Thursday, March 23, 2017
Review: Power Rangers
The original Power Rangers holds a special place in my childhood. It came out right a little too late for my age group, but with perfect timing for my younger brother's, and it was a show we both watched and fell into hard. Thanks to my brother's love for it and my own love of previous shows like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it caught me when it probably shouldn't have. I watched each episode as they came out, played with the action figures and even wrote some horrible fanfiction - which thankfully never made it onto the internet.
To this day I love the show, though I can scarcely watch it now. The effects do not hold up, especially when you're an adult who pays a bit more attention and notices the now very obvious inconsistencies between the US and Japanese footage. Still, my love for many of the characters, specifically the first Green Ranger, endures and I'll happily admit that my signed VHS clamshell of the first movie is one of the most awesome things in my geek collection.
With the movie coming out, there's a lot of feelings for me to get through. The child in me loves the idea that there's new Power Rangers and maybe my love of the cheesiness will be able to combine with my need for updated and good looking graphics into something awesome. But the adult fan in me is really wary of other remakes out there (such as Transformers and GI Joe) where the action overtook the entire movie and the results were less then stellar. There's also the side of me who saw that fan trailer for a much darker Power Rangers take and loved every second of it - so I dare to hope for something that isn't so kid friendly and is a little bit deeper then most of Hollywood would dare to go.
There's also the whole controversy with what happened to David Yost, the original Blue Ranger, and how he was bullied on the set for being gay, to the point that he nearly committed suicide. As a queer woman myself I can't ignore the dark history of the show in that respect and that same part of me hopes that the movie will - at the very least - take a step in the right direction to make up for the wrongs. Especially now that it's been announced that one of the new rangers is LGBT and another is on the autistic spectrum.
So yeah, there's a lot to unpack there and a lot of mixed feelings coming with me into the movie theater, whether I like it or not.
What's it about?
We all know the tale. A group of teenagers stumble across magical coins and an alien space ship, only to find out that they're they chosen ones who will become the Power Rangers. But first, even before they can consider taking down the horrible threat that is Rita Repulsa, they must train and awaken their powers.
To save myself a lot of disappointment, I went into the movie with the lowest expectations I could. As I mentioned above, I was wary, but still really excited to jump on this ride. And the verdict? Go see this movie!
This part is spoiler free and I'll add spoilers below a picture for those who are interested, but over all, I loved the movie. From start to end it was a fantastic ride and even the morning after I could probably sit you down and go on and on - but it's really hard to tell a lot of what I liked without spoilers, but I'll do my best.
First things first, while I'm telling you to go see this movie, don't misunderstand. Go in with low expectations and just enjoy the ride. There really is nothing hugely deep or groundbreaking in this reboot. Yes, some character stories have been changed, yes many details have been added, but at the core we all know the familiar pattern that is coming. If you've watched any of the original Power Rangers episodes, you know how this goes and the movie is the same. But this predictability does not take away from the experience. Instead it enhances it for the fan, because you're getting what you came for in probably one of the best ways: it's a lot of fun.
Where the movie really excelled was actually where reboots should: characters. Most of us are familiar with Jason, Kimberly, Billy, Zack and Trini from our childhoods. The versions in this film are all them at the core, but where the original TV series had these characters fit very standard and one note molds, this movie fleshes them out into fully 3 dimensional characters. No one here is a cardboard cut out, everyone has good features and flaws and some of them really suck. All of these characters are actual teenagers - stuck at that point in their life where you have the potential to make some really horrible life altering choices and you have to live with them. In this the movie knows it's audience and demographic and doesn't shy away from it. Arguably the 'darker and grittier' tone portrayed in the film and trailer is a perfect fit, for how important that part of a person's life can be and how the choices can ripple through the rest of your life and beyond.
Even Zordon and Rita are given fully fleshed out roles. While Rita is very different from the one we might remember, it's an improvement. Gone in the annoyingly loud witch with her stupid mascot minions and in her place is a legitimate threat that you can easily believe is there to destroy everything. She doesn't need long monologues to do it, she will just kill you and your friends if you stand in her way and she will not hesitate - she is not someone to disregard. Even Zordon moves past the boring floating head who doles out advice - and I don't want to ruin it, but I very much love the direction they took his character in.
The setting, the characters and the story have all been expanded upon in ways I didn't realize until now I wanted from the original series. If I'd seen this movie as a teenager, I know I would have latched on with all my fannish heart and never let go. As an adult I'm reacting in exactly the same way, with a little bit of nostalgia mixed in and a heavy dose of respect for where things were taken and expanded on.
