Power Rangers (2017) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Power Rangers (2017)

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In the Cenozoic era, dinosaurs ruled, and a team of aliens fails in their struggle to defeat the evil Rita.  Their leader, Zordon, sacrifices himself to dull Rita's power and places his own morphing abilities into stasis until the right warriors come along.  Now five teenagers with little but detention in common have inherited the power and responsibility to save their planet.  Dean Israelite directs Power Rangers, with the screenplay written by John Gatins, and stars RJ Cyler, Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, Becky G, and Ludi Lin.

Sections of Power Rangers are so bad I had to pause my rental out of frustration.  Screenwriter John Gatins writes Billy's (RJ Cycler) autism in a way that continues the cinematic trend of all characters "on the spectrum" having otherwordly knowledge or power.  The presentation of that autism isn't even consistent with Billy handling multiple social situations with the kind of charismatic slickness more akin to a classic Hollywood leading man.  Then there's the matter of Krispy Kreme, normally one of my favorite sources of sugary dough, pared down to a repetitive talking point with the characters seriously discussing how urgent it is they get to Krispy Kreme.

What follows is a "But" series so weighty it could send my keyboard straight to the core of our planet.

But, despite the inconsistent bordering on insensitive stereotyping of autism, despite the blatant corporatism of Krispy Kreme's involvement, despite characters repeating full names so many times the eventual Power Rangers drinking game is destined to kill someone...

I was sitting in awe at some of the scenes.  Here I am, at 33 with matching emotional and physical scars, feeling tears well up watching armored teenagers take a slow walk toward their destiny.  Director Dean Israelite damns cinematic continuity to the same magma grave as my keyboard in favor of hitting those soaring notes.  Bless him for doing so, because when the scattered qualities of Power Rangers comes together for a moment of optimistic triumph it's as deeply affecting as any of the serious dramas I've watched in 2017.  Getting me to feel the same hope and excitement I did as a kid once is hard enough, doing it multiple times in a film as deeply flawed as Power Rangers is a near miracle.

Please, if Power Rangers gets a sequel, no more doughnuts.

Isrealite caught my attention with Project Almanac, another flawed film about time-traveling teenagers that found a lot of heart in-between Imagine Dragons concerts.  Watching Power Rangers repeat the same corporate mandated detours of Project Almanac - just switch out Imagine Dragons for Krispy Kreme - softens a lot of those flaws as Israelite, so far, hasn't been left alone to make his movie.  Bless him for trying so hard to make those tie-ins work.  Centering Krispy Kreme as the site of a climactic battle results in those terrible dialogue cues and far too many lingering shots of the doughnut establishment's logo.  But at least he gets some humorous framing in with the villain Rita (Elizabeth Banks) lightly chomping down on a treat while her monstrous creation destroys the franchise.

Power Rangers works splendidly in the little moments and cinematographer Matthew J. Lloyd keeps it all looking gorgeous.  There's a shot in the alien pit, where the five teenagers tread water as beams of light reflect off their bodies to dissipate into their respective color coordination through the water, that serves as a perfect encapsulation of their adolescent uncertainty.  I'd be irresponsible to dismiss Brian Tyler's musical contributions, because it's his gradual insertion of retro synth harmonies into the soundtrack that take the post-morph slow walk from charming to heavenly.  Israelite took on a mighty gambit by paying homage to the astronaut walk of The Right Stuff and blending it with Tyler's retro synth sensibilities, but it works so well I'm still getting goosebumps thinking about the team's walk.

Following that walk is a thirty minute action setpiece that ranges from okay to excellent.  When the team fights without their robots, the action and acrobatics move so fluidly it barely feels like anyone is making physical contact.  But in their Zords (giant dinosaur robots) - wow - the creaking and groaning of the soundtrack mixes with the team's constant communication and cautious movements toward the last fight in another awe-inspiring battle.  The Zord action is so expertly paced that the intrusion of Kanye West's "Power" on the soundtrack fits perfectly with the steady escalation.

RJ Cyler is a highlight by finding the heart amid the cliche of Billy's cinematic presentation of autism.

The ensemble cast is so talented they overcome a lot of clumsy writing.  I heard the name Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery) pronounced in full so many times I could swear the denizens of Angel Grove suffer from some kind of short-term memory loss.  But Montgomery, along with Naomi Scott as Kimberly, provide a steady if not totally compelling pair.  It's not their fault, they throw themselves into their roles admirably, but there's only so much any performer can do with, "Jason Scott - star quarterback - crashes his car and crashes our season."  My issues with Power Ranger's presentation of autism aside, Cyler is phenomenal in Billy's role.  He had to be ready to switch personalities almost on the fly as the inconsistent presentation kept shifting, but Cyler was always game and earns the biggest laughs with his confused handling of his Zord.  I wish there was more for Becky G and Ludi Lin to do, as they both carry an intriguing edge with their performances that felt worlds away from the other three, but there are worse things than reminding me of Michelle Rodriguez and John Leguizamo.

I don't give out participation awards with my ratings, and for a short time after finishing Power Rangers I felt indifferent to its good intentions.  But those soaring moments kept bringing me back and my mind swirled with conflict as I couldn't in good conscience say it worked.  Yet, that feeling of awe is so rare, and Israelite is so talented, that my heart was able to wage a strong defense against my brain.

My heart won, and I hope Israelite gets the chance to revisit these characters with an exponentially reduced doughnut quota to fill.

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Power Rangers (2017)

Directed by Dean Israelite.
Screenplay written by John Gatins.
Starring RJ Cyler, Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, Becky G, and Ludi Lin.

Posted by Andrew

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