All right, look. Normally I wouldn’t do this sort of thing, because I’m pretty sure I’ve said in the past, in writing (or close enough to it) that I think trailers are bullshit. They lie, they delude, they misrepresent, and more -- all for the sake of trying to strong-arm viewers into getting hyped. And while there are some good trailers out there, too many of them nowadays aren’t. Or maybe they’ll be great, but they’ll be much better than the actual movie/game/whatever coming up. I’ve always thought it best to judge the actual product based on gathered information and reviews, weighted with personal inference -- and at some point, an actual, direct look at said product.
So I’m not usually one to get sucked into trailer hype. And I’m also not the type to pour over every second or every frame to find some hidden clue that’ll “change everything”. Honestly, just making this post feels like a dirty act; it’s like I’ve suddenly thrown away my dignity for a big dumb clickbait article (“This One Weird Trick Will Win Any Power Rangers Fan’s Heart! Saban Hates It!”). But as a tokusatsu fan to this day -- and beyond -- and as someone with more than a little interest in storytelling -- no matter the form -- I’m making an exception. I feel compelled to weigh in, so I will. Just this once. Don’t get used to it.
Okay. So here we go.
There are at least two ways to approach this trailer, and this movie at large. That’s pretty obvious, and something I’d assume that everyone with an internet connection has figured out a good eight months in advance. Yes, this is a brand new Power Rangers movie, the first (western) one to hit theaters in two decades. Is that something worth celebrating? I think so, yeah. But for now, we have to judge what’s been revealed to us based on:
1) the merits of the movie, regardless of the brand
2) the merits of the movie, with respect to the brand
Debates have long since started on “what a Power Rangers movie should be”, and there’s no shortage of answers. Should it be silly? Should it be campy? Should it be serious? Should it be modernized? Should it be fun? Should it be edgy? Should it follow the series? Should it follow the Sentai footage? Should it follow the infamous (and satirical) fan film from a while back? Everybody wants different things out of the movie, which shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Setting aside the fact that free will and opinion are mucking things up again, I’d argue that this is what happens when you bank on nostalgia or long-standing brand names. Different people have different takes on Power Rangers, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that there’s no consensus on how to do a new movie justice. But I think we can all agree on one thing: no matter what road gets taken, we all want good movies. And we want this movie to be good. Whether you grew up with the series or not, whether you buy into the affect or not, people need good stories in their lives no matter the source material. I can tell you right now that, even if I had reservations from the minute the movie was announced, I want nothing more than the best possible product. Okay? Okay. Now let’s start looking at the trailer without bringing up the franchise. At all.
If we take the trailer at face value, then it’s going to put a lot of focus on its five main characters -- fleshing them out, giving them issues that need sorting out, making them real, et cetera. Honestly, that’s not a bad approach to take; characters create opportunity, and the more you do to improve them, the better chance you have of making a good story. It begs the question of how much time it’ll take to develop these characters in what’ll probably sail WAY below the 3-hour mark -- especially since we’re dealing with five instead of one -- but in theory, it’s not a bad approach to take.
It all depends on the execution. And let’s be fair here: at a base level, it’s not as if the movie is destined to fail (even if I’ve implied otherwise). It’ll fail if it can’t or won’t capitalize on anything that makes it good, but just because it’s a reboot doesn’t make it a failure. From what I can gather, it’s out to tell a story with five
full-grown adults that are probably skirting
30 teenagers, each with personal problems that’ll make their following
choices that much more difficult. What
do you do when you suddenly stumble into superpowers? What happens when you become stronger, and
tougher, and can jump farther than a kangaroo on steroids?
From what I can gather, there’s been at least one movie that’s already answered that question.
I’ve never seen Chronicle, so comparisons between that and this new movie are lost on me. Still, I’ve heard a lot of good things about that movie, so I’d assume that anything with even a slight resemblance is in a good place. If big-budget stuff like Captain America: Civil War and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice are any indication, then right now we’re in a period where it’s not enough to just have a lot of superpowers going full ham; people have an interest in seeing the applications and consequences of those powers. Or if not the people, then those holding the creative reins are eager to start probing. We’re just along for the ride.
So again, it’s all about the execution. It’s a safe bet that we’ll be getting more trailers in the future -- featuring more action, no doubt -- but what we’ve gotten so far is what Lionsgate and crew want us to take away from their latest production. The spotlight’s shining bright on five teens; the moviemakers thought that it was crucial for people to start forming bonds with them, even with the full movie being about six months away as of writing. Who are they? What are their struggles? Here will their story -- and their decisions -- take them? Why should we care? Why do these people deserve our empathy? Lots of questions need to be answered here, and fast.
