The words “What do you think?” followed by a YouTube link flashed across my notification bar. The link led to a video titled “Power Rangers (2017 Movie) Official Teaser Trailer – ‘Discover The Power’”, and I watched.
This 140-second clip for the fabled Power Rangers is a very generous teaser. It shows us the style that the producers are going for without giving away too much. In fact, calling it a teaser is a borderline insult.
Many people are discussing several things from the teaser, namely how there seems to be a lack of colour for a property that’s all about flashy colours. What I’d like to examine is how the Ranger Power manifests itself. In the next paragraphs I will discuss what this change means to a casual fan, how the original Mighty Morphin’ series used what it had to make itself work, and where I think the story’s weak point is. And I answer the most important question of all: is it a big deal?
For the benefit of anyone who doesn’t know me: I stopped watching teasers and trailers for anything that I’m interested in a few years ago. In my opinion teasers tease way too little, and the trailers trail away too much. And I end up disappointed when I watch the film.
My finance was right next to me when the clip started playing. I angled my screen so that she too could see what I was looking at. At the point where Jason grasps and breaks the ceramic sink, she uttered “Another X-Men movie?” This isn’t because she is unable to differentiate between the X-Men and Power Rangers. She watched way more Power Rangers than I had back in the day (and I’m supposed to be the geeky one). What was in the teaser didn’t fit what she knows as the Power Rangers.
Just for context: Power Rangers is a 90s television show that used (and abused) fighting footage from a Japanese television show called Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger. Remember how the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers had a dinosaur motif? The Japanese show had a storyline reason for that. They also had motor bikes; but that’s another article.
The original show had five (later six) teenagers who all had some form of sporty background that ranged from aerobatics to martial arts. The teaser does not dwell on this, so it makes it difficult to compare this aspect, but I do applaud that the producers actually took the “teenagers with attitude” line to heart.
In Mighty Morphin’, the characters were already competent fighters / gymnasts / dancers, and the Power was just an upgrade on those skills. An episode went from the team fighting the putties as civilians to fighting the monster of the week as the Power Rangers to fighting a giant monster of the week in the implausible mecha known as Zords.
Historically this is because the original Japanese show had little suit battles to work with and the Saban producers had to pad-out the episodes. One way was to splice in the longer versions of the Zord transformation scenes, but that could only add so much. Since Mighty Morphin’ was shot for as little money as possible, the new fighting footage (i.e. the Rangers repelling a Putty attack) did not feature superhuman fighting as much. This is why Zordon instructs the Power Rangers to never escalate the fight unless the enemy does so first. Zordon wasn’t being noble; he was helping Saban save a few dollars more!
The movie is not restricted by any pre-existing footage. It has complete control over what is shot so if the producers wanted to feature ninety minutes of Power Ranger action, they can.
Due to the way the Mighty Morphin’ show was shot and budgeted, the characters had to survive long enough to be able to upgrade to the Ranger Powers and then to the mecha. It meant that the characters had to know how to defend themselves.
In the movie version, it seems as if the Power is always pulsing beneath the characters’ fingers, which means that the characters have to learn how to control their powers (or hide them). The problem here is that no matter how much Power one has, an unskilled fighter is still an unskilled fighter. Both of these premises are for two very different types of stories. The first story is a fantasy where if your skills aren’t good enough for this situation, you can upgrade to the next level and beat your enemy. The Power comes from an external source that can be turned on and off at will. The second story is a fantasy where the Power is always within you, waiting to be tapped. Both of these stories come with what I like to call “pre-written” scenes. I’ll compare some below.
Power is something that you can call upon Power is something that is inside you
Learning how to summon the Power Learning how to control the Power
Power waits to be summoned Power can be accidentally unleashed
Ignore the Power if you want to without any consequences Ignore the Power at own peril
Power is something that can be taken away by removing a trinket Power cannot be taken away without a very good story reason
Does this change who you are? Does this change who you are?
Let’s play a small game. The game is: which story would offer the most dramatic scenes?
If you answered the column on the right, you’re with the majority of the audience. The column on the right, corresponding to the film’s version of the Power, offers scenes that are more dramatic.
Almost every coming-of-age superhuman story uses that same story style. X-Men is the most popular one, but there are plenty of other film stories that fit the bill: Spider-Man (all three film versions), Captain America, Daredevil (both film and series), Chronicle, The Tomorrow People, Push, Jumper, and so on.
Does that mean that the column on the left (the external Power) offers a less dramatic story? Far from it. Again, what do: Iron Man, Thor, The Falcon, and The Ant-Man have in common? Besides all being Marvel characters, that is. They all rely on an external source of power. Not to mention that three out of the four characters that I listed star in self-titled films that I enjoyed.
While we get plenty of films from both columns, I believe that the balance tips further towards the power from within than most of us, the audience, realize. The only people that know for sure are the studio heads, and the critics. Since the critics watch almost every single movie in their genre, they’re the first to realize if something is being overused. This might translate to a lower critic score.
Personally, I don’t care for film grades. I know what I like and a critic’s review is merely a guide. Nevertheless, for the majority of the audience, a film lives and dies by the critic’s metascore.
Exploring something that’s inside a person makes for a more compelling narrative from the get-go. Having something inside ourselves makes us stand out from the rest of the crowd, which gives the audience a reason to follow what we’re doing. And while Mighty Morphin’ is not the pinnacle of storytelling, let’s remember that it did somehow manage to craft an OK story by sticking to the left column.
Once the choice was made to change where the Power came from, the movie is in danger of becoming just another movie about Power from within. So the producers decided to not stand out from the crowd of films about a team of superhuman beings, and this influenced everything from the muted colour scheme (remember: colourful is bad in a grown up ‘serious’ movie), to the Ranger suits seemingly taking over the characters’ bodies like a virus.
Having said all that, does changing the Power source from external to internal matter anymore? Granted that it is contrived if people with no fighting skills suddenly become competent fighters, the writers will probably explain this away by rationalizing that if the Power can instantly teach five teenagers to pilot a giant mecha, the Power giving them slick fighting moves wouldn’t be that much of a stretch.
I think that a good writer and director can make both scenarios work. I wish that we got a Power Rangers movie that stuck to the external Power source, but if the change means that I get to watch a film that is more entertaining, I welcome it. After all, there has been at least one Power Rangers story where the Power was embedded in the Rangers’ bodies, and to be fair it was a tiny bit more grim (see Dino Thunder).
May the Power protect you.