Silly nostalgists, ‘Power Rangers’ is for kids.
There is a fine line between what is simply not for me and something that is actually objectively awful. For the most part, Power Rangers falls on the former side. I turned 40 this week, so the idea of being too old for anything is admittedly a frustrating personal issue right now. When Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was all the rage, I was a teenager working at a Toys “R” Us dealing with parents trying desperately to find all the action figures before Christmas. It was the latest craze. The Cabbage Patch Kids of the ’90s.
Now the kids who wanted Power Rangers toys when their popularity was big news are adults and filled with nostalgia. That is why Power Rangers has been made and presumably why it’s not a movie for kids. There’s also a strong fanbase who seem not to just be looking back to their childhood playthings but have been into the series all along. At the screening I attended for the movie, grown ups wore apparel and costumes based on a show for gradeschoolers. They were audibly satisfied with what they saw.
But if Power Rangers is primarily for those diehards and others who grew up with the source material, then it should be more like the show, just as cheesy and cheap-looking, right? But it also ought to be like the show in that it should be rated PG, so another generation of kids can grow up with the characters. My four-year-old son, who only knows of Power Rangers through merchandising, including the action figures that are still made, was upset that he couldn’t see the movie. It’s hard to explain why.
To him anyway. To anyone else, it’s easy to see why Power Rangers is PG-13. Nostalgia is a a big part of what fuels Hollywood these days. But many modern adaptations of ’80s and ’90s properties wind up doing well beyond the initial fanbase nostalgia. Transformers, another one-time toy craze was decades later turned into a billion-dollar movie franchise (which gets a nod in Power Rangers). Beauty and the Beast, a 26-year-old animated film remade in live-action form, just broke all sorts of box office records.
Power Rangers does nothing for anyone who isn’t cheering for the cameos of Amy Jo Johnson and Jason David Frank and the one utterance of “Ay-yi-yi!” by Alpha 5. It’s a poor attempt to turn something that pops with color and corniness into something darker and taken seriously. For 100 minutes (it takes that long for the costumes to go on) it wants to be a misfit teen drama recalling everything from Rebel Without a Cause and The Breakfast Club to The Goonies and Stand By Me, with sexual themes and deaths, only to climax with a nonsensical and dumb-looking giant robot vs. giant monster battle.
Power Rangers is like a syndicated TV series version of Chronicle, void of all that film’s strengths, meets the 1987 Masters of the Universe movie. At least in Power Ranger’s misguided desire to combine kitsch with something genuinely, non-ironically cool, the accomplished actor playing the villain appears to be glad to be there. Still, while Elizabeth Banks has campy fun with her role as Rita Repulsa, her performance doesn’t fit tonally with the first two thirds of the film, which otherwise only finds comic relief in autism.
Banks is also one of only two notable adult characters in the movie, which may be why I found myself rooting for her. One of the problems with Power Rangers as a movie for grown fans is there is no proper grown-up perspective that connects the material to its audience. The protagonists are teens, yet it’s hard to believe any real teens who’d identify with them will want to see or will like the movie. The show wasn’t for teens either, but it didn’t treat its teens like teens so much as a cartoon fantasy version of teens for little kids.
I’m fine with Power Rangers not being for me, but I find it weird that it’s for people closer in age to me than to the demo it should be for. I accept that I like Riverdale, a TV series based on comics that I read as a child fantasizing about being a teen, strictly for nostalgic reasons while knowing it otherwise wouldn’t be for me. And it, too, does skew older than I was during my days as a fan. But at least it works for that modern young audience more than for old fans like myself, who tune in to see what we cherished as it exists today.
Nostalgia shouldn’t be the primary driving force of a movie like Power Rangers, nor should it inform it. Nostalgia is something that will draw old fans to something they once beloved anyway. That’s how nostalgia works. Hollywood needs to stop trying so hard to appeal to grown ups’ memories, especially if they think to do so means shifting tonally more mature while not also shifting more intelligently. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers is a charmingly stupid show, but Power Rangers is a terribly stupid movie.