Over the past years, our movies and shows have gotten darker and darker. I’m not sure exactly why this is, but I do know that this stylistic choice definitely doesn’t work with everything. While darkness can more or less be just an aesthetic, we’ve also seen movies become more serious in the storytelling itself, and another annoying trend is the never-ending torrent of origin remakes. This last trend is something I at least understand, if only because studios need to bring in newer audience members, and origin stories are an easy way to do so. Unfortunately, the new Power Rangers movie looks to fit all three of these trends, and I can’t say that I’m super excited about it.
Our heroes this time around are five troubled teenagers, because of course they’re troubled, who bond over being outcasts in society. Then they find an alien structure and gain superhuman strength. This turns them into Rangers, and they set off on a journey to save the world from Rita Repulsa, an alien witch who kills Rangers, and yes, that is actually her name. That name was stupid in the 90s and it’s stupid now.
The first thing I noticed about this trailer is that the villain doesn’t show up until the very end, when she threatens to kill one of the characters for no explained reason. We don’t really learn that there’s a conflict at all until then, and we still don’t know why she hates them. The characters just run around with super strength. That wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if this was just going to be a fun action movie, but Power Rangers 2017 just screams that it plans to take itself way too seriously—the color palette is dark, the one character has an ankle monitor, and given the shots of a damaged car, I can only assume he hit and hurt someone. Then there’s the music, which is sad and mellow.
The original Power Rangers movies and show were full of light-hearted gags and over-the-top villains. The characters fought putty monsters and talking slime, complete with cartoonish sound effects. The story was enjoyable, without losing itself to the gritty realism that plagues everything we watch nowadays. A character named Rita Repulsa fits into a narrative with a lighter tone. She does not belong in something more serious with a name like Repulsa. This is a story that used to have shit like this:
The newer movie also changes the mythos around too. Originally, the Rangers had to be wearing their suits in order to have super strength and awesome fighting abilities. Now, they have that sans suit, and that seems like a bad decision on the part of whoever chose them to be Rangers. If their powers are actually part of them, and not part of the suits, and if they got those powers by happenstance, then who they are as people didn’t matter when they were chosen. One of them may or may not have killed someone in a car crash. The world is lucky that deep down they’re all good people. I’m not even mad about this part, just amused by how many things could have gone wrong. We don’t even see the suits in the trailer.
On the bright side, three of the main characters—the Yellow Ranger, Black Ranger, and Blue Ranger—are people of color. I am happy about this, but there’s some strange racebending going on here. The original Power Rangers, despite having characters of color as well, was not the be-all-end-all of good racial representation. Trini Kwan, the Vietnamese character, wore the yellow suit, while Zack Taylor, the Black character, wore the black suit. You can see the problems this might have caused. In order to avoid this, the 2017 movie has Zack being played by Ludi Lin, a Chinese actor, and the Blue Ranger, Billy Cranston, is now Black. This really wouldn’t bother me, but the racial flipping really becomes a problem when we get back to the Yellow Ranger.
Taylor and Cranston are both Western last names, but Western doesn’t specifically mean white, and there are plenty of reasons why two characters of color, particularly Zack, could have those names—adoption, marriage, maybe someone they’re related to changed their name when they came to America. The same could also be said for the character Trini Kwan, who was originally played by a Vietnamese actress. That said, erasing a white character from a story is a bit different from erasing a Vietnamese character. Kwan is an Asian last name, but the actress who plays her, Rebbeca Marie Gomez, is not. It’d be one thing if her character were biracial, but the actress is not biracial; she’s Hispanic. I’m glad that the movie switched the characters around so that they’re not categorized based on skin color anymore, but I feel as though it has unfortunately treated people of color as interchangeable in the process. This is something that Power Rangers might be able to offset if it spends time talking about all these characters’ heritages, but I’m not sure I should be holding my breath here.
Given that it’s no longer the 90s, I know that a lot of things about Power Rangers had to change in order to fit a modern audience. It definitely wouldn’t surprise me if their Power Ranger suits were upgraded to not look as campy, especially given the change to Rita’s outfit. But even with differences like these, the movie doesn’t have to be so dark and serious, and campy or campiness in general is not necessarily a bad thing. Remakes should not be carbon copies of the original, but this doesn’t even feel like Power Rangers. There were certain points in the trailer where I honestly thought I was watching a Marvel teenage superhero movie—the scene with the bully at school especially felt like Spider-Man. I’ll probably go see this when it comes out in March, but I don’t have a lot of hope for it.