REVIEW: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie
Produced by: Haim Saban, Shuki Levy, Suzanne Todd
Written by: Arne Olsen (screenplay), John Kamps, Arne Olsen (story)
Edited by: Wayne Wahrman
Cinematography by: Paul Murphy
Music by: Graeme Revell
Starring: Jason David Frank, Amy Jo Johnson, Steve Cardenas, Johnny Yong Bosch, David Yost, Karan Ashley, Paul Freeman, Paul Schrier, Jason Narvy, Nicholas Bell, Robert L. Manahan, Peta-Maree Rixon, Richard Wood, Jamie Croft, Gabrielle Fitzpatrick, Julia Cortez, Barbara Goodson, Mark Ginther, Robert Axelrod, Kerry Casey, Kerrigan Mahan, Jean Paul Bell
Ah, the Power Rangers! Probably one of the first TV series to expose me to the fact that a lot of adults could get paranoid over quite a little bit. Remember that story about how Power Rangers inspired kids to stab one another? Or that one about how it encouraged kids to jump off balconies? I sure do. It was also one of the first series many of us likely experienced backlash over, as Power Rangers was a series that kids who felt that they had passed some agreed upon threshold where it was no longer acceptable (or even never was acceptable) to watch the series would tease kids like me who (usually) openly admitted to watching it. Naturally, the Power Rangers’ first theatrical film was a big event for some of my friends and me. It was also the reason for the only time I recall ever being able to make myself cry in desperation. Long story short, my friend did something to piss off our babysitter, and she threatened to not take us to see it. He called her bluff, and she actually called it off. Frustrated because I hadn’t done anything, I worked up a lot of tears, and, yeah… I earned some sympathy points, and we went to see it anyway.
That’s how big Power Rangers was at the time, at least for me. That is, until they started using those lame cars in the later Turbo era instead of dinosaurs and other creatures of the early years. (I was still young enough during the whole short-lived Alien Ranger/Shogunzord era to give them a pass on that.) By the time its sequel, Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie, came out, I was still hailing the first movie as some paragon of what the series could be – a darker, higher production value version of the TV series with “better” effects and higher stakes (though, really, everyone is always trying to take over or destroy the world in the Power Rangers universe, aren’t they?). The nostalgia would continue to resonate, fueling a craving for an awesome big robots vs. monsters movie featuring an international group of distinct personalities piloting the machines that I honestly thought would never come to fruition unless Power Rangers was given a serious but ultimately still fun and self-aware reboot for an older crowd that still remembered when the Green Ranger was still an evil SOB. The answer to my prayers ended up being last year’s Pacific Rim instead.
The first Power Rangers movie is, of course, nowhere near as awesome as Pacific Rim, and I’m not talking about the effects or anything – the Rangers have the obvious disadvantage of their movie being released 18 years prior, after all. But as a kid, I ate it up, and I’m sure there are probably still some kids who would still find this movie highly entertaining. The aggressive “toyetic” qualities of this movie, however, make Batman & Robinlook like a Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood ad. The Rangers call out the various weapon, action-figure-friendly martial arts move, and Zord names before they use them, which has always been a staple of the show, but in a feature length movie where 25% of the hackneyed dialogue seems to be nothing but shouting these ridiculous but easily identifiable names (“Pterodactyl Thunder Whip!” “Stegastinger!”) among other silly quips and gesticulations, the movie can feel more than a little empty in intellectual stimulation. Did I mention that this movie also introduces new costumes and Zords for everyone?
At least there’s the film’s new villain, Ivan Ooze, who we learn is an ancient foe of the Power Rangers’ mentor and Professor X parallel, Zordon. Ooze is a wizard who has a thing for mucus, awakened mistakenly by construction workers after 6000 years of imprisonment at the hands of presumably ancient Power Rangers. (Now there’s a story I’d actually kind of like to see.) Using his purple ooze powers, he not only infiltrates and destroys the Power Rangers’ command center, he also overthrows Power Rangers villain mainstays and the Universe’s Most Vile Couple, Rita Repulsa and Lord Zedd. Then he turns his attention to Earth, possessing the parents living in Angel Grove to rebuild his own evil machines.
Paul Freeman, whom you may know from his role as René Belloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark and/or the priest in Hot Fuzz, really is the most entertaining element in the film as Ivan Ooze. There’s a fun energy and playfulness to him that is often missing in most of the other performances. And you’ve gotta hand it to the writers of the script here – his lines, though immensely ridiculous, have a campy sort of charm to them – though they perhaps peak a little early, when Ooze is destroying the command center. (Apparently Ooze brushed up on his history, both big picture and small screen, before stopping by…)
Everyone else predictably phones in their performances, as per usual, with the stock characters they’ve been provided, and action sequences, packed with bad wirework and cartoon sound effects to alleviate parental concerns of the time, allow for each of the characters to have their moments in the spotlight – though some way more than others. Amy Jo Johnson as Kimberly, the Pink Ranger, takes the award for the Most Obnoxiously Sassy Member and Jason David Frank as Tommy, the automatically cool White Ranger, takes home both King of the Mary Sues and Finisher of Fights He Didn’t Otherwise Participate In. There’s also an annoying kid thrown in the mix. At least he didn’t become a Ranger, though. (Isn’t that right, Turbo?!)
Power Rangers has not aged well, and without the borrowed Japanese footage from the various Super Sentai series, this first all-original American production (filmed in Sydney, Australia) loses a lot of its kitschy charm and iconic aesthetic, traded in for darker lighting conditions, glossy armored costumes, and horribly dated CGI while keeping intact the general bland silliness of the TV series. It’s inoffensive as far as martial arts films go, but unless you’re very young and new to the series entirely or if you remain nostalgic for an era when you speculated about the identity of the mysterious Gold Zeo Ranger or laughed at the fact that the first Yellow and Black Ranger were, respectively, Asian and African and that the solution was apparently to reverse races and their genders with the new cast members, it’s hardly likely that this movie will mean anything special to any other people now that we’re close to celebrating its 20th anniversary.
… Though, I admit, I’d still totally pay to see them try that reboot movie even now…
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 1.5 / 5