In a world where the superhero blockbuster franchise reigns supreme, there are really only two kinds of moviegoers: those who greet the post-credits stinger with gasps of recognition and delight and those who endure it in ignorant, resentful silence.
As someone who usually falls in with the latter group, I found myself in the rare position of actually understanding what was happening in the kicker to “Saban’s Power Rangers,” as we are expected to call this latest movie adapted from the hit 1990s TV show “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.”
Such knowledge, however, came with a price. I lost more than a few hours of my childhood to that series — precious, irretrievable hours spent watching an atrociously English-dubbed sorceress and her Miracle-Gro monsters do battle with five American teenagers in color-coded lycra, week after numbingly repetitive week.
“Go, go, Power Rangers!” urged the show’s earworm of a theme song, which makes a not-unwelcome return here, along with a few smiling faces and enviably toned bodies from the show’s original cast.
It takes forever just for the teens to make their way to the Power Rangers equivalent of the Batcave.
All of which is to say that I feel more qualified than usual to announce that “Saban’s Power Rangers” (Saban clearly never learned to share) is a witless and cobbled-together pile of junk, and I mean that not as an insult so much as an assurance of brand integrity. The filmmakers have lopped off the “Mighty Morphin” from the title, reshuffled a few character ethnicities and stirred some wisecracking millennial attitude into the mix. They’ve also taken the highly questionable step of outfitting the female Rangers in breast-enhanced body armor. But for the most part, they have seen fit not to mess with a bad thing.
The script, by John Gatins, begins with a flamboyantly subtitled alien-language prologue introducing the ancient clash between Zordon, the benevolent leader of the Power Rangers, and Rita Repulsa, an evil enchantress bent on Earth’s destruction. Flash forward several million years to the present-day fishing town of Angel Grove, where a new generation of Rangers is about to rise up:
Five mysterious “power coins” fall into the hands of five misfit teenagers, granting them superhuman strength if little in the way of human personality.
The Red Ranger, and the team’s destined leader, is Jason (Dacre Montgomery), a former star athlete whose recent high jinks have made him a high-school outcast. Taking a page from “The Breakfast Club,” he meets two of his future teammates in detention: Kimberly (Naomi Scott), a mean girl brought low by her gossipy ways, becomes the Pink Ranger, while the Blue Ranger is Billy (RJ Cyler), a nerdy, lovably awkward tech whiz. Add in two more loners — Zack (Ludi Lin), the Black Ranger, and Trini (Becky G), the Yellow Ranger — and you have a veritable rainbow coalition of helmeted heroes.
But “Saban’s Power Rangers” — not to be confused with “Marvel’s Power Rangers” or “Tyler Perry’s Power Rangers” — is in no rush to get those kids into those colorful suits. It takes forever just for the teens to make their way to the Power Rangers equivalent of the Batcave, where they are welcomed and trained by an android named Alpha 5 (voiced by Bill Hader) and the giant disembodied head of Zordon, an effect that seems to have been achieved by smashing a silver Pin Art toy into Bryan Cranston’s face.
It’s morphin’ time, right? Not quite. Like a version of “Spider-Man” in which Peter Parker doesn’t start slinging webs until Act 3, the movie doesn’t let the Power Rangers don their armor until they learn to bond as a family unit and understand why they, and they alone, were chosen for the extraordinary task of protecting Earth.
Unfortunately, they are no closer to answering that question by the end of the film than they were at the beginning, so generically conceived are these young angst-bots and so flat and forced are their attempts at playful group chemistry.
Along with their power coins, the Rangers have been issued one token personal struggle apiece — an estranged dad, a sick mom, a big coming-out scene — all of which are dramatized in stiff, desultory fashion. These characters would feel like ciphers even if they didn’t spend the protracted third-act climax trapped inside their Zords (a.k.a. mechas, a.k.a. gi-normous fighting robots), and even if they weren’t the victims of a murky lighting scheme that makes some of them difficult to tell apart.
Coming off his 2015 feature, “Project Almanac,” the director, Dean Israelite, has made yet another teen-centric science-fiction adventure that invites comparison with “Chronicle” (2012), which tackled similar themes of youthful bullying and alienation with far greater visual and conceptual intelligence.
But all is not lost. There is the sharp-clawed Rita Repulsa, played by a supremely campy, untraceably accented Elizabeth Banks, who looks like Poison Ivy by way of Freddy Krueger. I admit, I missed the original Rita’s Viking Madonna getup, but there are certainly less arresting sights than that of Banks’ sexpot sorceress commanding her monster Goldar (imagine if Trump Tower could walk) to lay waste to Angel Grove in the movie’s sub-“Avengers,” sub-“Transformers,” sub-“Pacific Rim” finale.
Bring Advil, or something stronger. It’s morphine time!
‘Saban’s Power Rangers’
MPAA rating: PG-13
Running time: 2 hours, 4 minutes
Playing: In general release