If genre fatigue has yet to set in for some superhero-crazed cinemagoers, director Dean Israelite may well push their exhaustion to critical mass with his bloated, puerile reboot of the Power Rangers. The landmark '90s series, itself a bizarre cut-and-paste rendering of footage from a Japanese show in the long-running Super Sentai franchise, has been given the dreaded millennial reimagining -- which makes this the third time that the Mighty Morphers have hit the big screen.
Israelite and his five credited writers relaunch the leotard-clad clan with a basic origin story, as five angsty teens are brought together by supernatural forces to become the defenders of the planet: disgraced football star Jason (Dacre Montgomery), cheerleader Kimberly (Naomi Scott), autistic bookworm Billy (RJ Cyler), rebellious truant Zack (Ludi Lin), and new-in-town outcast Trini (Becky G.). The five strangers all end up at the same off-limits gold mine on the same night, where they discover five ancient Power Coins that bless them with superpowers. They explore the site of their transformations, eventually stumbling upon a buried mechanical ship that houses the spirit of Zordon (Bryan Cranston), a million-year-old former Ranger. Zordon and his robot sidekick Alpha 5 (voice of Bill Hader) convince the kids that they've been chosen for a higher calling: to become the new Power Rangers and defend Earth's Zeo Crystal from the evil Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), who seeks to destroy mankind.
Despite the absolute absurdity of the words typed above, the teens hesitantly agree, kicking off a seemingly interminable training phase as they harness their superpowers and learn martial arts. Each of them also has a lifetime of personal baggage (these are no Regular Teens, remember) that tears them apart before they ultimately come together as the Rangers. It takes about an hour and a half before we even see the kids transform into the Power Rangers -- a shocking miscalculation by the filmmakers, who must have thought these characters were interesting. The movie has already reached its big finale with Rita Repulsa by the time they're officially in uniform, and they face off against the gold-obsessed witch and her CGI army in a rushed, dizzying, Transformers-wannabe battle.
Perhaps the most confounding aspect of this flick is that it has absolutely no idea who they're peddling this schlocky bit of nostalgia to. Is it for fans of the original television show, now in their late twenties or thirties? Can't be, because the corny dialogue and stock teen-hero characters are so off-putting to an adult audience. Is it for a new generation of kids? If so, why include bombastic scenes of violence, teen misbehavior, and a few scares provided by Rita? The movie is so torn between self-seriousness and embracing the camp of its source material that it never comes close to finding its own voice. Banks is so over-the-top as the baddie Rita that her character is pure silliness, while the teenagers themselves are instantly forgettable. It's hard to imagine anyone involved being proud of this film, a hollow, two-hour blast of stifling backstory, product placement, and big-budget nonsense.
There's also a blatant sort of "one of every kind" pandering to the heroic quintuplet. In a scene that purports to be a galvanizing moment for the kids, they all confess their troubled pasts around a campfire. There's Kimberly's involvement in cyberbullying, Zack's dying mother, Billy's autism and limited social life, Jason's fall from grace from the football team, and Trini's vague sexual confusion. The latter is the most troubling, handled as it is with such PSA skittishness that the importance of having an LGBT character is completely lost. The filmmakers have tried to frame Trini's interest in the same sex as a point of pride, but the character's admission to her new friends is brief, quickly swept under the rug, and never broached again. It's a strange piece of performative inclusion, given the juxtaposition of how much screen time is devoted to the backstories of the more "normal" scorned football star or the former cheerleader. Inclusion is great, but a de facto afterschool special is not; there had to have been a better middle ground that Power Rangers could have found with their diverse cast. Instead, Trini gets a tearful, 20-second moment in the spotlight about how difficult being the "new girl" and possibly the "gay girl" is, and then we're back to the baloney of Zordon, Power Coins, and morphin'.