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Power Rangers

Year: 2017
Studio: Lionsgate
Director: Dean Israelite
Writer: John Gatins
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Banks, Dacre Montgomery, RJ Cyler, Becky G, Naomi Scott, Ludi Lin, Bill Hader

There's one moment in this film where the Power Rangers line up on their giant animal robot things to attack and the 80s-tastic theme rings out with a chorus of 'Go go Power Rangerrrrrs!'. I could almost see the note from IP overlord Haim Saban on page one of the script saying 'rangers theme must be used!!', writer John Gatins and director Deal Israelite looking at each other and rolling their eyes.

The reason that thought struck me is because everything about this movie felt like a filmmaker and writer being handed a very specific set of characters, set pieces, mythologies, very strict constraints and edicts about how to use them and them wanting to push those boundaries as far as they could to make something that's surprising instead of expected and fun instead of predictable.

Often when a director jostles against the clean lines he/she's been told to colour within the result is a mess, the tension spilling too much onto the screen. But whether it was by design or accident, here Gatins and Israelite take that tension and make a movie that's much better than it has a right to be for a blockbuster live action reboot of a toy line.

And I include Gatins in that assessment becaue there are sequenes and passages that aren't just visually different but have been purposefully written to avoid cliche. When the gang who will become the Rangers are speeding down a dirt road in the middle of the night embroiled in a car chase and they decide to try to cross the track right before the train reaches them, you know what's going to happen. Making it with barely a hairs-breadth of room is part of the language of cinema no different than how the bad guy's going to burst back onto the scene when everybody relaxes and thinks its over if we haven't seen him actually die on camera.

Except it doesn't. The train slams into the car and sends them rolling into a ravine. They wake up the next morning unhurt and apparently indestructible. The reason why is because they've been infused by the power of the crystal thingies embedded in the rocks of a local mine and are on their way to being Power Rangers – a very expected turn of events that befits the genre. But the way they get there with the train incident is one example of something unexpected when it could have been a very run of the mill big screen CGI superhero movie.

It's the origin story of how a bunch of stereotypical outsider and misfit kids come together and discover the hidden talismans that will make them the next generation of the titular interstellar crime fighters.

What Gatins and Isrealite can't escape are the training montage, the infighting, the kids-get-superpowers-and-have-fun-with-them riffs, the caring father figure mentor (Bryan Cranston as a kind of AI presence on the spaceship), the villain (Elizabeth Banks, hamming it right up as Rita Repulsa and having a blast doing so), the second act nadir when they doubt themselves and their ability to work together, etc, etc. There's even an annoying/cute robot helper voiced by Bill Hader.

So most of it's bland superhero mythology lore, creating a world and its trinkets by chucking a bunch of random letters together to spell exotic sounding words to give the illusion of otherworldy depth. The climatic CGI fight is the work more of a small army of software engineers than a director and the new faces that play the kids treat it all way too seriously, but that's all the stuff you expect. It's the small glimmers and flashes of originality you're not expecting that makes it more fun that you think it'll be.

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