The '90s exploded onto the silver screen this past weekend, as Saban's Power Rangers opened in theaters worldwide. To say the reviews were mixed would be an understatement — its Rotten Tomatoes score hovers just below the 50% line, while audiences are giving it generally good reviews.
The critics aren't wrong. If you watch the film completely objectively — paying no mind to the source material or the pits of nostalgia where it as spent the last two and a half decades — it is hard to dismiss the glaring issues in direction, pacing, tone and dialogue (some of those moments were downright cringeworthy). They have a point. Power Rangers is not a good movie.
So why the disconnect? Because despite all its flaws, it is still a damn good Power Rangers movie.
Expanding the Ranger mythology
Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers first came to American television screens in 1993. Despite the fact that the main cast was made up of teenagers, the show was ostensibly made for children. Young children. By nature of that fact, the narrative was limited and the structure pretty simple. Rita wants to destroy the Rangers and conquer the universe, she sends baddies, Rangers fight baddies, Morph, Zords, Megazord, end. The next week it starts all over again.
The new movie greatly expands the Ranger mythos, imbuing the whole role of being a Ranger with a gravitas that just wasn't right for a children's program. As a result, it makes the story a bit more epic and makes being a Ranger more of a calling than a crazy random happenstance. These five teenagers are chosen by the power coins, not just beamed out of a '90s TV teen hangout because Zordon needed "five teens with attitude." The mythology grew up with the viewer.
Beyond just aging up the tone of the film and the mythology, they also added to it in specific and meaningful ways. Zordon and Rita became the previous set of Red and Green Rangers, making their history and connection to (and Rita's hatred of) the current group of Rangers deeper and more tangible. More even than that, making Rita the original Green Ranger both shows how the power of being a Ranger can corrupt/be corrupted and offers a reason for our new Rangers to inherently mistrust the Green Ranger when he (or she) eventually shows up.
In the original series, Tommy Oliver, who would become the Green Ranger, was turned evil and used as Rita's tool to take on the Rangers in the first season. In a mid-credits scene during the new film, Tommy Oliver's appearance in a potential sequel is teased. Since our current Rangers have a pretty terrible history with the person wielding the green coin, the conflict for the sequel is virtually baked in. Will our current Rangers trust the new Green Ranger? Could Rita's coin be a corrupting influence? These were questions we were not asking before this film was released.
Earning the morph
One of the bigger concerns with the recent film was the fact that the Rangers spend nearly the entire two-hour film learning how to morph. While they certainly could have gotten to that part much faster than they did, it's a marked improvement from the way it was done in the original series.
In the first episode of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, the five brand-new Rangers are introduced to their brand-new roles about 5-10 minutes into the 22-minute episode. Not only are they remarkably accepting of their new jobs as intergalactic space rangers with mystical ninja powers, the learn how to morph by the time they walk out the door. What's more, they get into and pilot their Dinozords just as quickly, and combine them into the Megazord before the short running time has ended.
In the film, the newly formed Rangers take a little bit to get used to the idea of being alien-imbued superheroes. They test out their powers a bit before trying to morph for the first time and morphing itself is no longer instantaneous. It's earned. It's connected to their ability to function as a team and the amount they care about each other.
All about teamwork
Speaking of teamwork, the new movie really drives home the idea that the Rangers are a truly connected fighting team. Part of the appeal of the Power Rangers was always the fact that they were a group of best friends of all kinds of personalities who were, first and foremost, a team. We all had our favorite Ranger, the one we pretended to be on the playground, but no Ranger ever acted alone. You may have been the Blue Ranger, but you had a friend who was the Yellow or Red or Black or Pink Ranger. You probably had a whole team, because that was the point of being a Ranger. You were one of many.
The new film never forgets that core idea, instead turning it into a key component of not only their ability to morph, but their fighting style, their conviction, their ability to create the Megazord, and their eventual defeat of Rita and Goldar.
Just enough fan service
It wouldn't be a reboot without plenty of references to the original series. From Zordon's giant face to Alpha 5's very first "aye aye aye" to the fact that every one of them is constantly wearing their signature color to cameo appearances by the original Pink and Green/White Rangers, this film is stuffed full of Easter eggs. But unlike a lot of recent reboots (I'm looking at you, Ghostbusters) you were never really beaten over the head with the references and inside jokes.
Want a joke about the weird racial implications of the original Ranger color designations? You got it. Hoping to hear the original theme song or holding your breath for the first time someone says "It's morphin' time"? No problem. If you were looking for it, it was there, but it never held up a sign or waved its arms begging for you to notice. If you were a fan of the original series, you got the joke. If you weren't, you never felt like you were missing anything imperative, the key to a good Easter egg.
Power Rangers has a lot of flaws. There are massive spaces where they can improve for the sequel, including upping the camp a little and really embracing the ridiculous place from whence they came. But for all its flaws, those of us who grew up wanting to be Power Rangers are well-served by this film. The movie may never fully land all its back handsprings but it's obvious that those who made the film were just as obsessed with the original series as those of us sitting in the audience, ready to relive a long-lost Saturday morning.