I bring worrying news from the first commercial showing of Power Rangers. (For some reason, we were denied a press screening.) The folk behind this latest disinterment of a notoriously trashy 1990s kids show have made some effort to make a proper film. Surely, this is a product that cries out for immersion in cheese. The greatest danger seemed to be that it wouldn't be quite bad enough.
As it turns out, Power Rangers is easily good enough to recommend to somebody seeking shelter from a minor rainstorm. The kids are charming. Dean Israelite, director of the decent Project Almanac, flings his camera around with dexterous glee. The slumming older character actors enjoy themselves hugely: Bryan Cranston plays a possessed wall; Elizabeth Banks, a gold-gobbling witch, compensates for the lack of camp elsewhere. We apologise for the faint praise, but Power Rangers is comfortably superior – more efficient, funnier, less pompous – than anything from the current DC universe.
Veteran Rangers supporters may, however, find themselves grinding teeth just a bit. Israelite and his team do not seem altogether comfortable with their source. Indeed, the teenagers do not finally “morph” (odd to think we’d barely heard that word when the Rangers first arrived) into their gleaming armour until the final 15 minutes.
To that point, the film has dealt with its heroes in the manner of Josh Trank's Chronicle. In the quiet town of Spielburgh (not really), young Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery), quarterback and tearaway, is in trouble after a prank involving a bull. He joins a detention group that also includes perky Kimberly (Naomi Scott) and good-natured Billy (RJ Cyler).
The script makes a decent effort at rapidly fleshing out its characters. Billy is on the autistic spectrum. Jason is at odds with his fisherman dad. When they and three others locate gleaming disks in a nearby quarry they become brighter, faster and stronger. But that angry witch is lurking.
Power Rangers does shake at the axes when it finally becomes Power Rangers. There is no way of putting those camp Nietzschean proto-Samurai on screen without triggering laughs. To that point, however, it is more engaging than we had a right to expect. Unlike those DC movies, Israelite's film cares more about its characters than it does about touching bases on the marketing diamond. There are many worse things in the heavens.