Monday , September 24 2018

High-flying action in ‘Power Rangers’ – Elizabeth Banks plays a witch-princess

In this image released by Lionsgate, Elizabeth Banks appears in a scene from ‘Power Rangers.’ (AP)

After 90 minutes of hip and hollow teen banter, woefully generic origin story, and molehillposing- as-mountain-size triumph (our heroes spend half the film learning how to morph, when all that comes down to is getting their color-coordinated chintzy sci-fiarmor suits to snap into place), “Power Rangers” finally uncorks one of those high-flying digital-blitzkrieg action finales that was mocked in “Birdman” as the essence of blockbuster decadence.

It is, but to put it in movie- junk-food terms: Just because you know a sequence like this one is bad for you doesn’t mean it’s not fun to watch. In the battle royale that’s the big payoff of “Power Rangers”, our heroes face off against Rita Repulsa, the alien supervillain from the TV show’s first season — this is no mere retread; it’s Power Rangers classic! — who is played, by the redoubtable Elizabeth Banks, as a leering and mottled punk dominatrix with a fixation on gold that marks her as a witch-princess for our time. She wanders into a jewelry store and literally eats the gold finery, melting it down into her crystalline gleaming-gold staff.

She’s got hunks of gold wedged into her face, as if it were part of her own personal biological ecosystem. She does everything but write an editorial for The Wall Street Journal arguing that America should go back on the gold standard — though depending on how this franchise, and the Trump administration, works out, just give her time. Rita wants to lay her long-taloned fingers on the Zeo Crystal, an object that will allow her to destroy the world.

It’s hidden at a Krispy Kreme franchise in downtown Angel Grove, California, and to that end she summons her ultimate coup de gold: a 100-foot-tall monster who looks like a cross between the Devil and the winged figure of Mercury, except that he’s made entirely of molten gold that never stops smelting and fl owing, like the world’s most expensive lava. If the special-effects legend Ray Harryhausen were to look down from the clouds on this towering liquid-gilt demon, he’d say it was fantastic. And he’d be right. I’d add a dollop of praise for Banks’ triumphant barbaric snarl. As for the Power Rangers, they’re part of the sequence too — they come to the rescue in metal ships shaped like lizards — but they’re the most innocuous of heroes in search of a real movie

Why reboot the Power Rangers now? The answer is as obvious as it is depressing. In 1993, when “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” debuted on Fox Kids, the show ricocheted off the rise of superhero culture, yet at the time superhero culture wasn’t something that we were drowning in. These gee-whiz junior one-note versions of Iron Man — leaping, fl ying, butt-kicking high schoolers — seemed as thin and derivative as the Japanese tokusatsu TV series from which “MMPR” was adapted, yet the show filled a niche. A lot of people in their late twenties and early thirties now look back on “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” with an affection as primal as that reserved, by a previous generation, for the most hard-to-defend John Hughes movies. (Quick: If “She’s Having a Baby” and season two of “MMPR” fought each other, who would win? Never mind.) There was even a big-screen version.

“Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie” was released in 1995 and made an underwhelming $38 million. It was 95 minutes of genial trash that, like the show, seemed designed to turn kids into throwaway action zombies. (It probably worked.) The new version tries to get all ironic and designer- techie and “ambitious” about rebooting the “Power Rangers” concept. Zordon, the Rangers’ mentor, is portrayed by Bryan Cranston, who appears almost entirely as a giant facial hologram who resembles a digital Wizard of Oz recast as a Toysmith Pin Art figure.

The new kids who would be Power Rangers — ne’er-do-well Jason (Dacre Montgomery), the Captain Kirk of the group; the haughty feministic Kimberly (Naomi Scott); Trini (Becky G), with her sexually alternative pride; Billy (RJ Cyler), a geek as nervous as he is brilliant; and the kickass mama’s boy Zack (Ludi Lin) — are portrayed like characters out of “X-Men: The High School Musical.” But this is also a rock & roll car-chase “Power Rangers” — meant, at times, to evoke the “Fast and Furious” films (best track: Social Distortion’s punk “Ring of Fire”). And Alpha 5, the Rangers’ trusty automaton assistant, is visualized (as a hubcap-headed droid) and voiced (by Bill Hader) as if he’d gone missing from an upcoming “Star Wars” sequel. Yet it’s all franchise window dressing. It can’t disguise the reality that the characters in “Power Rangers” have all the depth and idiosyncrasy of walking talking robo-teen action figures. The irony is that 25 years ago, “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” was launched as superhero diversion “for kids”, and there was a place for it, but we’re so awash in superhero culture that kids no longer need the safe, lame, pandering junior-league version of it. They can just watch “Ant-Man” or the PG-13 “Suicide Squad.” Safe, lame, and pandering have all grown up. (RTRS)

By Owen Gleiberman

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