So I guess that’s where the problems start. Details have already come out for the movie, and they make me tug nervously at my collar. I know that subtlety isn’t always Hollywood’s specialty, but if things don’t go well here, then it’s really going to be a train wreck. I get the mentality, though: give characters issues that need sorting out as a way to guarantee progression through individual arcs. And as eager as I am to see good characters -- people with strengths and flaws alike -- they are SERIOUSLY laying it on thick with both the descriptions and this teaser trailer. Bullying, daddy issues, disorders, social stigma, butting heads with authority, classism, and maybe even racism if you squint really hard; it begs the question of whether or not dealing with so many heady themes with each character (instead of, say, one or two) is a smart move. How do you reconcile everything by the time the credits roll -- unless of course you choose not to and set up a sequel, which in theory could bring in even more baggage?
As Mr. Plinkett once said, the word I’m looking for is “tone”. That’s going to be the clincher for this movie. If they opt to be serious and dramatic, then I hope they have the wits and sense to do so effectively. I’ll go ahead and guess that -- with the teens striking a fighting pose even without their suits -- there’s going to be a fair amount of fighting in the runtime. Well, that’s assuming that there’s enough time given for the fighting and action, and we don’t have another Fantastic 4 reboot on our hands. Is it really a wise move to toss in a cornucopia of social issues in a movie featuring alien technology and psycho villainesses creepin’ on girls like she’s Edward Cullen?
Maybe I should ask a broader question: why does this movie look so generic?
Look, I don’t watch a lot of movies -- in theaters or otherwise. The closest I’ve come to being a regular viewer is the spread of CinemaSins videos that only ticks up by two a week. Even so, watching the teaser trailer for this movie doesn’t leave me with a lasting impression, or a reason to start getting hyped. I won’t act like it’s a complete disaster (even if my gut and heart say otherwise), but the fact that I don’t feel even a shred of excitement for this movie is a problem -- and I feel like I’d have that opinion even if they did show off wall-to-wall action.
And yes, there are some interesting shots in the teaser; I legitimately thought that seeing them go underwater to some mysterious locale was pretty cool, and seeing the bully thwarted by his own headbutt got a little laugh out of me. Hopefully there are tons of good moments throughout the full movie. But everything else feels so bland. It’s like I’ve seen all of this before, or I’ve seen this and it has zero appeal for me. The color palette is so cold and sterile, like they slapped on the usual Hollywood-approved filters. There’s some slow and cheesy song playing that tries to emphasize just how socially-maligned the teens are. The dialogue lays it on thicker than a trough of ice-cold mayonnaise. And why the hell are so many shots in this teaser tilted at, like, a 20-degree angle? Is that the “artistic” angle?
It doesn’t feel like anything but a prelude to a migraine six months down the line. That’d be a red flag for any movie, but this isn’t just any movie; it’s directly linked to, and directly called Power Rangers. You just can’t do the same old, same old with a storied and infamous franchise. But they did. And when you take the genuine article into consideration, what was already on shaky ground becomes much, much worse.
But let’s be clear. My problem isn’t that this new movie isn’t like the series -- and it definitely isn’t because they aren’t following the Sentai version. Have you seen the Sentai version? I have, and let me tell you something.
The tokusatsu genre is a fever dream that stretches on for thousands of years, compressed into 23-minute segments. Power Rangers as we know it in the States has only offered a glimpse of that madness -- and while stuff like Super Sentai and Kamen Rider are 100% enjoyable in their own right, I know that there are a ton of people out there who’d get turned off within the first five minutes of an unfiltered episode of Kyoryuger. And you know what? That’s fine. Changes and concessions need to be made, especially when you’re doing an adaptation across different mediums for different audiences in different countries.
So Power Rangers the series, as we know it -- in my opinion -- strikes a happy medium. It has that camp and goofiness, and it’s built around both over-the-top martial arts battles and merchandise-shilling for the kiddies. It’s colorful, crazy, and more than a little silly. But as Linkara has pointed out repeatedly over the years in his History of Power Rangers series, the show is capable of thoughtfulness, clever writing, earnestness, and heart. Does it exist to sell toys? Yes. Does it have the power to impart long-lasting lessons upon children, and open the eyes of adults? Yes. So armed with that knowledge -- and the deserved respect for a franchise that’s more or less gone on for 20 years -- the question isn’t “How do you make a new Power Rangers movie?” It’s “How do you honor the Power Rangers on the big screen?”
As it stands, the answer to that question is not this movie.
Again, what is the tone of this movie going to be? The dreary visuals and the dramatic affect are going to occupy the same space as a green-clad baroness at a bare minimum; if they stick to the source material and include Zordon and Alpha 5 (both of whom have already been cast), then that means a character with OCD might have to share screen time with a giant floating head and a waddling robot with a voice just degrees shy of a helium cocktail. How do you reconcile that? Should you?
