone was so blown away by Alpha 5 and Zordon that they kept making jokes and playing dumb. Billy, on the other hand, narrowed his eyes and watched the movie’s version of the “viewing globe.” He was the first to understand what Zordon wanted from the Rangers because he took the time to actually read the freaking manual.
His Autism Diagnosis Will Help Him Catalog and Remember Rita’s Monsters
Speaking of reading the instructions, Billy is so at peace with his place on the Autism spectrum that he actively uses his skills to his advantage. He knows he’s an inventor, a tinkerer, a cartographer, has a memory like a steel trap, and he’s not afraid to advocate for himself. Since the Power Rangers are now facing a constant deluge of monsters hoping to nab that Zeo Crystal, Billy is the best person they have to take notes, catalog a “Pokedex”-style system about the monsters, and develop fighting strategies.
His Death (and Resurrection) Unites the Rangers
Rita didn’t realize what she was doing when she tried to kill Billy; though she wanted simple retribution, she actually ignited the fire they all needed to bind them together. Though losing any of the Rangers would have screwed with the team, it’s notable that Billy was the only ranger who had endeared himself completely to every member of the team by the movie’s halfway point.
His Personal Life Isn’t Distracting
Billy’s emotional arc in the first film involves dealing with the loss of his father. When the film begins, he’s trying to finish his father’s explorative work in order to feel close to him. By the time the Rangers have their fireside heart-to-heart, he’s filled the hole inside him after the death of his father with his new friend group, and he’s gained a sense of purpose.
Jason, on the other hand, hasn’t figured out why he decided to become antisocial and rebellious. Zack still lives on the fringe of his high school and is caring for his mother. Trini clearly has some soul-searching to do in order to decide where her boundaries with her parents begin, and Kimberly is still, arguably, a sex criminal who somehow thinks her revenge porn victim deserves debris dropped on her car instead of an apology.
Long story short, the other Rangers have shit to grapple with, but Billy’s on his way to a productive and happy personal life.
He Found the Zeo Crystal Super Fast
Remember when the other Rangers were flirting (Jason and Kimberly) or explaining their worries to their parents (Zack and Trini)? Billy was out in the goddamn street doing his goddamn job, creating maps and shit until he found the Zeo Crystal. Somehow the whole team heard “the world will end if you don’t do this one freaking thing” and decided to mull over what being a superhero will mean for them as individuals. Billy, on the other hand, was the only one to actually get to work.
Imagine if after Nick Fury put all the Avengers in one room, everybody except Cap had decided to go home for a few weeks and really think about what it means to be a superhero. The Chitauri would have taken over, and we’d all be bowing to Loki!
He’s the Reason They Found the Power Coins and the Ship
Don’t forget that before they found the Power coins, all the Rangers except Billy were just hanging out in a quarry for no reason, probably smoking weed (Zack), practicing tai chi on a cliff (Trini), and playing “no you wanna run away, no you!” with each other (Jason and Kimberly). Once again, it took Billy’s determination to actually break into the wall housing the coins.
When the Rangers land in an underwater cave, he’s the first one to stop acting all googly eyed about the fact that the power coins make them glow in water and actually look around. “There’s something down there,” he says. “Follow me.” Without Billy, the movie wouldn’t be called Power Rangers. It’d be a well-received movie called Surly Teens Find a Lake and Float Around For a While.
Power Rangers is now in theaters.
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