On March 24, the new “Power Rangers” movie made its big screen debut, and delivered a strong – but not entirely impressive – performance at the box office. Over the three-day weekend period, the film grossed just over $40 million – not nearly enough to topple “Beauty and the Beast” from its No. 1 spot – but still good news for executives at Saban Media and Lionsgate, who are hoping this film can become the foundation of a franchise powerhouse.
Rocking the ‘90s nostalgia
The biggest thing going in favor of “Power Rangers” was the built-in fan base from the popular ‘90s TV show “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.” This is a movie that has literally had almost 25 years to build up a worldwide fan base. It is, at its core, a PG-13 take on a campy TV show from the 1990s that was based on a simple premise: young superheroes against silly monsters.
If you like goofy superhero battles, impossibly ridiculous monsters and campy intergalactic villains, then “Power Rangers” more than delivers. It’s like they took the DNA from the original TV show and implanted it into this movie. Older adults, though, might be feeling a bit guilty that they actually enjoyed this kind of thing 20 years ago.
The Vulture blog from New York magazine captured the mood perfectly, noting that the film was full of “empty nostalgia calories” but that it still “tastes sweet.” You know how you go to the supermarket and buy stuff that you know is just bad for you – but you still buy it because it reminds you of your childhood? Well, that’s what it’s like to watch “Power Rangers.” All those nostalgia calories are amped up by special appearances and cameos in the movie.
The fan-critic divide
Judging by purely commercial criteria, the new film “Power Rangers” was a success. This film made $40 million at the U.S. box office in three days – how can the film not be a success? Even if you assume that the film’s box office performance will likely trail off in coming weeks, it’s easy to see that the film is going to more than make back the $100 million it took to make the film – especially when you factor in global box office receipts, not just U.S. box office.
Word-of-mouth buzz for the film was largely positive (as evidenced by a 7.2/10.0 score on IMDb). So fans tended to like the movie, but did critics? That one is a bit harder to sort out. The film only has a Metacritic rating of 44%, which is what you’d call “mixed.” And, indeed, most reviews tended to focus on all the film’s shortcomings, before coming to the conclusion that it was somehow worth watching.
For example, Screen Rant says that “playful storytelling and spectacle” offset all the flaws. The Vulture blog, as noted above, basically says that all the empty calories are a fun treat. And even the New York Times – a media outlet that you’d fully expect to turn up its nose at such middlebrow entertainment fare – lauded the “slick repackaging” and the film’s ability to deliver a credible origin story (spoiler alert: it involves power crystals hidden deep within the Earth’s core).
The action scenes certainly deliver…
This is essentially a superhero film, and what do you expect with any blockbuster superhero film? Yes, that’s right, lots of blow-your-mind action sequences, plenty of gratuitous CGI special effects and the kind of action scenes that you’d expect from a fun, raucous summer blockbuster. In short, “Power Rangers” delivers the goods when it comes to the action. Granted, some of the action can be silly, goofy and just plain head scratching weird at times, but it’s always entertaining (especially the fun training montage, where the rangers learn to use their powers).
But the teenage drama scenes don’t…
The other essential element of a superhero film, of course, is the person (or persons) that we root for as the superhero. In this case, we’re given five high school outcasts or misfits, and told that they’re going to become superheroes together. There are two popular jock types (Jason and Kimberly), one kid “on the spectrum” (Billy), one anti-authority teen (Zack) and one loner (Trini). Of these five, perhaps the one that audiences will identify with most will be Billy, played by RJ Cyler (a 22-year-old newcomer who’s best known for his work in “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”).
As for the other four teenagers, let’s just say that one reviewer called them “walking talking robo-teen action figures.” They are supposed to be confronting serious high school social issues and delivering a bit of teen angst and teen-inspired drama along the way, but here it’s not so certain that the film delivers.
But will it franchise?
Of course, the ultimate test of success for this film is whether or not this “Power Rangers” film will lay the foundation for a future film franchise. There’s a lot going in its favor – a young cast, a rabid fan base, plenty of nostalgia, and a solid box office foundation. It’s possible to envision studio executives green lighting the next in the “Power Rangers” series for summer 2018. If not, well, there’s always Netflix.
One key point that many reviewers brought up was the importance of establishing the origin story for this film. Think of that as the pivot that will enable future directors to go backwards and forwards in time to create prequels and sequels. “Power Rangers” now has that. There may be some fine-tuning and tweaking of the young cast, but it’s clear that this is the beginning of something very exciting for Saban and Lionsgate.
Ultimately, “Power Rangers” delivers. This is not a cinematic masterpiece, but you don’t have to make any excuses to your friends about why you’re seeing it in the cinema. If you’re young, you’re going for the action, adventure and the teen drama. If you’re a bit older, well, just tell people that you’re going to relive childhood memories and slurp up all those empty nostalgia calories. For $100 million (the cost of the movie), we might have expected a slightly better movie than we received. But it’s still slick enough and action-packed enough to make it worth seeing. Stream the new Power Rangers flick online with an internet package from Comcast XFINITY.