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Edited by Robert Beach
Something that’s been nagging me as we inch ever close to the release of Power Rangers 2017 is the question: who is this film for? We’ve had a ton of ill-advised ‘90s revival flicks lately. While they were all garbage, I at least understood why most of them were made. Independence Day: Resurgence and Jurassic World were bad movies, but, from a marketing standpoint, I get that their progenitors made a ton of cash and are still regarded by many as unassailable classics.
If you’re an older fan who grew up with the Power Rangers show, I don’t really see what’s meant to be enticing about the new film. The steps it has taken to betray the series's core identity of sincerity and fun, the two things that made the original show worth watching.
If you’re a younger fan, there’s already a version of this on TV right now that’s far more imaginative and consumable for free. It’s the same situation that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Amazing Spider-Man were in, so I guess it’s fitting that this first trailer for Power Rangers draws so heavily from those sources.
In all honesty, I hate this trailer more than I was ever prepared to; it’s like an amalgamation of everything I despise about superhero filmmaking. Not since Lone Ranger has there been a film that so perfectly epitomized the conflagration of wrong-headed decisions that are choking so many worthwhile franchises these days. I had hoped we’d moved past all these bad decisions when Amazing Spider-Man went under and Star Trek Beyond turned that series around, but I guess idiocy springs eternal.
To our set-up, our heroes are five “normal kids” from Angel Grove, a small town found in the great American wherever. I’ve been through the trailer a few times, and even with the benefit of names and casting lists, it’s shockingly difficult to pin down who is meant to be who in this particular set-up.
As far as I can make out, the Red Ranger is a troubled, but good-hearted all-American boy who stands up to bullies, yet also crashes red trucks as clunky foreshadowing. The Blue Ranger is a stereotypical nerd, and the Black Ranger is a brooding bad boy who sits on rooftops. The Yellow Ranger looks to be the “quirky” one of the group while the Pink Ranger exists.
It’s honestly astounding how little effort is put into introducing us to these characters in the trailer, especially with five lead heroes. Compare this to Guardians of the Galaxy or even Suicide Squad, which just flat out introduced us to the heroes and were much more coherent as a result. What’s even more impressive is how little is featured in this trailer.
We get a vague sense of the Rangers at school as a collective group of misfits and mavericks before a midnight trip to a nearby rock quarry results in them finding the Power Coins. For those not in the know, the Power Coins are one of the many, many devices the Rangers would use to access the Morphing Grid, the source of their powers. Of course, if you’re a casual fan or unfamiliar with the incarnation of these characters that feature the Power Coins, you’d be very confused right now.
For whatever reasons, the Power Coins bestow upon our new Rangers powers that they basically screw around with for the rest of the trailer until Rita Repulsa shows up for the briefest of cameos.
You know, I’m describing this trailer now, and it sounds staggeringly disjointed and unreal. If you told me a week ago the first Power Rangers trailer wouldn’t feature Zordon, Alpha, Zords, the Command Center, Morphing, or even costumes, I wouldn’t have believed it, but here we are.
What the trailer reminds me most of is Josh Trank’s Chronicle, one of the worst superhero films of the decade. There are a lot of reasons I hated Chronicle, but one of them was how ashamed of its premise it seemed. I’m not against the idea of a superhero story where characters don’t dress up in colorful costumes, yet I am against the idea of dressing up a superhero story in the tones of slow, gritty, realism and body horror as a cover for not having any ideas.
That’s what I’m getting most from this particular trailer: the film itself doesn’t have any strong ideas on what to have the Power Rangers do with their costumes and powers despite this franchise being the most perfectly structured for blockbuster adaptation. I mean, Avengers was essentially a massively budgeted, two-hour long Power Rangers. There’s no reason this movie couldn’t crib from that playbook.
Well, I say there’s no reason, but in reality, suspect there’s a major reason: money. Everything about this film from the desaturated palette to those god-awful Ranger costume re-workings screams of cheapness. It’s a movie that spared every expense and doesn’t care if you know it. This plays back into my Chronicle connection. In this case, it’s even worse.
The prime reason I hated Chronicle was that it was a cynical movie. But that cynicism was at least genuine. I buy that Josh Trank thinks if you gave people superpowers, they’d just be super-powered jerks. Power Rangers is worse; a cynic divorced from story, subtext, or aesthetic. It’s a cynical cash grab.
That’s why the designs look so cheap and generic. The trailer spends so much time focusing on stuff that requires no FX work because the studio is hoping they can put out a half-baked product, spending as little as possible, and they’ll make money back on the name alone. That’s also part of why the film seems to have jettisoned the show’s structure of Rita, puddies, monsters, zords, juice bar in favor of what seems like a convoluted mystery surrounding Rita Repulsa’s origin.
I've already speculated Rita will be a corrupted Green Ranger, and honestly, I wouldn’t be at all surprise if that is the big “twist” they’re building to here. I also wouldn’t be surprised if we got a lot more cheap potshots at the original in later trailers, though that terrible reworking of the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers theme as a final note here was pretty bad.
I don’t know that I ever expected Power Rangers to be good, per say, but I certainly expected more than this. Most of all, I had expected something that was trying to cash in on the buying power of the mythos more than just the name. You could’ve made the same trailer and called it "Rainbow Riders" and literally nothing would’ve changed. I’d like to think this passionless film as a product approach to adaptations. Properties aren't going to yield results, especially given recent failures like Amazing Spider-Man 2, Independence Day: Resurgence, and Lone Ranger. Honestly, I don’t think we’re that lucky.
Power Rangers will premiere on Januar 13th, 2017
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