Mechanical Plotting, Drab Visuals Sink "Power Rangers" 2017

With all the freshness of a discarded 7-Eleven tuna salad sandwich, “Power Rangers” spills into theaters a mess of soggy ingredients, its assembly line roots scarcely concealed. Even for a film based on a longtime merchandising juggernaut, it’s an especially crass bit of 90s revivalism. There’s the incessant product placement, sure. (Doughnut chain Krispy Kreme figures heavily into the narrative – “I just ate dinner at Krisy Kreme” heavy.) But it’s the rote superhero origin storytelling and wan visuals that all but staple the movie to the ground.

The pic’s ancestry dates back to the 1993 debut of television’s “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers,” but another franchise and another era hang heavy.

Friday, May 3, 2002: Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” debuts in theaters across North America. By Sunday, the web-slinger has netted a then mind-exploding $115 million opening frame. The superhero floodgates are open in Tinseltown and studio executives begin a long, torrid love affair with superhero world building. Ten years later Sony needlessly rebuilds Spidey from the ground up, and fifteen years later, here we are, stuck with a Power Rangers movie that doesn’t get its heroes in their suits until 90 minutes in – suits that make them look like bionic Sleestaks.

A juvenile live action superhero franchise turned brooding origin tale (think “Chronicle”) is bad news for everyone; it’s especially bad news for “Project Almanac” filmmaker Dean Israelite. “Power Rangers” sees him directing with execs looming over his shoulder, leading his every move. Together they’ve puked up a lumpy paste of brooding teen drama based entirely on coincidence and action scenes edited so rashly that it’d be tough to know if shots from other movies slipped in. There are flashes of the resolutely silly original series, but they’re only flashes, clashing loudly with a long-winded screenplay and chromatically challenged visuals. The Saban Entertainment property has long been thoughtless in both its plotting and level of violence, but it was always colorful and its five leads reliably served up a surprising amount of personality.

Here the five leads only offer different shades of disappointment. Jason the Red Ranger (Dacre Montgomery), Zack the Black Ranger (Ludi Lin), and Trini the Yellow Ranger (Becky G.) make almost no impact at all, stifled by dull or altogether absent backstories, while Billy the Blue Ranger (RJ Cyler) and Kimberly the Pink Ranger (Naomi Scott) imbue a bit of personality into otherwise bewildering characters. Billy, clearly drawn as autistic by screenwriter John Gatins, is uncomfortably played as comic relief, while Kimberly, originated by the lively Amy Jo Johnson, seems to be missing crucial scenes that likely hit the cutting room floor.

The supporting cast is even more of a puzzle. The presence of Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”) and Bill Hader (“Trainwreck”) is always welcome, even if they’re mostly constrained to secondary animated parts (Zordon and Alpha 5, respectively). Meanwhile, Elizabeth Banks (“The Hunger Games”) as villain Rita Replusa comes closest to recapturing the campiness of the original series but mostly just embarrasses herself with consistently Razzie-ready line readings.

A new Power Rangers film with less exposition and a better grip on the appeal of its source material might have been a welcome addition to the blockbuster landscape. This iteration, however, is a giant question mark of resources and intentions. Who, exactly, was looking for a moody, overlong retelling of how the Power Rangers came into existence? Even 2014’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” had the sense to embrace its source material’s color and zip. “Power Rangers” 2017 sees the property drained of what made it popular in the first place, its only upside being that we won’t have to suffer through another Power Rangers origin tale – for a few years, at least.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★ out of ★★★★★ (Not So Good)

Release Date: March 24, 2017
Studio: Lionsgate
Director: Dean Israelite
Screenwriter: John Gatins
Starring: Dacre Montgomery, RJ Cyler, Naomi Scott, Becky G., Ludi Lin, Elizabeth Banks, Bryan Cranston, Bill Hader
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, language, and for some crude humor)