Released the same weekend as CHIPS, a film that revels in playing loose with its source material to the extent that essentially just the works’ names and core characters remain the same, Power Rangers exhibits no such hedonistic freedom, remaining slavishly faithful to its ‘90s TV show roots.
That’s not to say there’s no fun to be had with Dean Israelite’s questionably timed adaptation. Its traces of creativity include the opening-minute amusement of witnessing heavily made-up Bryan Cranston and Elizabeth Banks conversing in some alternative Elvish gibberish, plus bonus giggles from imagining that both are merely making up dialogue, then picturing the outtakes and post-scene laughter that must have ensued.
Power Rangers truly seems headed to unexpected territory moments later when high school football star Jason (Dacre Montgomery) and a friend attempt to elude the police after pulling a prank at a rival high school. The multiple 360-degree camera rotations as the young daredevil eludes one obstacle after another suggests a film more in line with Chronicle, the current titleholder of Exception to the Rule in the otherwise ho-hum accidental teenage superhero subgenre.
The potential soon goes unfulfilled as Jason makes his mandatory debut at Saturday detention, though the film’s retreat into mundanity in no fault of RJ Cyler’s work as mechanical nerd Billy. Memorably second-billed in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, the gifted actor injects his legitimately funny dialogue with extra personality and makes practically all of his lines a treat to hear – a lead his co-stars fail to follow.
What instead follows is convenient plotting in which Billy drags Jason along for some scientific experiments at the rock quarry where the latter’s father died, a place where Zack (Ludi Lin) just so happens to live, fellow detention vet Kimberly (Naomi Scott) goes swimming and new(ish) girl Trini (Becky G.) hangs out.
Their convergence and unearthing of five power-granting crystals on the same night that the evil Rita Repulsa (Banks) is pulled from the ocean is intended as destiny but comes off merely as happenstance.
Unaware that there are alternatives to the traditional moments where kids test out their powers, Israelite and Oscar-nominated (!?!?) screenwriter John Gatins (Flight) soon have the quintet pass through a hidden natural pool to reach a spaceship belonging to long-dormant good guy Zordon (Cranston), a route that reveals itself as an inefficient portal upon future soggy visits.
Already one of the leading figures in modern voice work, having lended his pipes to Inside Out and consulted on how The Force Awakens’ BB-8 should sound, Bill Hader expands his sonic clout as sentient robot Alpha 5 and the pixelated, newfangled Wizard of Oz effects in which Zordon is trapped are impressive – something that can’t be said of the world above.
As such, Power Rangers seals its unimaginative fate with yet another finale of urban destruction doled out by giant interstellar beings. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that the teen’s town of Angel Grove is more of a sleepy coastal village than an outright metropolis, but the sentiment remains the same.
Grade: C. Rated PG-13. Playing at Biltmore Grande and Carolina Cinemark