Yes there are flaws, but they are nitpicky at most and honestly they didn't really detract from the movie at all and are hardly worth mentioning.
Final Thoughts? (For those who don't want spoilers)
I loved this movie. From beginning to end it was a thrill ride that took my nostalgic heart to cloud 9 and even brought my critical author mind with. Yes there are flaws and no, the movie is not a deep masterpiece. However this movie is exactly what it needs to be: a fun thrill ride that reminds you of your childhood and still tells a new story that anyone can enjoy. With all the franchise burnout out there now, it's a welcome sight to see a movie that took the first installment seriously enough to give us a complete film that we could enjoy without worrying about setup for something more. The set up is there at the end, but it's organic and not shoehorned in by a studio eager to rush forward to the next buck. I came out caring about these characters and wanting to see more of their story - which is exactly how first movies should begin.
Oh and this time? I actually liked all of the Power Rangers, not just one or two with a tolerance of the others. I loved them all... but I loved Billy the best.
Which brings me to spoilers....
As I said above, my two major concerns in this movie centered around the portrayal of Billy, especially considering how the original actor was treated. Throughout this movie, there is quite a bit of importance placed on Billy. One could actually argue that he's the main character, even though a good portion of the movie is seen through Jason's eyes. This attention to Billy doesn't hurt the film in anyway, but it did leave me with a very distinct feeling.
This movie, more then anything, felt like a honest to goodness, heartfelt apology. And to say that I have to give quite a bit of explanation that could, actually, ruin a good portion of the movie - thus the spoiler tag. Billy is portrayed as the misfit in the group of misfits - not because he's worse, but because he's different in a different way. He is the one in the group that gets honest to goodness bullied for just being himself and the only one. As the story progresses, Billy is given an importance that the other characters don't get, and attention that would usually be afforded to only the main character. He is the one who sets several things in motion and it wouldn't be a hard fight to say that they never would have been Power Rangers if it weren't for him. He is repeatedly shown as an important member of the team and not just the comic relief or the cliche nerd. Even more amazing is that at no time is Billy ashamed of who he is - even though the other characters have moments of self doubt, Billy is a rock for them all to hold on to and provides an amazing amount of stability not often found in characters, much less in characters on the spectrum.
In all of this Billy is important in ways that a nerd almost never is. That an autistic character never is and in a way that the original Billy was never allowed to be. This is why this struck me as an apology in the best way. A conscious choice was made to give Billy all these parts and make him stand out while still giving him a character who we could all love and cheer for, and that the story very much needed. By placing Billy in the role of the 'everyman' character more so then the others, we all get to identify with him. In Billy I saw aspects of myself and in him I also saw many of my now friends who stand out as amazing individuals with a degree of self love and acceptance that most fight all their lives to obtain. As a queer person familiar with the past of the show I was only hopeful that they would make him a whole character and instead I received a character with a degree of writing and wholeness that even the best written movies struggle to reach. This is the Billy we wanted and sincerely needed and the movie is so much better because of it.
And as for Trini being the first LGBT superhero? This news was a bit overblown. Trini has two lines in a single scene that bring it up, but are not concrete. She does not state that she is gay, she does not state that she isn't. Instead she's firmly in the area of questioning and still discovering what she's willing to admit to herself, much less those around her. Oddly, though, I'm not upset by this and am quite happy with the portrayal. As much as I loved Billy and the role the movie gave him, I identified most with Trini. As a teenager growing up I remember more times then not how different I felt and how I struggled to put those feelings to words - to others and to myself. Trini's unsure character and unwillingness to conform to a specific label was a small but important moment that I could have really used as a teen and still super appreciate to this day. It's small and subtle, but just as important as all the other characters and in a way will make the movie stick with me at a heartfelt level.
Final final thoughts?
I guess, overall, maybe that's what should be taken away from this movie. Not only was it a fun action ride, but it's a movie that portrays teenagers as just that. There's no stereotypical disdain and stupid undercurrent of millennial hatred laced through the narrative, it's instead a story of self discovery. In the end they don't have to learn to listen to the older parents, they learn to listen to themselves and become something more then those same people expected. These Power Rangers don't just fulfill expectations, they move beyond them and create a power that even their mentors and parents didn't expect. Whether that power is used for good or evil in the future remains to be seen, but the promise of greatness is there - which is exactly how teenagers should be portrayed: with the respect that any other aged character would ever be afforded and not the disdain that the previous generation usually clings to.
So yes, go see this movie. I know I'll be eagerly awaiting that preorder option and I might possibly be in line to buy tickets to another showing.