That’s the danger of nostalgia-based reboots. Bring back everything in perfect reproductions of the originals, and you risk bending the new stuff to cater to the old. Make changes that are too drastic to the old stuff, and people might flat-out reject the new. And that’s overlooking the possibility that any minor change will fly in the face of the original’s intent or even quality. This is a real issue we’ve constantly had to deal with over the years -- with Khan showing up for no raisin in Star Trek: Into Darkness, with The Force Awakens being eerily similar to A New Hope, and…well, with RoboCop ’14 in general, but the less I think about that movie, the happier I’ll be.
This teaser raises a whole lot of questions, and I’m worried the actual movie won’t have any good answers. Example: if the would-be Rangers gain super strength and endurance by default -- to the point where they’re indestructible by default -- then what’s the point of even putting on the suits or having weapons? Rangers throughout the years (in both the show and Sentai installments) have had civilian powers or supernatural skills, so they need to reconcile that in this movie or else it’ll be a major misstep. The best way to do that is to introduce villains that are as strong as or stronger than the Rangers, necessitating “morphin’ time”.
So that begs a new question: who or what are the baddies in this movie?
We’ve got a new version of Rita Repulsa in this movie, which is a start. But a villain out in the fields doing her own dirty work isn’t how things tend to play out, Power Rangers or otherwise. Foot soldiers, enemy elites, the Monster of the Week -- it’s the mix of those that creates the new Rogues’ Gallery, season after season. Will this movie have that? Given that Goldar has been mentioned in passing elsewhere, I’d say yes. But this teaser does nothing to convey that, and that seems like yet another warning sign. How much time will the Rangers get to actually be Rangers, especially when they have these deep-rooted issues that need to be sorted out?
And the fact that they haven’t shown any action (save for striking one random fighting pose and doing jump kicks on a moving train) makes me seriously start to sweat. The Sentai is a lot of things, but pulse-pounding is absolutely one of them. The fighting and choreography are truly some top-notch work, not just because of the sheer amount of spectacle, but also because (in the best-case scenario) each season manages to make the Rangers stand out from one another in more ways than just their colors or weapons of choice. When coupled with some real synergy between them, you can get a lot out of a team visually -- even in the absence of clear-cut or high-grade writing. Something tells me that that’s exactly the sort of thing most Hollywood productions need.
This isn’t a lesson that needs to be learned strictly from Power Rangers/Super Sentai. Really, all the movie needs to do is follow the example (and formula) long since proven to work with the Marvel movies. Match the tone, match the affect, match the style, and you have the foundation for success. Build on that with a property as unique and distinct as this one, and you can go from a foundation to a real attention-grabber -- something that sticks out in a sea of reboots, remakes, and reimaginings.
But they didn’t. At least based on this teaser, it doesn’t look like they did.
Even if this movie is competently made, that’s just a step above an absolute failure state. Why? Because the worst thing a tokusatsu show -- Power Rangers, Super Sentai, or otherwise -- can be is generic. And that’s what it looks like right now; it’s a movie stripped of its pizazz and spirit to cater to a wider audience. You need to be able to do that in this day and age, yes, but that doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to be unique. This movie isn’t. Or if it is, then this trailer does nothing to prove why it’s unique. It’s just bland people with bland problems in a bland world -- stuff that’s made less special not because of its lack of spandex suits, but because I’ve already had these elements drilled into my head. I haven’t even seen the movie yet, and I’m already bored.
And not to be that guy (more than I already am), but I can neither get behind nor understand some of the changes they’ve made to what was more or less a working formula. That’s just a roundabout way of saying “what the hell did they do to the suits”, but…well, what the hell DID they do? I’m not saying they should’ve just recreated the spandex from the 90s (or the literal suits of armor from…uh, the 90s), but I would’ve guessed that it’d be much easier, practical, and appreciable to keep things simple. True, if you swing too far in the “simple” direction you get less impressive fare like the suits from ToQger or Zyuohger -- which to be fair are still pretty strong showings -- but there’s a middle ground here.
It’s the same issue as the Transformers movies. All of the G needed to bring those machines to life has to cost a pretty penny, but Michael Bay and the rest of the Paramount/Platinum Dunes crew haven’t done themselves any favors by making the Autobots and Decepticons alike so needlessly complex and overproduced in design. Simplicity is vital, whether you’ve got characters in motion or at rest; the former helps keep action clearer, while the latter helps make those designs more recognizable. Yet here we are with a whole new batch of rangers, with all sorts of glowy bits and lines and sharp pieces of metal and plating and ridges and you can just smell the money burning.
