Teens with attitude: the Power Rangers are back

“Gritty reboots” are so common that they’re basically a running joke now. What’s the next light-hearted, kid-friendly property the film, TV or comics industries can give a coat of dirt and darkness? Scooby-Doo? The Smurfs? Apparently the answer to the question is the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

That’s right — the kids’ TV hit of 1993 is back in big-screen form. Well, “back” in a sense. I mean, a Power Rangers series of one kind or another has been on TV ever since the 90s, not counting the long-running Japanese franchise that started it all, and there have already been two feature films, so it’s not exactly “back” as such, since the show never really went away, but this one is … a reboot. Perhaps a gritty reboot? Let’s take a look.

The new version of the show lives up to the original’s promise of “teens with attitude” as its main characters all seem to be in some kind of Breakfast Club-esque Saturday detention.

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There’s even five of them!

Anyway, this appears to be an origin story, adding more detail to the original version of the characters. No surprise there: Hollywood screenwriters love origin stories because they add an element of narrative arc to characters who’re otherwise normally pretty static. Going from Bruce Wayne to Batman is a big change, while Batman himself isn’t really very different from one story to the next.

In addition to the five young leads, we know that Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston will be playing the Rangers’ mentor Zordon, with comedian Bill Hader as robot assistant Alpha 5. Elizabeth Banks will be taking on the role of arch-villain Rita Repulsa. We haven’t seen any mention of a Green Ranger, so I assume that’s planned for the sequel.

The new character designs are staying reasonably close to the originals, although with the usual high-gloss Hollywood makeover. Take a look:

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Well — they’re a little similar, anyway, although much more armor-like and with the usual Iron Man glow in the diamond motifs on the chest.

With most original Power Rangers fans in their 30s or older these days, it seems like this is getting targeted to the crossover crowd you’d expect a Marvel movie to aim at. A few years ago we’d have guessed that Power Rangers would be a bridge too far, but the cinematic landscape has changed a lot. It’s particularly interesting to see the trailer focus mainly on suspense and character development rather than martial-arts action; they seem to feel that this is a franchise that speaks for itself. Either that, or they’re playing up the high-school-drama half of the story, which was played largely for laughs in the original series.

So in the new Power Rangers film we’re going to discover the outer limits of the gritty reboot concept. If you can tell a serious, psychologically realistic story based on a light-hearted kids’ show with half its footage taken from another series — with a dramatic heavy-hitter playing a guy named “Zordon” — you can pretty much get away with anything. Whatever happens, it’s going to be interesting to see!

About James Holloway

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