Saban's Power Rangers
“Power Rangers exudes a deep understanding that inclusion is more than just a checklist. This is no more apparent than when they mix different identities within the same character.”
Title: Saban’s Power Rangers (2017)
Director: Dean Israelite 👨🏼🇺🇸
Writers: Original story Haim Saban 👨🏽🇪🇬🇮🇱🇺🇸, screenplay by John Gatins 👨🏼🇺🇸, and story by Matt Sazama 👨🏼🇺🇸, Burk Sharpless 👨🏼🇺🇸, Michele Mulroney 👩🏼🇺🇸, and Kieran Mulroney 👨🏼🇺🇸
Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸
Saban’s Power Rangers is junk food for the eyes, shiny with modern color palettes that fit right into the neon blues and violets that seem to color everything in Hollywood right now, from Atomic Blonde to Blade Runner 2049 to the upcoming Ready Player One.
The plot development can be painstaking, told through long and dull bouts of exposition. As many critics point out, the movie is empty beneath the gloss and extremely forgettable. Luckily, the teenage misfits that populate this iteration of Power Rangers are likable and I loved Elizabeth Banks in the role of Rita Repulsa. Their performances make this film worth a casual viewing.
Out of the five Power Rangers, two are female. Their roles are positive, well-rounded, and do not fall into stereotype, although this was a close call. An on-screen kiss between Kimberly (Naomi Scott) and Jason (Dacre Montgomery) took place in an earlier version of the film. Luckily, the scene was panned by test audiences so we can thank them for helping to avoid a plot development that would have diminished Kimberly’s independence, continued the trend of only white characters getting romantic story arcs among a diverse cast (see: early seasons of Sense8 or Silicon Valley), and also torpedoed the lovely undercurrent of romantic tension between Kimberly and Trini (Becky G).
In support roles, we see Bryan Cranston as the voice of Zordon, Bill Hader as the voice of robot Alpha 5, and Rita Repulsa as the villain. Rita goes a long way in adding to this category score. I probably would have dipped to around a 3.75 on Kimberly and Trini’s characters alone, but the camp Elizabeth Banks brings to the role of Rita is one of the more recognizable aspects of the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers TV series and I was pleased to see that live on in the 2017 film. Rita’s substantial screen time, dialogue, backstory, and essentialness to the plot all helped bring this score to nearly perfect.
The only thing that keeps this film from the coveted 5/5 is the balance of men to women in primary roles, which tilts male and remains unchanged from its inception in 1993. While the quality of Kimberly and Trini’s roles are better, with more depth and backstory, we still haven’t reached parity by numbers.
GradeMyMovie.com Assessment: 19% of creative decision-makers were POC.
Fantastically diverse, both by nationality and ethnicity, Power Rangers banks on multicultural talent: three of the five Power Rangers hail from abroad (England, Australia, and China). Meanwhile, ethnicities include black, East Asian, Latina, and white Power Rangers.
Even with a diverse cast, Power Rangers could have fallen into the trap of writing stereotypical, “token” teenagers. But it shows its comfort level with modern character development by crafting truly well-rounded heroes. Billy (RJ Cyler) is black, sensitive, lives with high-functioning autism, and misses his late father who was a fundamental and affirming part of his life. Zack (Ludi Lin) is an Asian American male with a punk attitude and blatant sex appeal. Trini is a tomboyish Latina questioning her own sexuality while dealing with a conformist family at home. In fact, I would venture to say the white characters see less backstory, even as they’re offered more screen time and are put in leadership roles. What this amounts to is a genuine feeling that the writers care about all five of their Power Rangers, translating to likable characters who each feel unique and cared for despite uneven writing that attempts to cram five backstories into one film.
Bonus for LGBTQ: +0.50
"Boyfriend problems?" Zack inquires. Trini demurs. "Girlfriend problems?" he asks. She doesn't respond fully, but does say she's never talked about her identity with anyone. The moment is short, but genuine; she's a teen, after all, and she's still Figuring Stuff Out.”
Bonus for Disability: +0.50
Power Rangers exudes a deep understanding that inclusion is more than just a checklist, and this is no more apparent than when they mix different identities within the same character. Whether it’s Trini’s sexuality and how that plays out within a conservative Latinx family, or the portrayal of autism through Billy, who is black and raised by a widowed mother, Power Rangers does a fantastic job of recognizing that labels are merely that—a sticker that never quite fits on any multi-faceted individual.
As for the film’s representation of autism specifically, I have no firsthand experience with the condition so I’ll defer to voices such as advocate Kerry Magro who writes on his blog:
“While I agree that we do need more autistic actors in entertainment today and the need for more female characters on the autism spectrum, my overall review of this Power Ranger with autism was positive.”
Mediaversity Grade: B+ 4.33/5
While Power Rangers earned mixed reviews from critics, averaging 5/10 on Rotten Tomatoes, the audience average of 7.4/10 suggests that viewers are getting something else from this film that can’t be explained by traditional media criticism. While I’d like to offer up the inclusive cast and modern, intersectional backstories as evidence that diversity is that it factor, it feels premature to draw such a conclusion. However, the $142M raked in against a $100M budget does emphatically prove that while it may not be diversity alone that pulls in large, global audiences, it certainly doesn’t hurt.