To put it a different way: it’s like some execs asked the designers to make the suits look like Iron Man. But the designers didn’t know what Iron Man looked like, so they just decided to bullshit their way through, adding more and more Iron Man-ish stuff until time ran out.
“Overproduced” seems like a good way to describe a lot of things, if not the movie in general. The posters featuring the Rangers in their suits have lots of streaks that imply motion, even though their stances don’t really lend themselves to that (so does that mean they have super speed now? Or in their suits?). We’ve only gotten slight snippets of the Zords, but boy do they look like a mess without full shots or context. Rita’s apparently directly connected to the Green Ranger now, which means he’ll either show up in this movie -- which I hope not since there’ll already be enough content -- or they’ll save him for the sequel they’re already planning, because of course they are.
I don’t envy Lionsgate and crew right now. In all honesty, I think the best way to bring Power Rangers back into theaters -- besides that one time when I came up with a stupid hypothetical movie -- is to not bring them back at all. If you’re not going to go balls out and lay everything on the table, then what are you even doing with the franchise? Why would you even bother besides brand recognition, and with a brand that’s either maligned by a high number of people, or a brand that’s too outlandish for the usual Hollywood trappings?
And I know that’s unfair to say based on a single teaser trailer (collected information aside), but here’s the thing: there’s never more of a reason to take a chance than with something like Power Rangers. This is the opportunity to inject some style and color into theaters all over the country, if not the world, and thus far it just looks like they’re primed to offer “more of the same” at best.
Beyond that? If the point of a trailer (teaser or otherwise) is to garner hype, then they’ve utterly failed at it with what they’ve shown off: a complete misunderstanding, if not a rejection, of what it means to be original. This isn’t just a problem of “it’s not as over-the-top as Power Rangers”; it’s a problem of “we don’t feel like doing anything besides catering to focus testing”.
The red flag waving in the wind here -- one large enough to block out the sun -- is how they used the theme song. I know I’ve been trying to stay impartial and rational here (I totally am, guys), but I have to be honest: that’s the part that made me think “This is fucking offensive.”
The allure of tokusatsu -- whether it’s with Power Rangers, Super Sentai, or beyond -- is hearing the music, with the theme song chief among them. It’s the reason why Toei execs probably scramble to block out the latest theme song whenever it leaks onto YouTube -- which, coincidentally, is the place where countless people upload compilations of theme songs, remixes of songs, covers of songs, and more. Hell, you don’t even have to go that far; there’s always the song, the original song that sets hearts ablaze to this day, well-known and well-recognized for its ability to bring the hype.
And how do they choose to rebuild that hype here in 2016? Play six notes that sound like they came from any run-of-the-mill keyboard at the start and finish. Have just the faintest races of it playing in the middle before letting it meld into every other Hollywood trailer theme ever. Give more time to a sedate cover of a Johnny Cash song that sounds like it belongs in Sucker Punch. Like…Christ, why would you do this? Even if people disagree on what Power Rangers was, or what Power Rangers should be, that theme song is the one thing you don’t mess with. And you messed with it to make it new and modern and all of that -- and didn’t even give it the respect it deserves. I don’t care if they’ll play more of the theme in a future trailer; this was their first shot, with all eyes unequivocally on them. And they botched it. Hard.
So here’s the question that needs an answer immediately: do the people behind this movie understand what they need to do to make a good movie, irrespective of the brand? And then once they answer that question, then they need to figure out if they know how to make a good Power Rangers movie. I guess it’s a little late to wonder if they cracked the code on either, seeing as how the damn thing is due out in six months. But I’m hoping for the best. Contrary to what I may sound like in this post, I legitimately want things to go well on all fronts.
I don’t want this movie to be shit. I don’t want people to go see it out of obligation -- out of a compulsion birthed from a recognizable name, or a foolhardy curiosity pushing them to “see how they changed it”. I want this movie to be genuinely good, and justify its presence because it’s actually worth someone’s time and money. And you know why? It’s not just because we need good movies and good stories. It’s because if things go well, then maybe people will see that the franchise as a whole deserves more credit than it gets.
Power Rangers hasn’t gone away. There’s another season of it on the way in the States, and the Sentai counterpart is in the midst of its 40th anniversary. If the movie is bad, then it won’t stop the franchise cold or make the fans turn away. But if the movie is good, it can bring in new fans -- loyal fans, enchanted by the style and spectacle. Maybe they can form bonds with longtime lovers, and come together to celebrate monsters getting punched in the face. Maybe they’ll start demanding more from the media they consume, having seen what it means to be colorful. Maybe -- just maybe -- they’ll see what a story can be, not what it should be.
Will that happen? I don’t know. But we’ll find out this coming March -- so let’s all cross our fingers. As a wise woman once said, the world could always use more heroes.
OH MY GOD I WANT THAT COSTUME NOW HRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH