Film Review: Power Rangers (2017)

Also known as: Saban’s Power Rangers
Release Date: March 22nd, 2017 (Regency Village Theater premiere)
Directed by: Dean Israelite
Written by: John Gatins, Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless, Michele Mulroney, Kieran Mulroney
Music by: Brian Tyler
Cast: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Becky G, Ludi Lin, Bill Hader, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Banks, David Denman

Lionsgate, Temple Hill Entertainment, 124 Minutes

Review:

For awhile now, I have been a fan of Japan’s Super Sentai franchise. For those that don’t know, it is the source material that was used to create Mighty Morphin Power Rangers in the United States.

I have never been a big Power Rangers fan though. Believe me, I have tried but the show is cheesy to the point that it made Saved By the Bell look like an episode of Breaking Bad. Let’s be honest, Power Rangers has never really been good. And now that it is being presented more seriously and with a budget and also all original footage, one would have to assume that it could only be better than the original Power Rangers show.

Well, being that it doesn’t have much to live up to, it certainly surpasses the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers show in every way. That doesn’t mean that it is a fantastic movie, however. It also isn’t bad though. Let me elaborate.

The film is primarily a teen drama that doesn’t really get to the action and superhero vibe of the film until the finale. There are a few run-ins with the villain and training montages but this is an origin story. Like most comic book style origin stories, it puts most of its emphasis on the journey of the characters as they transform into heroes. This isn’t a bad thing and I like that the film takes its time, developing the characters and fleshing out their personalities, their individual characteristics and what all this means for them.

The acting is certainly better than what the Power Rangers television shows have given us now for two-plus decades. The writing is also better and so is the story of these characters. While the film reestablishes the franchise’s mythos in new ways and deviates from the source material, it is probably for the best. The original series wasn’t well thought out and it was just an Americanized attempt at trying to make sense out of the footage they spliced in from the Japanese Sentai series Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger.

Power Rangers is hokey but it is fun. However, it isn’t cheesy in an eye-rolling sort of way. It certainly stands well above the Michael Bay Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles remakes. It also doesn’t play like the male version of Twilight, which I feared from some of the trailers and marketing. Unlike those three franchises just mentioned, you really care about the kids in Power Rangers.

Elizabeth Banks was also pretty entertaining as the new version of the villain Rita Repulsa. While the character is completely different than the television version, who was a different villain completely in Japan where she was known as Bandora, Banks owned the part and looked like she was having a lot of fun playing an over-the-top supervillain.

Bryan Cranston was solid as Zordon and Bill Hader was actually quite perfect for the voice of Alpha 5. I liked that Alpha 5 wasn’t some annoying moron and actually was a snarky character that could probably hold his own in a fight if he had to.

The Zords were all fairly cool and came off better than I thought they would. The Pink Ranger’s pterodactyl was by far the coolest. Megazord also looked good and resembled an upgraded and more futuristic version of a Jaeger from Pacific Rim.

As far as negatives, while the film takes its time before putting our heroes in their Ranger armor, they do seem to beat Rita Repulsa and Goldar fairly easily without any real experience. They learned how to pilot their Zords pretty quickly and after one initial stumble piloting the Megazord, the five pilots are able to fairly easily defeat Goldar. Also, apart from summoning Goldar and Putties, Rita Repulsa doesn’t seem to have much power at all.

Power Rangers is by no means a great film but it isn’t supposed to be. It is supposed to reinvigorate the fan base with something new and something better. It really gets away from the teen sitcom and tokusatsu vibe of the television shows but what it gives us is a legitimate upgrade. It’ll be interesting to see what happens as this new incarnation roars forward with other installments. I don’t expect mind blowing motion pictures but I do anticipate a lot of fun between bites of double buttered extra salty popcorn.

 

TV Review: Chouriki Sentai Ohranger (1995-1996)

Original Run: March 3rd, 1995 – February 23rd, 1996 (Japan)
Created by: Toei Company
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Seiji Yokoyama
Cast: Masaru Shishido, Kunio Masaoka, Masashi Goda, Ayumi Asō, Tamao Satō, Shōji Yamaguchi, Hiroshi Miyauchi

Toei Company, 48 Episodes, 25 Minutes (per episode)

chouriki-sentai-ohrangerReview:

Chouriki Sentai Ohranger is the fourth Super Sentai series that I have watched. So, at the point of seeing it, I felt pretty well-versed in the franchise.

The series is the first I have seen where the Rangers are members of a government task force. The team felt more like a squad from an Ultraman series, which was a welcome change, as I have been a big fan of the Ultra franchise.

Also, the villains in Chouriki Sentai Ohranger are sentient machines, which seemed like another cool change from shows past.

My favorite thing however, was the suits. These are the coolest Ranger suits in the entire series. Granted, there are a lot of cool looking teams over the thirty-plus Sentai installments but these suits take the cake.

However, even with all of those positives, Chouriki Sentai Ohranger ended up being a disappointment.

I really wanted to love this series. It was just very boring, overall.

The characters weren’t very exciting and I didn’t come to care about them like the Rangers from other shows. They lacked charisma and interesting backstories. Also, their great Ranger outfits were offset by their really drab regular uniforms.

Furthermore, the villains seemed like a refreshing change, in the beginning. The problem was, they were way too cheesy and too cartoony. Yes, this is a Super Sentai series but after the great villains from the three previous shows, the big baddies just felt like bumbling morons and low-tier henchmen. In fact, I was waiting for some bigger villain to show up, similar to how Kakuranger and Dairanger had their evil forces evolve throughout their sagas.

The monsters were also pretty weak. Granted, I think they were better than most of the Youkai from Kakuranger but they were nowhere near as imaginative.

Most of the robots in the series were really cool though. Except for the one that was basically just a giant tire. Plus, the robots are shot out of a giant cannon and land wherever the battle zone is; that was a pretty neat concept.

Ultimately, Ohranger is the weakest of the four Sentai shows I have seen. I wonder if the feeling was the same in Japan, as the series that followed this one was a parody. 

TV Review: Ninja Sentai Kakuranger (1994-1995)

Original Run: February 18th, 1994 – February 24th, 1995 (Japan)
Created by: Toei Company
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Eiji Kawamura
Cast: Teruaki Ogawa, Satomi Hirose, Hiroshi Tsuchida, Shu Kawai, Kane Kosugi

Toei Company, 53 Episodes, 25 Minutes (per episode)

kakurangerReview:

After watching Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger and Gosei Sentai Dairanger, I had to give the next installment Ninja Sentai Kakuranger a shot.

This series, like its predecessors, was used for footage in the American Power Rangers franchise. Kakuranger was used as the basis for the third season of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, as well as its direct sequel Mighty Morphin Alien Rangers.

Initially, I didn’t like this series as much as its two predecessors. Sure, ninjas are friggin’ awesome and everyone loves them but it took too long for things to get going. Also, the early monsters in the series just weren’t that cool. To be brutally honest, they looked like the spawn of Garbage Pail Kids that mated with those really bad old school Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures that just sat on shelves forever because they were too ugly and bizarre for kids to take home. You know, when the Ninja Turtles toy line was trying to milk every dollar, so they made a slew of awful characters or weird versions of existing characters because they were out of ideas. Maybe the Sentai creative team was out of ideas too. But the concept of using Youkai (Japanese monsters from folklore) was a cool direction. The problem was that the first several Youkai were just unimaginative and unsightly.

As the series progressed, we met the villain Young Noble Junior (“Gashadokuro” in Japanese). He immediately became my favorite villain in the franchise out of the stuff I’ve seen. He was cool and a bad ass heavy metal rocker that was trying to crush the Kakurangers and resurrect his father, Daimaou – another really cool villain. He also has a few great musical numbers.

Young Noble Junior only lasts during the middle of the series though. Once his father shows up, the focus is then on him for the remainder of the story. However, Young Noble Junior’s coolness might be eclipsed by the evil all-female Sentai group, Flowery Kunoichi Team. These were cat-themed female ninja assassins who looked cool as hell and who had a ton of awesome moments throughout the Kakuranger series.

As far as the Kakurangers themselves, they didn’t feel all that developed until around the midpoint of the series. Over the course of a half dozen episodes, the team split up and had to go on solo quests. These episodes were, by far, some of my favorite out of any Sentai series. This is where the Kakurangers came to life, as each had to battle their own demons in an effort to earn their own powerful scroll: the MacGuffin of the series, as it was needed to defeat Daimaou.

The series tapered off as it got towards the grand finale and it never recovered the great formula it had in the middle of its long duration. In the end however, it was still a mostly positive experience. The show just had a lot of creative hiccups throughout its run.

TV Review: Gosei Sentai Dairanger (1993-1994)

Original Run: February 19th, 1993 – February 11th, 1994 (Japan)
Created by: Toei Company
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Eiji Kawamura
Cast: Keiichi Wada, Tatsuya Nōmi, Ei Hamura, Keisuke Tsuchiya, Natsuki Takahashi, Hisashi Sakai

Toei Company, 50 Episodes, 25 Minutes (per episode)

dairangerReview:

After thoroughly enjoying Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger, I figured I would give its follow-up Gosei Sentai Dairanger a shot.

Like its predecessor, this show was pillaged for action footage in an effort to create a Power Rangers show in the United States. The footage of the Kiba Ranger was used for the White Ranger in the second season of this original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers while the giant robots and monsters were also used for some sequences. The other Ranger costumes were not seen until two decades later in Power Ranger Super Megaforce (the second season of Megaforce).

This Super Sentai show started off with a bang and it had a lot of twists and turns throughout its 50 episode run. In fact, from a plot standpoint, there were a lot of cool surprises that I didn’t expect or anticipate. It was a pretty cool experience overall and even though there are a lot of similarities between all the Sentai shows, watching this right after Zyuranger still felt fresh and new.

The villains of this series didn’t start off as all that exciting but they blossomed into something really great. Their mythos and structure evolved exponentially as Dairanger went on and they easily came across as some of the most evil and dastardly villains in the franchise.

I found the heroes to be a lot more exciting and their characters engaging than the previous series. It just felt like the people writing this season of Sentai put a lot more emphasis on their backstory. They were really fleshed out and the actors seemed like naturals for their roles. Surprisingly, the Kiba Ranger (known to American fans as the White Ranger) was just a little kid. It was, in a lot of ways, reminiscent of Captain Marvel – the DC Comics version.

The monsters in this series were all pretty cool. The designs were unique and imaginative and it gave this show an edge over Zyuranger. The robots were also pretty cool, especially the flying Chinese dragon. The special effects department did a stellar job on animating the robot models.

Gosei Sentai Dairanger is a great installment in the Super Sentai franchise. It has most of what you would want in a Sentai series and very little of what you wouldn’t want. It’s imaginative, really cool and a darker than the other stuff I have seen.

TV Review: Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger (1992-1993)

Original Run: February 21st, 1992 – February 12th, 1993 (Japan)
Created by: Toei Company
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Akihiko Yoshida
Cast: Yūta Mochizuki, Seiju Umon, Hideki Fujiwara, Takumi Hashimoto, Reiko Chiba, Shiro Izumi, Machiko Soga

Toei Company, 50 Episodes, 25 Minutes (per episode)

zyurangerReview:

I was never a really big fan of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, as it came out just after the right age for me. I had cousins that were really into it but at the time, I saw it as a poor attempt to mix Saved By The Bell with some sort of live-action Voltron versus kaiju hybrid. Sure, I was aware that it was pieced together with new footage of American actors edited into some Japanese children’s action adventure show, it just didn’t grab me. But I was also becoming a teenager in pursuit of heavier and harder stuff to watch. Although, I always thought the toys were kind of cool. And some of the monsters looked pretty sweet.

As the years went on and I wanted to expand my knowledge of tokusatsu beyond the Ultraman franchise, Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot and the little bit of Kamen Rider stuff that I was able to see, I figured that I would give Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger a real shot. I also thought that even though it was the sixteenth series in the long-running Super Sentai franchise, it was a good starting point, as it was the series that the original Power Rangers got its action material from.

Initially, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Zyuranger but I was pleasantly surprised by it and I’m glad I gave it a watch. It is often times cheesy and pretty ridiculous but what tokusatsu program isn’t? Especially programming generally geared towards kids?

The fact is, beyond the cheese and at the heart of the series, is a really good epic tale. It was well-written and well-executed by the directors and the cast. I was pulled into a delightful world were I really felt invested in the characters, even the minor ones. The show also did a good job of staying true to certain tokusatsu tropes but still took chances and veered off into unexpected directions.

It is a better written show than its American counterpart and all the Rangers are interesting characters that don’t feel like they are forced into predetermined generic roles, ala Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

I have since watched other Super Sentai shows, as this one was so good and I wanted to be able to see where the quality stands among its siblings. Out of the handful I have watched, Zyuranger is top notch. Not to say the others aren’t good, they are. But I can see why this one was initially chosen to spin-off into the original Power Rangers for American audiences.

In the beginning, I was unsure of this show but it quickly grew on me and I ended up flying through the fifty episodes in under two weeks.

Unlike American children’s television, Japanese tokusatsu shows aren’t afraid to tread dark territory. Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger went to some pretty dark places at times but it came across as intelligent and well executed for the story. Often times, even as a kid, I felt like my American shows tried to handle their young audiences with too much care, too afraid to let kids experience the more serious aspects of life. Maybe Japanese kids are just raised to be a tougher lot with more awareness of all sides of life. This could also be why I seemed to gravitate more towards Japanese entertainment, as a kid, even before I realized that the stuff I liked was Japanese.

Watching Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger was a really interesting experience. I was glad that it was my first Sentai show and it really made me a fan of the franchise overall. I have since tried to give Mighty Morphin Power Rangers a shot again but it still doesn’t do much for me. Maybe I should check out some of the more modern series to see if it was able to improve and find its footing. But side by side, if you are going to watch one or the other, Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger is the better option, as long as you don’t mind reading subtitles for fifty episodes.